In The Big Bang Theory Sheldon looks down on Howard because he’s an engineer not a scientist. Like many ideas in comedy there’s a kernel of truth in that – and it’s a truth that seems to have slid right past most of the media. Science is simply not the same as technology.
If you look at most major newspapers or other media outlets they will have a section titled “Science and Technology” with the idea that these two things go naturally hand in hand. The Sydney Morning Herald, for example, doesn’t even formally give science its own area or title: “Sci-tech” is a sub-section of “Technology”. To put that in perspective, the SMH’s website has separate sections for “Entertainment”, “Lifestyle”, “Food & Wine” and “Travel”.
Now it is true that there’s probably a large overlap in those interested in science and those interested in technology. But it’s a Venn diagram with an intersection – they are simply not the same thing.
Does this matter? I would argue that it does. Science is not the same as technology and we cheapen both by conflating them. The latest app for the iPhone should not be put on the same level as an experiment to test the theory of relativity. By placing them together we also implicitly say that science is a subject for techies and geeks. An understanding of science is fundamental to comprehending what is happening in the world around us: There is a basic significance and beauty in it that should be important to, and accessible to, everyone.
Like most things of this sort I’m sure the media would argue that many people aren’t interested in science. And, sadly, I’m equally sure that’s true. But I’m not certain what comes first here. If there were more media stories making science accessible and relevant, perhaps there would be more interest. And from more interest would come a more educated population, perhaps able to better deal with some of the many complexities that face us in the modern world.
Science as a discipline’s ability to communicate wont be solved by breaking it off from technology. But it certainly couldn’t hurt to stop confusing the latest release of a phone with scientific discovery. Bazinga!