Assess sociological explanations of science and ideology as belief systems. (33 marks)
Science has had a huge impact on society in the last few centuries with medicines curing fatal diseases and advances in communication and technology. Science and technology has revolutionised economic productivity and raised standards of living. This success has led to a widespread belief in science. However, this faith has been dimmed by science causing problems. For example pollution, weapons and global warming are products of science. While science protects us from natural dangers, it creates its own risks. However the good and bad effects of science show features distinguishing it from other belief systems, known as its cognitive power. It enables us to explain, predict and control the world in a way that non scientific or pre scientific belief systems cannot do.
Sir Karl Popper (1959) argues science is an open belief system where every scientist’s theories are open to criticism and testing by others. Scientists set out to try and falsify existing theories, if the evidence from an experiment or observation contradicts a theory and shows it to be false, the theory can be discarded and the search for a better explanation can begin. Popper argues discarding falsified knowledge claims is what enables scientific understanding of the world to grow. Popper argues the key thing about scientific knowledge is that it’s not a sacred or absolute truth; it can be always questioned, tested and perhaps shown to be false.
There’s the question why science has only grown rapidly in the last few centuries. Functionalist Robert K Merton (1973) argues that science can only thrive as a social institution if it receives support from other institutions and values. The new institution of science also received support from economic and military institutions as the value of the practical applications of science became obvious in areas such as mining, navigation and weaponry. In this way science...