Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Author: Subrata Dasgupta

The dilemma of ‘progress’ in science

Most practicing scientists scarcely harbor any doubts that science makes progress. For, what they see is that despite the many false alleys into which science has strayed across the centuries, despite the waxing and waning of theories and beliefs, the history of science, at least since the ‘early modern period’ (the 16th and 17th centuries) is one of steady accumulation of scientific knowledge. For most scientists this growth of knowledge is progress. Indeed, to deny either the possibility or actuality of progress in science is to deny its raison d’être. 

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The scientist as historian

Why should a trained scientist be seriously interested in science past? After all, science looks to the future. Moreover, as Nobel laureate immunologist Sir Peter Medawar once put it: “A great many highly creative scientists…take it for granted, though they are usually too polite or too ashamed to say so, that an interest in the history of science is a sign of failing or unawakened powers.”

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