Society makes determinations, all of the time, as to which scientific endeavors are worthy of funding, and which are not. Former President Bush opposed funding for stem cell research, and shut down the use of fertilized eggs in stem cell research, because he opposed the destruction of these eggs. This position was widely supported, even though this had the potential to unlock certain secrets that might make diseases curable.
Society has a strong influence on the future of science. The scientists and researchers who will someday make those breakthroughs are influenced by the society they grew up in. The hopes and dreams of their generation are what will shape the areas they study and work with. If society does not value an idea, or believes the idea to be negative, then the scientists and researchers that come out of that society will be less likely to focus on that field of study.
For instance, technology began as a science, and technology remains a science. The science of old is society's technological purchases of today. The science of now will be our technologically advanced purchases of tomorrow. The same is true for energy sources, weight loss products, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Science is the discovery of convenience, speed, automated and computerized methods, making the world easier, faster and better and for society has a whole. Societies' needs and wants govern the direction science takes us. Man's yearning to explore the heavens created planes, jets, rockets and spaceships. His yearning to get from A to B quicker resulted in the wheel, the cart, the automobile, and what will eventually replace it.
Society experiences health problems, weather problems and population problems, and science is there to help solve these types of situations. Any science undertaking is for the good of society and is a direct result of a situation society is enduring. Finding a cure for cancer or the common cold, exploration in space, global warming, migration patterns of birds, butterflies, whales, tornadoes, hurricanes, and more, are studied by scientists to benefit society, funded by society, and embraced by society for the survival of society. Only by society experiencing both bad and good events or crisis, does science exist to make sense and find solutions.
With the economy in the shape it is in at this time, almost all scientific projects have been cut in one way or the other.
If people are not interested in a specific topic, or find that topic too taboo, scientists will not widely research it. If an idea becomes mainstream or a "hot button" issue in the public mentality, scientists will be more likely to research it. The public also has a great deal to do with funding for scientific research.
Religion had played a major role in science in the past. Galileo's beliefs were dismissed by the Roman Catholic Church because they conflicted with the Bible. At that time, maintaining appearances was the only acceptable form of science. Our current technology explosion has only been possible because we have successfully separated science from theology, therefore eliminating biases that prevented empirical evidence from being applied to science in the past. Another example of this is psychological science, where the assumption that people had completely free wills given to them by God was transcended, and study of the anatomy of the brain has been able to yield a great deal of scientific advances and conclusions.
In the modern era, consumer use has greatly shaped technological advances in things such as cellular phones. The popularity of technological products like these have caused great competition among companies. When there is a great amount of competition, corporations are looking to invent the next best thing. Look how much technology has been developed to interact with the Internet. In more free societies, technology develops faster. This can be observed since the foundation of the 13 colonies and their independence. Scientific advancement has skyrocketed through the United States.
Science progresses according to the wishes of the people. The reason that we are seeing such a significant increase in mobile and computing technology is because society demands this on an ever-increasing basis. If society and the people were not interested in these technologies then they would be focused on something else and that demand would be met by science. The reason for this is the money trail, follow the money and you will find where science is researching.
Right now we are making more lee-way in science through technology because that is what society is interested in at the moment. If we were to have a global catastrophe, society would be more interested in global science and thus we would make more discoveries there. Also, if there was a pandemic, science would focus more on discovery of a cure.
Researchers most often work in the areas in which they are funded and supported. When society funds a research area, the researchers flock to that area, resulting in more research in that area. When research is suppressed, as animal research has been shut down by environmentalists threatening those who worked with lab animals, the research is made less common if not stopped. While a lack of societal support does not eliminate the lone researcher who invents a new wonder in their garage or makes a mathematical breakthrough in their back room, it does decrease the likelihood of such by reducing the number of brilliant minds working in areas society does not support. This encourages scientific development in areas society supports.
The best and most recent example of how society effects science's development is stem cell research. For a period of time, stem cell research was halted in the United States because of laws passed forbidding it due to various concerns. Scientists could no longer physically explore the uses of stem cells legally and so had to abandon their use until the laws changed.
I believe society dictates science. There are certain practices, such as cloning, that may be deemed unethical in societies. The ethical beliefs in societies control where sciences are allowed to progress. These decisions affect the societies as well, as certain practices that are decided as unethical may prove beneficial in the long term after enough research has been conducted.
Though the results of scientific efforts in the end depend on natural truth and not social biases, where these scientific efforts are directed is heavily influenced by social forces. Need is the mother of invention, and as specific social needs arise, where scientific research can help, it will be applied. Thus, the knowledge and technology that is produced by a society in the end reflects its needs and desires.
I believe that society shapes science because things that go on in a society play a role on what they do later in science. For example, cars and factories emitting carbon levels in a society play a role in science because as more cars and factories are made, the more carbon is released, and the closer to global warming we get. However though, breaks in science also help out society in general, but the society plays a bigger role.
Historically, society has changed because of scientific discoveries. Galileo was considered a heretic because he believed that the Earth revolved around the sun. The Industrial Revolution, based on new science, changed the world forever. Facebook, instant messaging, and text messaging have changed the way we use the English language, in my opinion.
Society shapes the future of science because the demands of society dictate the funding that certain scientific projects receive, and it is very difficult for scientific innovation to take place without support and funding. From a materialist perspective, class creates consciousness and society creates scientific discoveries. We spend millions of dollars on cures for obesity and acne, but cloning is taboo because in our society we value appearance over research that would raise ethical questions that would be hard for us to answer.
Science is knowledge and based on truth. Although society may influence certain scientific ideas and position, it does not dictate honest and true science. Reason for this being is that science is based on verifiable laws and testing. The scientific method is used for knowledge. Science is knowledge, and ultimately, scientific laws can not be shaped, only discovered.