Voici une fiche qui récapitule tout ce qu’il faut savoir sur le progrès scientifique – scientific progress – qui peut faire l’objet d’un sujet dans le cadre de l’axe scientific innovations and responsibility.
Durant la fameuse période des Trente Glorieuses, le monde a connu un incroyable développement de ses capacités scientifiques, qui a permis aux pays de s’industrialiser et de se développer. En améliorant leur productivité, et surtout à travers la Recherche et le Développement, la vision futuriste et utopique des années 1950 est devenue réalité. Ce progrès scientifique mondial a débuté avec la course à l’espace (compétition entre les Etats-Unis et l’URSS pour conquérir l’espace durant la Guerre Froide), et a été alimenté par la formidable croissance économique des années 1950 aux années 1970. Ce progrès s’est ensuite répandu dans tous les domaines : la santé et la médecine, les transports, les loisirs…
The notion of “scientific progress”
Scientific progress refers to all the discoveries and state-of-the-art technology which made human life improve through ages. This progress is made through breakthroughs and ground-breaking inventions made by humans. Scientific progress can be made in all domains, be it the medical field or the space race or even education.
The official program admits the several perks of scientific progress, but focuses mostly on its collateral damages and indirect consequences. How can we reconcile ethics and progress? What is the role of civilians in the fight for an ethical progress? This notion is clearly linked to the environmental impact of scientific progress and questions the extent of such a consequence.
Relevant examples to use to talk about scientific progress
Elon Musk : utopian or real progress?
Elon Musk is an American, Canadian and South-African entrepreneur and engineer who studied in Stanford University. One of his companies and projects, named Space X aims at conquering Mars and sending humans to live on the planet. We can therefore see the scientific progress achieved in the space field thanks to Elon Musk’s company, as Space X has become one of the most efficient and developed space companies in the world. Samely, one of his other projects, called Hyperloop, aims to develop a super fast train which could connect San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than 35 minutes. Scientist are undeniably global actors, able to do great things. For instance, Elon Musk’s Giga Factory in Nevada is a pioneering project for lithium batteries, thus a landmark in the fight against global warming.This example testifies nowadays to the great development made possible by scientific progress, which helps humans in their everyday life. We could still wonder whether Elon Musk’s projects are utopian or genuine?
Frankenstein, novel by Mary Shelley : evil progress or how progress backfires on the creator
Scholar Victor Frankenstein builds a horrible monster who fails to find his own place in the human society. Consequently, the monster starts seeking revenge and becomes totally out of control. It might be the most famous example of the damages of progress. On the one hand, it is a scientific progress as Frankenstein succeeded in building a machine which is capable of moving, speaking and thinking, just as humans do. On the other hand, it can be used to show how progress can backfire on its creator if it isn’t totally controlled. Classical, and efficient, this example is a must.
The movie My Sister’s Keeper by Nick Cassavetes : ethics VS progress
Anna is born after an in vitro fertilization to save her sister Kate who suffers from leukemia. Until the age of 15, Anna keeps helping her sister with organ transplants and stem cells and blood donation. When she realises her sister is in need for a new kidney, she decides to sue her parents to recover her rights over her own body.
This movie is definitely the most relevant and common example to show how scientific progress and ethics aren’t always compatible.
The flourishing market of electric batteries (lithium batteries)
Electric batteries might be the groundbreaking discovery of our century, as it is an ecological alternative to gasoline-engine cars. China is number one in the market and is predicted to have the monopoly on 90% of the sector by 2020. Even though this scientific progress is undeniably positive and beneficial to the environment and consequently to mankind, lithium batteries are very expensive to produce, and some claim that its production still is a huge source of pollution. But there are still new evolutions to come in this sector : cars working thanks to hydrogen or sodium (resources that are easier to find, which will cause the production price to decrease) are being developed. Cars are therefore a sector of progress and this example can be used to show the great impact science can have on our environmental issues.
How to use these examples during your exam ?
Example of a question : “Discuss the following question: is scientific progress always beneficial for humans? Illustrate your point of view using fictional stories or real-life examples from the English-speaking world.”
This test question is very open : it allows you to qualify you point of view, and to show that you take into account all the aspects of the notion, its advantages as much as its drawbacks. It is clearly stated that the examples you use can be either fictional or real-life stories. Your essay can be easily structured as follows :
- A first paragraph on the benefits of scientific progress (you can use an example on the health industry and how Artificial Intelligence helps increasing life expectancy)
- A second one on its drawbacks (Frankenstein is perfect here) and this way, you will have used both real-life examples and fictional ones.
In the end, don’t hesitate to clearly state your point of view. For example : “As far as I am concerned, I believe scientific progress has outstanding benefits, provided it is controlled and ethical”.
Useful vocabulary and key words
- Une découverte majeure : a breakthrough
- Révolutionnaire : ground-breaking
- A la pointe du progrès : state-of-the-art (used as an adjective → State-of-the-art technology)
- Intelligence artificielle : artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Eugénisme : eugenics
- Clonage : cloning
- Un informaticien : a computer scientist
- Connaisseur en informatique : computer-savvy
- Un savant : a scholar
- Respectueux de l’environnement : environmental-friendly
- Ethique (nom) : ethics
- Ethique (adjectif) : ethical
Even though it has permitted a high development of life conditions, scientific progress nowadays raises environmental and diplomatic issues which need to be solved in order to assure sustainable growth. The consequences of progress are imminent and it is of humans’ responsibility to deal with them.