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Akansh Jain, Nikhil Mahajan and Yatin Nihalani

Contribution: Nikhil dealt with the historical development of the theories leading up to the
Origin of Species and its reception. Akansh dealt with the post-Origin era and the advent of
Social Darwinism and Eugenics. Yatin put everything in perspective and subjected the entire
analysis to STS principles. The contribution was roughly uniform across the board, except that
Nikhil couldnt devote time towards the end in assembling and finishing the paper.

Dr. Ambuj Sagar

HUL371: Science, Technology and Society
30th March 2015

Darwinism and Social Darwinism: A 19th-20th Century Interplay between Science and Society

1. Context
The first thing that one probably needs to understand about the area of this paper is that
Social Darwinism has almost nothing whatsoever to do with Charles Darwin or Darwinism. The
term Darwinism was coined by Richard Dawkins (1983) with reference to the fundamental
Darwinian principles of variation, replication and selection, and the fact that these could in fact
be applied to humans just as well as they are applied to the evolution of species in general. 1 On
the other hand, Social Darwinism owes its currency and a majority of its connotations to the
much influential and widely read piece of work Social Darwinism in American Thought by
Richard Hofstadter (1860-1915).2 It has essentially been used throughout the course of global
history as a biological justification for laissez-faire and colonialism. Biologist Daniel Dennett
spoke for many when he defined social Darwinism as an odious misapplication of Darwinian
thinking, a term that would probably have baffled Darwin himself.3

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The simplistic purpose of this paper is to trace the historical development of one of the
most important scientific theories of the 19th century (Evolution), the social consequences (and
even more theories) that it gave rise to over the years, and the role of human intervention and
interpretation in molding the theories into the popularly accepted forms. We first lay down the
entire background of how people and events contributed towards creating and modifying bits and
pieces of this theory, and the impact that this had on different societies across the world. This
impact could be of both kinds: a direct result of the advent of such science or a mere tool used as
justification for acts that would probably have been perpetrated anyway. We follow this up with a
thorough analysis of several aspects of Science and Technology Studies, with individual
relevance to every section of these events, in an attempt to highlight how these factors are
relevant, and can be applied, to any form of science originating in any community of the world.

2. The Beginning
2.1 The Rise of Geology, and Fall of Divine Intervention
Isaac Newton and the other giants had firmly established the method of scientific enquiry
without recourse at every step to divine intervention. 4 But their studies did not challenge the
divine Himself; the idea was that God ordains laws and processes, which then control all natural
phenomena. God exists, and he is not whimsical. This school of thought has been called natural
theology: theology based on reason and everyday experience, rather than the Holy Scriptures.5
But even at the turn of 19th century, there was one major question, among others, whose
answer laid beholden to the divine will. The origin of species, and their astounding diversity. We
trace underneath the progress of human enquiry into this fundamental question, and conclude this
section with Darwins contribution, that made him one of the most influential figures in human
Special creation and the fixity of species were the standard ideas in evolutionary enquiry.
But there occurred in 18th and 19th centuries a revolution of sorts in historical geology, and with
it paleontology, which shook the foundations. The reasons were far from teleological. The first

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industrial revolution brought with it a spike in mining (to locate coal and other minerals), canal
building (transport), and railway related construction (creating cuttings, tunnels etc.).
Additionally, the French revolutionary wars had made the European mainland dangerous for the
English gentry, who took to the hinterland. Lyme Regis became a popular seaside resort, and
contributed inadvertently to far reaching paleontological advances. 6 We shall return to it soon,
when we talk of the only female actor in this long story.
William Strata Smith, involved in building and construction, observed that the rock
layers (strata) were always arranged in a predictable pattern, and occupied the same relative
positions in different locations.7 He additionally observed each particular stratum could be
characterized the fossils it contained. He encapsulated his observations in the Principle of Faunal
Succession. But his humble education and family connections prevented him from easily mixing
with the learned circles of England. Consequently, his path-breaking work in geology and
cartography (he produced the first geological map of England in 1815, among other
achievements) could not save him from bankruptcy, as his maps were plagiarized by the
Geological Society of London (GSL), and sold at lower prices. It is ironical, and insightful, that a
man released from a debtors prison in 1819 was referred to as the Father of English Geology in
1831 by the President of GSL, in a much delayed recognition of his immense contribution.8
Mary Anning was another from a humble background, whose family tried to make ends
meet by selling curios (fossils, as we now know) to the wealthy tourists, like numerous other
families in Lyme Regis. Additionally, she was a woman. She made key fossil finds, Ichthyosaur
probably being the most famous. She had a childhood friend, Henry de la Beche, son of an army
officer. Beche grew on to become the head of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and played
a crucial role in taking Marys findings to a larger, relevant audience. 9 But Britain at the time was
extremely prejudicial against women. The GSL did not allow women to even attend meetings as
guests, let alone be members. This meant even Marys strong network could only make her a
posthumous celebrity. Her unusual life story attracted increasing interest after her death (1847).
Dickens would write in 1865 the carpenters daughter has won a name for herself, and has
deserved to win it. In 2010, the Royal Society placed Anning in a list of the 10 British women
who have most influenced the history of science.10

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The mountain of paleontological evidence had created problems for the fixity principle.
Before surveying the alternate hypotheses, we must understand the social context in which
evolutionary theory was evolving. The Book of Genesis had to be adhered to, for empirical
evidence was only the secondary means to understand divine design. Many clergyman remained
credible participants in evolutionary debates; even the naturalists were too indoctrinated to think
Pre-eminent French naturalist Georges Cuvier acknowledged that he knew of 21 species
that were now extinct.11 He developed a theory of earth history called Catastrophism. The history
of life was said to have comprised of sharply distinct eras, each characterized by its own
distinctive fauna and flora. The eras were separated by sudden catastrophic events in which one
set of plants and animals was swept away and replaced by another. 12 This theoretical system
became the principal organizational framework for historical geology for over a generation, and
was seized upon by geologists and natural theologians eager to assimilate science and religion.
2.2 The Kuhnian Period of Crisis: Enter Charles Darwin
But the schism was imminent. Two groups of people started paying close attention to the
possibility of mutation: naturalists interested in classifying species, and breeders interested in
producing new varieties of species. It was soon established: this world was inhabited by
incredibly many species, the diversity was increasing, and, devastatingly for natural theology,
new species could originate artificially!
The storm was coming. In the year 1844, an anonymous book appeared out of London,
Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. It offered a comprehensive theory of origins,
attributing the first appearance of life to spontaneous generation, with the entire history of life
covered by a universal law of development.13 Needless to say, it created a major scandal. The
book was well written, easily accessible to the lay reader. But it was extremely incautious,
replete with errors. Its argument had little more scientific merit than a conspiracy theory.
Nevertheless, the book was a hit, and the masses had taken to its thesis, howsoever shoddy
scientifically. Maybe that was the intention?
Enter Charles Darwin, the lead protagonist. Darwin was born to a wealthy medical family
in the English midlands.14 But the horrifying sights inside an operation theatre in the Edinberg

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hospital, chloroform still being decades away, nixed his medical career. But his interest in natural
history grew, especially under the tutelage of Prof. John Henslow at Cambridge. It was Henslow
who persuaded his family to allow him to board the famed Beagle, and the rest, as they say...
The Beagle voyage gave Darwin worldwide geological and biological experience, and the
material with which to establish his scientific reputation. 15 His publications at the time were
mostly descriptive, detailing the wealth of information he had painstakingly gathered. But in
private, he had started working on the mysteries of mysteries, the origins.
During the voyage of the Beagle I had been deeply impressed by discovering in the
Pampean formation great fossil animals covered with armor like that on the existing armadillos;
secondly, by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding
southwards over the Continent; and thirdly, by the South American character of most of the
productions of the Galapagos archipelago, and more especially by the manner in which they
differ slightly on each island of the group; none of the islands appearing to be very ancient in a
geological sense.16
2.3 The Origin of Species
Darwin hypothesized that species were not separate creations, instead they arise from
ancestor species by descent with modification. 17 His work on his hypothesis, he writes in
autobiography, was based on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collected facts on
a wholesale scale, more especially with respect to domesticated productions, by printed
enquiries, by conversation with skilful breeders and gardeners, and by extensive reading. He
was soon able to draw the instructive analogy, descent with modification in breeders farmers, a
process he termed artificial selection. But how selection could be applied to organisms living
in a state of nature remained for some time a mystery to me.18
In October 1838, fifteen months after beginning his systematic enquiry, Darwin happened
to read for amusement Malthus on population. 19 And there was his Eureka moment. being
well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from longcontinued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these
circumstances favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavorable ones to be

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destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a
theory by which to work
But On the Origin of Species would be published only in 1858. The reasons for this
delay have been long speculated, with the most popular explanation being the then social
context. Darwin was aware of the backlash that Vestiges had suffered. 20 Having established a
formidable scientific reputation for himself already, and belonging to a wealthy, respected family,
he is said to have chickened out at the prospect of losing all of it because of a scandalous
publication.21 But there appears to be another reason, probably related to the first, but definitely
the signature of a trained scientist. A survey of the Origins cannot but leave the reader impressed
by the meticulousness of his argument, backed a wealth of evidence, original and cited. This was
a scientific work, not another conspiracy theory. What we know is that Darwin worked
relentlessly on his theory for the intervening period. In all likelihood, the delay was because he
had one shot. And he had to get it right.

3. The Advent of Social Darwinism

3.1 From Animals to Humans
The theory of evolution slowly entered the public domain and the debate from origin of
species shifted to the origin of human. Through the theory of evolution, scientists tried to explain
the origin of humans from animals and eventually the differentiation between races. We see the
focus of science shifting as scientists try to answer publics questions. This eventually led to the
concept of stronger and weaker races and the survival of the fittest (Galton) that eventually led to
the concept of eugenics and Nazism.
The reason for popularity of evolutionary theory is that for the first time the authority of
clergymen was challenged and the concept of creationism was questioned. 22 The idea of
understanding natural laws governing human life was exciting, which made people explore
deeper into these theories.

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The period from 1820 to 1900 was one of rapid economic, social and political change in
many countries in the West, especially the United States. It was a period marked with rapid
industrialization, urbanization and mass migration to cities. There was a shift from landed
aristocracy to capitalist entrepreneurs in wealth and influence. With rising population and
increasing poverty, alcoholism, prostitution and degeneracy came into light. The period was
riddled with depressions and industry leaders could neither predict nor plan efficiently because of
the randomness of the events.23
Herbert Spencer said that human life is governed by a set of natural laws and evolution is
the basic law. He also said that this basic law generates progress unless we interfere. His political
philosophy was that industrial capitalism was an expression of society of this law and the states
sole duty was to facilitate free operation of this law.24 Therefore we see that Spencer openly
criticized the use of vaccination, state supported sanitary regulations or education of the poor.25
Social Darwinism is basically a set of theories that apply the biological concepts of
natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology and politics. The term 'survival of the
fittest' was coined by Spencer.26 The core idea of social Darwinism is outlined as virtuous
process in which fitter individuals survive at the expense of less fit ones. Darwin himself says
that wherever Europeans tread, death of aborigines occurs and savages who are weak in mind
and body will be eventually eliminated.27
3.2 Gain in Popularity
Social Darwinism found many proponents in the United States where people like Fiske
and Sumner advocated ideas that mitigating struggle would lead to social regression. Rockefeller
himself said that the 'survival of the fittest theory also applied to businesses as well and
therefore rich conglomerates had the right to continue business as usual and did not need to look
after the poor. He believed that wealth could continue to accumulate amongst the few and did not
believe in wealth redistribution.28 Therefore we see that theories of Darwinism began to slowly
gain support, where various people from different parts of the world began to believe in survival
of the fittest. When people like eminent scientists or rich businessmen with a credible
background openly speak against the uplifting of the poor, we see the network of social
Darwinism becoming stronger and discrimination against the poor and weak.

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Social Darwinism was not just confined to politics but also applied to women. Darwin
said that males selected women for their beauty and emotional qualities whereas women selected
men for strength, intellect and status.29 Therefore women even if they were educated cannot
compete with men and were fit only for domestic life and be protected by men. It is possible that
these patriarchal ideas have percolated in the society and continue to exist even in the current
Some social Darwinists including Spencer however preferred the Lamarckian theory.30
This theory believed that organisms could acquire new characteristics and traits due to active
adaptation of the environment.31 Therefore a person could pass these new developed
characteristics to his offspring and hence there was a scope of improvement.
3.3 Eugenics
However Francis Galton, cousin of Darwin, entered the scene and coined the term
eugenics in 1883, a more extreme form of social Darwinism. He strongly believed that in
humans, mental and physical characteristics are a result of inheritance which cannot be altered. 32
He said that criminals had low social and genetic desirability whereas independent workers and
company owners had high social and genetic desirability. We see the development of the concept
of positive and negative eugenics. Positive eugenics basically seeks to improve the society by
encouraging those of high eugenic worth to have children. 33 Negative eugenics prevents or
discourages those people of low eugenic worth from having children. Galton went to Africa and
termed the inhabitants as inferior reinforcing his bias against the non-western community.
Certain biases which exist among scientist surface in the development of their theories which can
be detrimental to the society as we see in the case of social Darwinism which leads to racism and
a supposed scientific justification for the same.
Darwin and Galton worried that the weak would produce more and the stronger would
produce less. This was observed because the rich and the upper class generally were busier than
the weaker section of society and therefore focused lesser on the aspect of reproduction or
settling down or in fact marriage.
At the turn of the century Lamarckism was seen to be failing as no improvement was
seen in the people with lower eugenic worth and the belief that heredity is hard was

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strengthened.34 The impact we see was the rise of eugenics in various countries across the globe
where reproduction for people with undesirable traits was to be discouraged. This eventually led
to the rise of Nazism and finally the holocaust.
3.4 Impact
The eugenics movement was supported also by genetic labs of reputed institutions like
Harvard, Hopkins and Cornell whose research was to emphasize the value of superior blood and
depict the menace of inferior blood.35 Roosevelt too promoted the institutions in his country but
to scientifically prove that the western world was racially inferior.
The IQ test which is popular today had racial origins. It was created by Galton to initially
assess the intelligence of races, already had notions that English had the highest intelligence
whereas aborigines had the lowest intelligence.36 Henry H. Goddard, an American psychologist,
used these IQ tests to screen immigrants entering into the United States. He sent women who
were called moron detectors, to Ellis Islands for screening of immigrants entering the country.
However there were two major issues with this. The first being that most of these women were
untrained but Goddard still relied on the data provided by these moron detectors without
questioning it. Secondly many of these immigrants were either illiterate or non-English speaking
and therefore passing the test became harder.37 Conclusions from this activity led to 80 percent of
immigrants being termed as feeble minded. United States therefore to maintain its racial and
genetic superiority enforced a policy to shut out immigrants and to continue racially
discriminating against the immigrants. Although at later stages, Goddard admitted he was wrong
but enough damage had already been done.
Another example. In 1924 the classic case of Buck vs. Bell occurred where the
Commonwealth of Virginia ordered compulsory sterilization of the mentally retarded. Buck was
supposed to be forcefully sterilized but her guardian filed a case in the court. However the
verdict was 8:1 in favor of the Virginia state and she was forcefully sterilised. 37 Soon 20 more
states imposed the law against the feeble minded people and between 1907 and 1963, more than
64000 individuals were compulsorily sterilized in the United States. The Nazis quoted the Buck
vs. Bell case as to justify the eugenics movement in Germany and continued to carry out the

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racial discrimination and elimination of the people with low eugenic worth. More than 450,000
people were sterilized in Germany during the Nazi rule.38
And finally, what was perhaps the biggest consequence of this directional development
of social Darwinism: Nazism was stated as applied biology by Hitlers Deputy Rudolf Hess as
the Nazis continued to justify their atrocities and racism through supposed proven science. Ernst
Haeckel and Chamberlain were two people who were a major reason behind Nazism. 38 Haeckel
was a professor in zoology and was extremely popular. He called for racial purity and promoted
policies against the weaker sections of the society for example distribution of medicine to the
diseased. Chamberlain in his publications proved that Germans were superior to everyone and
were the foundation of society. Here we see the dominant model of STS taking shape, where
scientists armed with their theories advocate their ideas by educating the public. When famous
scientists openly claim that science is the reason behind the racial bias, a common persons racist
ideas are strengthened. Therefore we see Germany actively practicing racial hygiene and
discrimination against the feeble minded.
Prior to 1933, we see German scientists devoted to racial hygiene with about thirty
institutes researching in racial science and 150 journals published in this field. 39 The biological
argument for racism did increase by an order of magnitude after the classic evolution theory and
also accepted by scientists. Here we see the social construction of scientific reality where the
success of theories does not depend primarily upon the theory itself but also the society around
it. With such a large community actively researching in this field, it just reinforced that this
theory is successful and actual science.
An interesting case study is that of Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist and philosopher,
which provides us a good insight into moral aspects of scientific research, extensions of which
are very commonly observed in todays global community. Haeckel proved that all living beings
had common ancestry and different races of human beings were just different species of the same
common ancestor. He showed the similarity in a human embryo and a fish embryo via his
drawings. These depictions were extremely popular and reinforced by Thomas Huxley and used
by Darwin in his famous book The Descent of Man. However these drawings were proved
wrong later on and it was discovered that Haeckel manufactured these drawings. Despite this
fraud, he still continued showing similarity between human and various other animals and these

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drawings were used in textbooks for at least 100 years. 40 STS teaches us to question everything
and makes us realize that science is only an interpretation of nature and not the true
representation. Haeckels fraud makes us realize the significance of the validation and
assessment of any and every fact presented before the scientific community.

4. Science, Technology and Society

Having traced the complete turn of events as well as complications associated with the
advent and rise of Darwinism and Social Darwinism, we move onto something even more
significant aspects of Science and Technology Studies that can help us better understand how
the interplay between such theories and the society actually works and the impact it has on both,
individually as well as together.41 Spread over a time period of more than a century and
geographies spanning at least four continents, this set of theories is perhaps the perfect example
to understand these aspects and realize the non-absolute nature of science.
Rather than form a timeline like previous sections, our attempt in the following would be
to provide a birds eye view of different facets with regards to the development of these theories,
and put each of them in perspective of several STS concepts and models. The eventual aim is to
verify the accuracy of these models in some sense. The better they fit real-time scientific events
and discoveries, the more weightage should be attached to them when analyzing future works,
and vice-versa.
4.1 The Kuhnian Change (Structure of Scientific Revolutions)
Based on the philosophies of Thomas Kuhn, it rejects the formalist view of science and
replaces it with a more normative stance.42 More importantly, it states that in case of any
scientific field, there are always long lengths of time when research is gradual but well structured
and in a definite direction. These are however, interspersed with what Kuhn termed as periods of
interim crisis, which are characterized by traits similar to that of a revolution and comprise of
strong challenges to rigidity and fundamental knowledge that had been taken for granted until
then. Such periods often overthrow current understanding of some aspect of science and along
with it, change authoritative dynamics too.41

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The Kuhnian concept is extremely easy to observe when considering the theory of
evolution and Darwinian notions.43 There was initially a long time governed by the rule of
Church wherein much of the causality was associated with divine intervention and the role of a
higher power. Science is often subjective after all, so there isnt any reason to define this period
as one without research. Research did take place, gradually and regularly. During Darwins time,
contributions by him and dozens of other scientists created a period of crisis and helped
overthrow these archaic notions, which was again followed by a cumulative research period
extending and extrapolating to Social Darwinism. Such cycles follow each other over lengthy
periods of time, each instance changing the understanding and interpretation of some aspect of
nature by mankind. This also implies that progress in terms of our understanding of science
may not necessarily be moving forward, its just changing with time.41
4.2 Functionalism in Sociology of Science
The goal of science is defined by some sociologists as the extension of certified knowledge. On
these lines, a structural-functionalist view sees society in terms of inter-dependent structures like
religion, government, science and so on. Thus, science serves a function towards mankind, and
the social structure in place at any given point of time may or may not support its function.
Robert Merton describes a basic set of norms that work as guidelines to be ideally adhered to by
researchers and scientific thinkers of the global community if science is to progress most
effectively.44 These are:(a) Universalism: An individuals work must be assessed and criticized based only on logical
and scientific grounds, irrespective of any bias accruing out of gender, race, social status,
income level or for that matter reputation. If such biases creep into the assessment of
scientific works, their accuracy directly gets compromised.41
(b) Communism: An individual working towards a scientific goal must make his research
available to others so that they can use it and build upon him to develop science in
general. This is termed as cumulative development and hints that since any and every
scientific discovery has been inevitably based upon past research, individuals keeping
their work to themselves can only be detrimental to the progress of science.41

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(c) Disinterestedness: This refers to a scientists attachment to his work. Any non-scientific
emotions, such as greed, envy, excessive competitiveness, extreme desire for fame etc.
can infuse heavy bias and compromise his ethical responsibilities.41 He must thus be
detached and practice disinterestedness towards his work. A direct consequence of this
Mertonian norm is the minimization of instances of fraud in global scientific research.
(d) Organized Skepticism: Finally, when a piece of research is presented before thinkers to
be accepted or rejected, it must not be taken at face value irrespective of the reputation or
origins of the presenter.41 The scientific community must assess every work with a strong
sense of skepticism since it may always be wrong or inaccurate. This skepticism,
however, must not be over-done so as to make it difficult for theories to be accepted at
all. It must be organized and controlled in this very regard.
Several instances of the Mertonian norms being followed or flouted can be evidently observed in
the case that we are tracking. To begin with, Darwin himself had taken a lot from the works of
thinkers like Malthus, Spencer, Wallace, Greg, Bagehot etc. 45 Had their work not been made
available to him, he may not have come up with his theories in the first place. Similarly,
Darwins work was itself used by a large number of people to give rise to even newer levels of
analysis. This often led them in a direction that Darwin himself would not have thought of or
agreed to, but thats the entire rationalization behind the idea of communism. This is also partly
why Social Darwinism has nothing to do with Darwinism, which in turn has only partly to do
with Darwin.
Organized skepticism is the second norm thats beautifully highlighted in our example.
People like Darwin hailed from the most upper echelons of society, his father was a very
reputable person and he himself was respected the world over after The Origin of Species. Even
so, several of his essays and subsequent articles appeared biased, overly ambitious and without
proof or logic.46 This is what led people to continue being open to alternative explanations and
continuously question his work. In fact, at one point of time Galton, Greg and Darwin, all lacked
any real evidence to support their intuitions that the least able elements in society were outbreeding the capable. This is precisely why this idea was never really accepted by the populace
and even today, is talked about only in really isolated and intangible research work.

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Finally, disinterestedness is where the nitty-gritties of the scientific world actually get
interesting. Researchers themselves are motivated and strongly driven by their life goals and
ambitions, and often this tends to define how they approach a problem or disseminate a piece of
information. Darwin, for example, did not even discuss human evolution in the Origin, but his
peers were quick to jump to it and in as little as a month the debate concerning the implications
of Darwins theory on human, biological and social dynamics was on everybodys lips. Alfred
Wallace was in fact the first one to discuss such social implications, and its because of this
pressure that Darwin eventually published The Descent of Man (1871) to engage with the
controversies and literally distinguish himself from Wallaces higher spirit claim (1868). 45
Another significant instance of external factors and bias shaping the direction of research can be
observed in how Darwin never published his sentiments regarding how unions, same wage labor,
cooperative societies, social equitable development etc. all exclude competition and are bad for
the society, simply out of caution against the reactions that they might receive. 47 This inertia
reflects a very common form of bias of that era, since social whiplash often prevented
researchers (and therefore research) from thinking and publishing without constraints.
Having said that, one must keep in mind that this Darwins desperation in face of
Wallaces claims illustrates a positive aspect as well, that of peer pressure leading to progressive
research. A huge amount of research has been done to figure out what it is that makes successful
scientists do the kind of work that they do. The factors mostly revolve around external stimuli
(origins, opportunities, competition, mentors etc.) and inert talent.41 The fact that cut-throat
competition stimulates creative research is well-proven and evident even in todays universities,
making localized talent-hub regions a common observation. The Darwin-Wallace case was no
4.3 Dynamic Nature of Science
This implies two things: first, mankinds interpretation and understanding of science is
always changing.48 Sometimes this is progressive change (as highlighted in Kuhns period of
calm), at others it is revolutionary change that overthrows existing theories (Kuhns period of
crisis). This is easy to buy, since we have evolved from a time when most of the world believed
that a higher superpower governed the functioning of the universe, to an era where nothing is

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accepted unless theres hard physical scientific evidence in support of the same. Clearly,
something has changed.
Second, there is no definite forward direction in the progress of science, nor is there an
absolute form of nature that we keep inching closer towards understanding completely. The
understanding of science and nature depends a lot on the social constructs of the time. They
create, direct and control research. This is why science changes rather than progresses with
time.49 One look at the timeline in consideration shows us that right in the beginning, the
elimination of weaklings by the stronger and smarter sections of the society was considered as
progress. This changed completely just a few decades later with the advent of modern medicine.
The weakest were the most susceptible to diseases, which essentially meant that medicine, which
was the direct result of technological progress, was in fact greatly protecting the weak from
elimination. Further on, cosmetics and surgeries came into the picture, completely trivializing
earlier notions of the most attractive and appealing individuals forming the superior classes.
Similarly, war was traditionally considered a progressive force, facilitating the elimination of the
weak by the strong. With time, this changed to the exact opposite: loss of young and strong life
in wars resulted in it being termed as dysgenic.
The interpretation is simple. Progress is progress only with a certain social context
attached to it. There is probably no absolute progress or absolute development. Nature isnt a
finish line that were running towards. Most theories are unverified hypothesis anyway, since the
evidences are themselves imitations of nature with certain inherent inaccuracies within them.
Take Galtons human evolution theory for example (1865). He argues that human traits (intellect,
morality, personality etc.) are passed on from generation to generation, resulting in certain
sections of the society gaining eminence in various fields. 50 These sections pass on the
cumulative advantage to their off-springs, thereby creating a framework where the weak are
pushed out of the society by default. This was in effect, Galtons theory. In reality, however, one
observes that the stupid, lazy and reckless would spend less time productively, give more
importance to and invest in marriage at an early age, and generally have more children sooner
than their eminent counter-parts. The result? These weaker impoverished sections, by the same
logic that Galton provided, should be out-breeding the stronger ones, exactly opposite to what he

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And this does happen too. Its very easy to observe the effects in poor and developing
countries even today. Less educated and poorer households tend to ignore the benefits of family
planning and give birth to several off-springs. This results in an even greater percentage of the
population not contributing to the society but instead increasing the burden on the same, and the
cycle continues. So we have taken Galtons theory, which couldnt have been falsified in realtime to begin with (perhaps owing to several hundred complex human parameters affecting the
results) and used it to explain a majority of the worlds human societies today. This can perhaps
be termed as Reverse Evolution or Devolution for that matter, a complete new theory in itself.
A new researcher today can easily predict the gradual degradation of the quality of mankind in
the future using this analysis, and the assessment of his predictions would be riddled with the
same problems that Galtons was. Bottom line: times are dynamic, societies are dynamic,
interpretation and acceptability is dynamic, therefore science and its progress are dynamic too,
and most certainly not uni-directional.
4.4 Unnaturalness of Science
An aspect that directly follows from the above analysis is the fact that whenever one
makes measurements or even judgments about nature, its based on an imitation or sampling of
the same. This means that no matter how much effort is put into simulating the exact same
conditions that the sample is subjected to in nature, the fact that its being done in a laboratory in
an artificial atmosphere renders this task impossible. 41 Similarly, we believe that sociologists can
be considered to work with virtual labs, which is where the validity of assumptions makes all the
Lets consider Darwins idea of evolution of species, and how it was extended to humans.
There can be plenty of distinct reasons behind the failure of this extension. Whats interesting to
note is that Darwin had considerable success when predicting the behavior of savages and even
tribals45, wherein the weak in mind and body were soon eliminated from the community. But this
prediction collapses completely in the case of civilized societies, as we have seen above. So what
changes? When experimenting on animals in his virtual lab, Darwin and others treat them as an
imitation of the human world. What they ignore is civilization, urbanization and technological
development, all of which amount to a sort of human intervention. Thus, if humans in New York
were indeed fighting each other for food and shelter, the strong would have been ousting the

J a i n , M a h a j a n , N i h a l a n i | 17

weak, and if these traits were in fact genetically transferable, Darwins evolution would have
been observed to perfection. This is why savages did adhere to similar consequences. Civilized
societies, however, comprise of people attempting to live in harmony with each other and giving
up certain rights in order to enjoy others. This can be considered against the natural order if
Darwin and Wallace are to be believed, which explains how the actual scenario is very different
from that mimicked in the virtual lab.
4.5 Technological Determinism
As is evident from the term, it refers to how in addition to society shaping science and
technology, science and technology shape the society as well, in fact even more so. 51 An easy
way to understand this is to observe how human interaction and relationships have completely
changed with the coming of internet, or how social functions have changed with the advent of
transport vehicles, or for that matter how different our lives would have been had electricity not
been invented.
A corollary for this concept can be thought to be scientific determinism, alluding to how
the existence of theories and discoveries can change the course that society takes. In our case,
this mostly refers to how Social Darwinism was used as a justification for whatever people
favored laissez-faire capitalism, liberal reform, anarchism, socialism, colonial conquest, war
and patriarchy, anti-imperialism, peace and feminism.45 You name it. This form of scientific
determinism establishes what is perhaps one of the most important understandings to be drawn
from this paper that the social power of a theory doesnt necessarily depend on correctness or
details. Social Darwinism was successfully used by several authoritative figures in order to
provide scientific credibility to acts that they would have perhaps perpetrated anyway. The
theory helped popularize this amongst the populace and convince them to accept the same. One
might wonder how things in Nazi Germany might have been different had the concept of a
superior class never existed in the first place.
4.6 Stratification, Discrimination and Sexual Selection of Humans
This typically refers to the gradient of opportunities available to different sections of the
society to move up the ladder in scientific research. This may be by virtue of social class, sex,
money, location, mentors, peers etc. Its a comprehensive but simplistic notion. But this takes a

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completely new meaning when talking about Darwin. In The Descent of Man, Darwin speaks of
sexual selection of humans in vivid detail. His theory states that males select females for their
beauty and emotional qualities, whereas females select males for their strength, intellect and
status. This implies that women would always supersede men in tenderness, intuition and
selflessness, while men would triumph in energy, courage and intelligence. This makes men
genetically superior to work outside and facilitate social progress, while women are more suited
to take care of the domestic household, prepare meals and raise children.52
Its quite intriguing how logic and science has been supposedly used above to enforce
some of the most grave stereotypes in existence today, which ironically are responsible to
multiple aspects of stratification and discrimination against women themselves, in todays
scientific world.
4.7 Social Construction of Scientific Realities
In this final section, we conclude the idea of how science is a culmination of social
contexts and developments rather than an independent and completely logical interpretation of
nature. STS thus looks at Science and Technology through a social lens, driving home the point
that Science is largely a result of human impositions and not necessarily natural.
Consider the case of Darwin and Wallace again. It is no co-incidence that Wallace, one of
the very few British naturalists from a non-elite family, was vehemently against capital
accumulation acting as a driver of the strong-weak divide. He laid emphasis on constant mental
and moral improvement ultimately leading to the elimination of the need for any restrictive laws.
And the only way to facilitate this was to allow selection to spread rationality and altruism,
thereby enabling the caring of the weak and focusing on mental and moral rather than physical
qualities. This was the essence of Wallaces take on this matter.
On the other hand, Darwin had been generously supported by his father and also received
a massive inheritance upon his death. Add to this royalties, rents, investments, marriage gifts and
another inheritance from his brother, and Darwins estate itself was worth more than 250,000
pounds at the time of his death.53 It was his family wealth that enabled Darwin to pursue his
career and rise to a position of fame and success. It was again no wonder then that even though
inheritance of property implied that different children of the same generation started at different

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points in the race of success, Darwin nevertheless found capital accumulation a necessary prerequisite for progress both in the arts and intellectual sectors.
Therefore, we see that two intellectual individuals with similar ideas and hypotheses
arrived at exactly opposite conclusions concerning social class and income. Their upbringing and
mental development were starkly different, and this directly affected their judgments, opinions
and even logic. So what was ideally supposed to be a scientific insight into sociology was in fact
greatly impacted by their tinted perceptions of society.54 Such forms of bias are always existent in
the minds of scientists and researchers, since they are themselves part of this social network and
not above and beyond it. To put it in a nutshell, scientific realities as we know them may not be
scientific realities at all, rather results of cumulative human impositions, perceptions and
interpretations. This simple fact further reinforces the non-directional dynamic nature of science.
In Conclusion
It is fairly evident that such a complex and comprehensive science does not comprise of
black and white levels of analysis, but instead multiple levels of grey areas which are hard to
understand in isolation. In the end, several researchers across the world were of the opinion that
Darwinism probably did not matter at all as far as the social turn of events was concerned.
Charles Darwin essentially took the research of a large number of scientists including
Malthus, Spencer, Wallace, Greg and Bagehot, and eventually resulted in the concept of
Darwinism being widely accepted, with components that may have had nothing to do with
Darwin in the first place. Darwinism, in turn, provided bits and pieces to theories that predated it
and would have flourished in its absence too. Whoever believes, for example, that Hitler and is
followers would not have gassed the Jews had this bunch of American and British scientists not
been bantering on about the survival of the fittest, is evidently mistaken.
What is interesting, therefore, and must be taken away from this entire analysis, isnt
detailing and specificity of this particular theory or set of theories, but instead how society ended
up impacting science as much as science impacted society, if not more. It is extremely important
to understand that any scientific concept that we may be treating as a black box in todays age,
probably has a large number of disguised social parameters associated with its development;
parameters which may have even been rendered irrelevant with time, but continue to have their

J a i n , M a h a j a n , N i h a l a n i | 20

results be used and propagated nevertheless. Science and society can thus never be studied or
understood in isolation, and are part of a circle that may be dynamic but most certainly not unidirectional. As Kuhn would have us believe, it is in fact all about changing paradigms.


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