Ecologist Richard Levins and geneticist Richard Lewontin argue that modern science has been fully incorporated into the process of capitalism, and is subject to the same conditions as any other commodity. They discuss the implications this has for scientific research, and the influence of bourgeois ideology on the thinking of scientists. The essay is taken from their 1985 book, The Dialectical Biologist.
Modern science is a product of capitalism. The economic foundation of modern science is the need for capitalists not only to expand horizontally into new regions, but to transform production, create new products, make production methods more profitable, and to do all this ahead of others who are doing the same. Its ideological underpinnings are congruent with these needs and also with the political philosophy of the bourgeois revolution – individualism, belief in a marketplace of ideas, internationalism, nationalism, and rejection of authority as the basis of knowledge.
As capitalism developed, so did the ways in which science participated. From a luxury consumption for the aristocracy (along with court musicians and fools), science became in important ideological weapon in the struggle against feudal theology and a resource for solving practical problems of the economy. After the long depression in the last part of the 18th century, there was a definite upsurge of inventions and innovations in industry and agriculture. The number of patents registered in Great Britain rose from 92 during the 1750s to 477 in the 1780s. Agricultural societies were established around that time, and advances in animal breeding and management resulted in the formation of cattle breeds, such as Hereford. The weight of cattle marketed in London doubled in the course of the eighteenth century, and that of lambs tripled. In the early nineteenth century agricultural journals began to be published.
The leaders of the bourgeois revolutions recognized the potential of scientific research for military and commercial power. Among the earliest scientific societies were the Royal Society, in 1662; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded in 1780 by leaders of the revolution in New England; Franklin's American Philosophical Society (1768); and the Naval Observatory in Greenwich (1675). In France the Directorate founded the Ecole Polytechnique in 1795, and Napoleon urged scientists to develop munitions, as well as a synthetic indigo dye to replace the imports from India that were cut off by war. The systematic surveying and cataloguing of the biological resources of tropical regions conquered by European countries led to a flowering of systematic biology under the leadership of Linnaeus. By 1862 the Morrell Act in the United States set up the land grant colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts in recognition of the importance of scientific knowledge for the improvement of farming and mining.
Throughout the first century of the industrial revolution, science enlarged its role as an externality of the capitalist expansion, like roads and lighthouses, and as a way to solve particular problems (as in Pasteur's identification of the Phytophora that threatened to wipe out the French wine industry). But science was not yet a commodity. Its application was still uncertain, its potential still mostly untapped, its product still often an after-the-fact explanation of empirical innovations.