Thursday, December 14

"american Science" is an Oxymoron

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Prior to 1925, there were many European scientists who believed the term “American Science” to be an oxymoron. Their arrogant thoughts centered on the belief that the development of hard science in American was almost non-existent. This, however, was the exact opposite of the truth. Around the time of the Industrial Revolution in America, science was also a growing field of study. Rather than developing technology around the notion that it works, scientists began to study what makes it work and how the technology could be improved. This study of the inner workings of technology led to momentous improvements to the technology. One such example of this is the work of James Francis and his turbine. Another example stems from adding science into the management of a factory as Fredrick Winslow Taylor did. Good and bad aside, American science should not be considered an oxymoron during the early 1900s because of the numerous instances of scientific thought and development going on throughout the country.

                One astounding person who advanced the implication of science into the development of technological devices was James Francis. Before the ideas of Francis, inventors rarely knew the scientific fundamentals that were actually going on in their inventions.[1] Francis was one of the first people to actually study the science that went on within a device or piece of technology. Scientist most commonly refers to a chemist or biologist, but Francis was driven to become a scientist by his own definition.[2] He wanted to revolutionize the way inventors thought about their technology.

                Francis’ ideas of applying science to engineering also helped to revolutionize the way technologies were improved. By running scientific experiments and drawing conclusions, he was able to create data that other people could use to improve several type of technology. The work and experiments of each person would begin to build up so that radical improvements could be made.[3]

                One of Francis’ most memorable engineering feats was the development of his turbine. He was able to successfully apply a scientific approach to the development of his turbine so that it was efficient in both work and cost. While working on it, Francis realized that were several flaws in the existing scientific technology. He believed the mathematics involved with the technology to be too simplified.[4] There was not enough math to support everything that was occurring. One such example is the idea of friction, which was often left out of the calculations.[5] Another example comes about when inventors transfer their ideas from scale model, to actual size. This resulted in varying results and unpredictable outcomes.[6] By combining new theories of water flow with the designs of numerous other engineers, Francis and his team were able to adapt his turbine to the varying water speeds in order to get the most energy out of it.[7]

                Another man who applied scientific concepts during this time period was Fredrick Winslow Taylor. Taylor was most noted for his application of scientific management to a factory environment. Taylor believed that a factory could be scientifically analyzed so that each worker is able to do more work for more pay. With this massive increase of labor, the factory would be able to make a greater profit and afford to pay their workers more.[8]

                For Taylor’s system to be successful, he would have to reorganize the entire factory. He ran several experiments by timing the workers to see just how fast each step of the process was. Each worker of the factory had one task that they would repeat over and over again all day long. Taylor also pushed for workers to be paid based on how much they output rather than being paid per hour. With this method, workers who produce over the average amount would be rewarded with a greater pay, while those who didn’t produce enough were punished. This would often end up with the workers who produced less to quit and seek other employment, only leaving the most efficient workers.[9] There was a downside to this type of management. By standardizing all the actions of each employee, they were basically turned into human machine repeating the same task all day.[10]

                One of the most known experiments of Taylor was one involving a worker named Schmidt at the Midvale Steel Works.  Every day Schmidt would load 12.5 tons of pig iron. Taylor offered to pay him an extra 70 cents if he would load 47.5 tons a day.[11] By giving him the worker the benefit of earning more money for more work, Taylor was able to increase the efficiency and totally profit of the factory. In return for a 60% pay increase, Schmidt worked 380% harder.[12] Now although this means of working greatly increased profit, it put much strain on the employees. For a person doing physical labor like Schmidt, he was putting his health at risk by overexerting himself everyday in order to earn that high wage. Taylor’s scientific management soon became tied with poor working conditions.

                The American scientific community was very active in the early 1900s.The term American Science is by no means an oxymoron.There were many active scientists putting their efforts to improve technology and manufacturing.People such as Francis influenced the way others thought.By experimenting with new scientific concepts, people were able to build on each other’s work to drastically improve technology.Taylor brought science to manufacturing to improve efficiency.His new timing experiments and cooperation between employees and employers would raise the profit of the factory as well as the wage of the worker.Scientific thought was flourishing in America in the early 1900s.

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[1] Pursell 94

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