After reflecting a little bit more on the pure vs. applied science dichotomy, I feel that it may just be the terms themselves which are causing the confusion. When we were discussion this in our group, we proposed that maybe a better division would be between curiosity-driven and problem-driven scientific research. The first is motivated largely by a desire to understand some aspect about the natural world. This would be comparable to our “pure science” but without the tangling connotations of the word. The second science is motivated by a desire to improve human lives in some way, maybe through medicine, technology, environmental improvements or construction. From this perspective, it seems that the differences between the sciences are rooted in the motivations and purposes of the respective scientists. The use of the word pure in this context is at best misleading and at worst false.
It would seem that framing the dichotomy in these words eliminates the possibility of researchers avoiding the social implications of their work by hiding behind the label or “pure science.” Technology definitely does influence social and moral aspects of society, but so do ideas. Ideas have consequences. Even the seemingly abstract move from a geocentric to heliocentric world had numerous repercussions that have shaped the moral and social fabric of the culture’s worldview.