Saying general science is for profit or that it is for knowledge is not ever going to be a wholly accurate statement because there are blurry lines which allow no definitive answer even though science in and of itself is about finding definitive answers. Before going much further it is necessary I pre-qualify what I say by letting it be known my view of this is in part tainted by my being an employed scientist most of my adult life. Though my discipline would not be regarded as general science, many of my friends and peers were in fields that would be, and I draw some of my observations for what I state in part through my interaction with them.
Science in its earliest days was about finding answers. Scientists were people that primarily conducted their research and experiments with the promise of no or little monetary reward. They sought knowledge alone. In fact as time progressed scientists were at times viewed no differently than those pursuing the “dark arts” of divination and the like and could find themselves imprisoned or executed if their findings challenged or refuted the official political or religious stance of whatever governing body the fell under. Still they persisted without any real hope or inclination towards profit.
As centuries moved on science became more valuable and accepted, but still not wholly separated from the mystical. While scientists were now to some degree being compensated for what they discovered and being added to royal courts, the pursuit of science for them (at least mostly) was still based in gaining knowledge. To cut down on the history, let’s jump ahead to the 1900’s.
By this point science had been removed from mysticism and stood on its own. Practical solutions to problems discovered through science were changing the world. It could be anything from growing better crops, alternate fuels, medications, or more efficient ways for the military to kill. Science at this point in history began to change.
Scientists slowly but surely began moving from researching the things that were questions with little or no promise of monetary reward towards projects that did hold monetary promise. Being human beings with needs and wants some found science could be extraordinarily profitable and need not be conducted in cramped labs subsidized largely out of their own pocket, money often earned by teaching science. This shift started moving more and more scientists into pharmaceutical fields, the defense industry, or anything which they could market some small improvement of an existing product so that industry could market and sell it.
When you walk a university campus these days and talk to young prospective scientists. very few have the desire to dig into the pressing questions of the world we have yet to discover, they want to get into the high paying industry jobs. They would be more than happy to spend a life tweaking an existing polymer so that it can be molded better to cut down the costs of making a shoe sole. They would rather find out how to cut the side effects of a drug so that only 19.75% of its users experience a certain side effect rather than 19.7625% as the drug formula could be changed creating a new patent that could be marketed as an “improved” option. There is huge money in that and scientists today are just as profit driven as anyone else, maybe even more so.
From my own experience I can testify that even in the fields of science that are less commercialized and dependant on grants, the trend is much the same. Scientists need to put food on the table like anyone else and support their families and as such many have a price. You can go through the collected works of numerous scientists and see them prove some point only to turn around and disprove it a year or two later. Then when you dig deeper you can see that they do this over and over. it isn’t because they found new evidence or did sloppy work initially, it is because someone is willing to pay for an opinion and regardless of what it is they are willing to supply it if the price is right. This is often rationalized as being necessary to fund other projects that hold “real value” not that unlike the plastic surgeon who inflates prices to “offset” the cost of the one procedure a year he performs for a needy person gratis.
While not every scientist is for sale and not all are in science regardless of discipline for the money, the vast majority I have encountered are. In a society that demands bigger, better, and new and improved at lightning speed scientists that can deliver make big money. Companies are constantly on the lookout to have new formulas and tweaks for whatever they produce waiting in the wings an ready to go regardless of necessity just to have a new patent waiting in the wings than can exclusively hold for “x amount” of years. The green industry has made otherwise forgotten scientists cash cows that suddenly found a way to jump on the gravy train and earn big.
The larger question is if any of that is bad? Yes there is a potential issue of integrity, but within the scientific community that is negligible. It is the little secret everyone pretends doesn’t exist because nearly everyone is in on it in some way. Scientists have found a way to make a buck, and that isn’t necessarily bad. Many projects that began innocently enough have carried the collateral benefits of making unexpected discoveries, so in essence knowledge is still at times found and not just profits. To answer the question posed however, yes general science has become a profit industry and knowledge is a somewhat nice but usually unexpected bonus.