Throughout The Invention of Air, author Steven Johnson outlines some of the many important revelations during the study of oxygen, most of which was done by Joseph Priestley. Tumultuous and bold, Priestley made many claims about the ever-expanding nature of science and reason (air pumps and electrical machines), and how that could potentially impact the institutions of religion and governments. As Johnson summarizes, “[Priestley’s claims] had too much force not to wipe away the political and theocratic relics that had been carried over from earlier, less sophisticated ages”, which isn’t meant to be conveyed at a threat, but as a fact (Johnson 148). In other words, as time progresses, and science progresses and continues to present more facts about life, those facts will indubitably challenge the institutions that hold power in our societies: religions and governments, which is why these institutions should be fearful.
Regarding if Johnsons’ work is impacting different social and political institutions today, I believe that the answer is for the most part, yes. While saying Johnson’s work alone has been the sole reason for recognizing different social and political consequences of technological and scientific research would be a bit over the top, it is safe to say it is shedding more light on the subject. Climate change research would be an easy example of this, but what comes to mind for me is the impact CRISPR technology will soon have upon the world. Not only would it greatly impact us socially, but determining regulations for how much gene editing can be done and what constitutes as ‘ethical’ will have huge political consequences as well.