Should science respond to societal needs or should it create needs where none exist. I believe science should indeed respond to social needs because it makes life easier for those in poverty....
I believe science should indeed respond to social needs because it makes life easier for those in poverty. Create jobs and shelter for others as well.
There is a kind of philosophical aspect to your question. What is the proper role of science in doing anything? There are those who believe that "pure" science is inquiry without regard for application and those who believe that scientists should pursue only inquiries that can lead to application. I have never encountered a scientist who perceived his or her mission to be the creation of a need. There are certainly enough people in the world who do see that as their goal, in pharmaceuticals, in the auto industry, in technology, and in many other areas. We need people like this, I suppose, to keep our economy moving forward, but I do think that this is a separate function that somehow taints scientific inquiry, whether one subscribes to the "pure" or the "applied" aspect of science.
In the course of responding to needs of society, science will affect the circumstances surrounding those needs, probably creating new "needs" as a result. The quote marks are because I would contend that microwave ovens are extremely convenient and I would hate to give up mine, but I'm not sure it is truly a "need." People managed (and still do in many parts of the world) to obtain nourishment for many years without the benefit of that piece of equipment.
My point is that we should be careful regarding what we classify as a "need." There is a huge distinction between something that is essential for survival - which I would contend is truly a need - and something that makes life easier, more enjoyable, longer, faster, etc., but is not vital to our existence.
It has to be both. Of course we want science to respond to needs like the need for an AIDS vaccine or for cheap and durable computers for people in impoverished countries. But there are ways that science can make our lives better even if we do not "need" our lives improved. For example, is there really a "need" for science to come up with ways to make our food healthier? Probably not. But would it help people if science could invent foods that would taste good without being bad for our health? Of course.
So science should work on both the immediate needs and the things that are more of "wants." In the long run, both of those pursuits end up improving our lives.
Did not science fiction writers respond to this very question? Ray Bradbury's short stories such as "There Will Come Soft Rains" and "The Veldt" and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World point to science's response to humans' needs; however, in these works, science's reponse was too inclusive, effecting the dehumanization of people.
Mary Shelley, too, was concerned with the interference of science into the social world and the havoc that can be created when man is no longer fully man.
I agree that science should respond to societal needs; however as a necessary incident of that it may create needs where none previously existed. Science has given us the ability to communicate by internet, etc.; which has created a need for that technology. So, science has not, and generally does not create a need for sake of creating a need; rather it creates needs incidental to making life easier for all of us; not just those in poverty.