Posted by: admin
[Update: The article discussed below is now available here]
Roger and I have both written on Obama’s scientific integrity memo over the last couple of days (here and here), pointing out the (misguided) persistence of many commentators in asserting that science should supersede politics and values in the policy making process. So far, it seems that Obama’s administration has avoided conflating scientific integrity with technocracy.
But all this talk about scientific integrity is really just a reaction against a few controversial, and highly visible incidents associated with the Bush Administration. It’s campaign politics. Now that we’ve had a cathartic and symbolic restoration of scientific integrity, how should we think about actually governing science policy going forward? In an article in the forthcoming edition of Issues in Science and Technology (PDF), ASU President Michael Crow offers one take on how we should judge Obama’s science policy (my emphasis):
So even as we applaud our new national science policy leaders, we should also encourage the Obama administration to make the necessary transition from a campaign posture focused on countering political interference in science to a governing posture that connects the $150 billion U.S. public investment in S&T to our most urgent problems.
One key obstacle to strengthening this connection is a culture that values “pure” research above other types, as if some invisible hand will steer scientists’ curiosity toward socially useful inquiries. There is no such hand. … Overall, we act as if the intellectual goals of scientists are automatically and inevitably aligned with our most important goals as a society. They are not.
As Crow points out, scientific integrity is not the major problem facing our R&D enterprise; its the governance of science. We don’t just need innovative scientists; we need innovative institutions that manage our research investments creatively, effectively, and with the goal of aligning science with the needs of society:
The success of President Obama’s new science team should be measured by its ability to break down the historical disconnect between science and policy. Our scientific enterprise excels at creating knowledge, but it continues to embrace the myth that new knowledge, emerging from the stubbornly disciplinary channels of today’s scientific programs, automatically and serendipitously turns into social benefit. A new administration facing a host of enormous challenges to human welfare can best unleash the power of S&T by rejecting this myth and building a government-wide knowledge creating enterprise that strengthens the linkages between research and social need.
It’s worth reading the whole article, as he provides examples of this kind of institutional innovation, as well as a brief discussion of how these ideas interact with the university setting.