restricted access Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion (review)
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Technology and Culture 44.1 (2003) 199-201



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Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion. By Daniel S. Greenberg. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Pp. x+530. $35.

Drawing on a long career in science journalism, Daniel Greenberg cogitates in Science, Money, and Politics on the current state of national science policy. In particular, he focuses on the process by which American scientific research (mostly basic and academic) feeds at the public trough. Greenberg believes that science stands nearly unique among American endeavors in its lack of oversight despite the enormous public investment bestowed upon it. His central argument is that after World War II the American scientific establishment became singularly successful in securing ever increasing public funds for basic research, but that it did so at the steep price of eroding ethics and a diminished presence in public life.

To this day, scientific statesmen lionize engineer Vannevar Bush, not for providing a post-World War II blueprint for a national science policy, as he hoped to do, but for popularizing the "linear model" in which basic research is the wellspring of innovation and therefore of national wealth and health. Indeed, Bush's plan for a research policy safeguarded by a National Science Foundation was rejected for a warren of institutions and federal agency programs in which the NSF is only one player among many. The resulting competition for resources has defied attempts at uniform science policy. Bush's linear model, on the other hand, has proved a durable sales tool. The scientific establishment has had an extraordinary run of success in raising money. Greenberg shatters the myth that the post-cold war years have been hard on basic research. High-profile program terminations, like the 1993 cancellation of the superconducting super collider (SSC), [End Page 199] obscure the growing volume of federal funds that presidents and the Congress have made available for basic research year after year.

The specter of even steady-state funding levels creates paroxysms within the scientific establishment, leading to efforts at securing additional resources. Greenberg details a number of these, such as Nobel laureate
Leon M. Lederman's failed plan to generate public interest through an ER-style dramatic television series about the staff of a research laboratory. Greenberg argues that "public understanding of science" programs are gambits to raise support for science, not invitations to scrutinize it. More sinister and mercenary attempts at fund-raising include the contracting of lobbyists by individual institutions and universities to influence budget decisions, particularly the inclusion of earmarked funds that elude both budgetary and peer review. Even outright deception is not beyond the pale: After the cold war, the NSF screamed of a looming shortage of science Ph.D.'s, with negative implications for national competitiveness. The alleged shortage was later shown to be a sham.

Yet the need within the science community for Ph.D. graduates is very real, hence the ravenous hunger for resources. As Greenberg shows, the community's existence depends on growth. Postgraduate fellows toil as the indentured servants in the proliferating knowledge factories (laboratories) on which the scientific enterprise depends. This "Malthusian imperative" (Greenberg's term), along with specialization and publication pressures—I would add increasing laboratory costs and rising university overhead expenses—ensures that no amount of funding is ever enough.

This ravenous hunger, coupled with resistance to outside scrutiny, has had serious consequences for scientific integrity. Greenberg details two disturbing trends. The first is the gradual retreat of scientists from political engagement since Richard Nixon's dismissal of his Presidential Science Advisory Committee. Due to this self-imposed internal exile, scientific leadership is ossifying. Secondly, academic scientists and their host universities are becoming captives to corporate sponsors, who are now major players in the funding of basic research, influencing both process and results and threatening the vaunted objectivity by which science earns the public beneficence and trust. Greenberg's outrage at this ethical erosion is sometimes shrill, but gives his book its power and urgency.

Greenberg is not antiscience. Rather, he skewers scientists, particularly the scientific statesmen...


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