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Henry Kelly Science Policy in the United States: A Commentary on the State of the Art TIMELY, U N B IA SE D SC IE N TIFIC ADVICE IS ESSENTIAL FOR EFFECTIVE public policy, but the system now operating in the United States is in a state of dangerous disrepair. The danger takes two forms. First, we are missing critical benefits in health, education, economic productivity, national security, and many other areas that more effective m anagem ent of science could deliver. Second, we risk being overtaken by dangers that could have been avoided or for which we could have been m uch better prepared, given stronger support for analysis. There is a lot of blam e to go around for the current state of affairs. Both Congress and the adm inistration have acted in ways that have weakened traditional sources of science and engineering advice. And, with few exceptions, the university com m unity has not provided strong support for programs in science and engineering policy. If noth­ ing else, such programs are essential to produce people able to connect technical expertise with the tangled and difficult policy problems that face real decisionmakers. It is easy to say that all of these problems could be easily corrected with a few elections. But in fact the difficulties are deep and structural. It will not be easy to rebuild the apparatus of science and technical advice in a way that can serve the needs oftwenty-first centuiy America. The discus­ sion that follows will review the history of science and technology policy advice and use the lessons learned to propose a practical path forward. social research Vol 73 : No 3 : Fall 2006 737 W HY DOES IT MATTER? As Gerald Holton eloquently explains in his introduction, most of the issues we care about hinge increasingly on the way we manage science and technology. The enormous gains in economic productivity, communi­ cations, entertainment, and health care that we’ve enjoyed for a centuiy have all been driven by technical advances. Our national security is rooted in technical leadership. W hile the bulk of the credit for these advances goes to private inventors, public policy has played an important role both in supporting critical research investment and policies shaping use and adoption of innovations. The benefits of technical advances always seem to come with unintended consequences —consequences that scientists are uniquely able to anticipate. Effective, low-cost responses to problems like environmental challenges depend heavily on scientific advice. Science and technology advice is also essential if only because research and development has grown to be about 13 percent of discre­ tionary expenditures in the federal budget. There is simply no question that science and technology advice is essential to wise m anagem ent of public policy in the twenty-first century. THE STATE OF THE ART W hile the need for sound science and technology advice has increased, there is real concern that the capacity for delivering this service is in disarray. There are several classes of concern: ►Suppression of analysis and data collection (no information, no problems, no regulation) ►Secret proceedings ►Packing advisory committees ►Magnifying (or manufacturing) uncertainty ►Punishing whistle-blowers ►Equating fringe science w ith m ainstream science One class is simply the suppression of analysis and data collec­ tion. The motives are clear. If there is no data to docum ent a problem, 738 social research there is no need to solve it, and therefore no need for public interven­ tion. If your original goal is to block public intervention in the m arket­ place for any reason, suppressing analysis is a very effective strategy. If decisions are made in secret using advice from unknow n sources, there is no way to understand the analytical basis for the decision and it is therefore difficult to critique the process. We also have examples where it certainly appears that technical expertise was not the criteria for selecting the people who are selected to provide advice. For example, Dr. Gerald Keusch, former director of the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health, recently released a lengthy list of examples of individuals he had tried to place on advisory commissions for his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 737-752
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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