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Daniel J. Kevles What’s New about the Politics of Science? THIS IS A TIME OF PARADOX IN FEDERAL SCIENCE POLICY. U N D E R THE adm inistration of President George W. Bush, the federal government has been providing handsom e and steadily increasing dollar support for research and development. In constant 2005 dollars, the federal budget for research and development (R&D) has climbed from some $90 billion in 2000 to $135 billion in 2006, an increase of 50 percent. In his State of the Union speech in January 2006, President George W. Bush drew on an influential report from the National Academy of Sciences to call for an American Competitiveness Initiative that over 10 years would double federal expenditures in critical basic research areas in the physi­ cal sciences such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources. It would also train an additional 70,000 high school science and m athem atics teachers (AASS, 2006; “Transcript of State of the Union Speech,” 2006). Yet the news is not all good, especially in public policymaking for areas related to science and technology. Defense has commanded the preponderant proportion of the increase in the federal R&D budget since 2000 (AASS, 2006). The Bush adm inistration persistently censors, distorts, or m anipulates policy-relevant scientific inform ation, ignor­ ing or rejecting the advice o f authoritative experts in sensitive areas such as global warm ing and hum an stem-cell research. It has reportedly subjected potential scientific advisers to political litm us tests, quashing nom inations to advisory committees on partisan grounds (Branscomb, 2004: 54). And the president him self has granted intellectual legitimacy social research Vol 73 : No 3 : Fall 2006 761 to those who insist, contrary to the settled science of evolutionary biology, that the theory of biological change by intelligent design be given equal tim e in public-school science classes. At a press conference in February 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists declared “that the adm inistration of President George W. Bush has disregarded the principle that the contributions of science to public policy decisions m ust always be weighed from an objective and im partial perspective.” The statem ent w ent on to say that the Bush adm inistration has politi­ cized science to an egregious degree, sharply departing from the long­ standing practices of “presidents and adm inistrators of both parties” (Mooney, 2005: 223).1 The chemist James B. Conant knew all about those practices. The president of Harvard University during m uch of the middle third of the tw entieth century, he was a m ajor figure in the mobilization of science during World W ar II and a key figure in science policymaking after­ ward. In 1947, in the middle of the postwar construction of the federal scientific system as we know it, he rem arked: “You have to get the past straight before you can do m uch to prepare people for the future” (Hershberg, 1993: 287). The Union of Concerned Scientists’ picture of the past is in fact somewhat bent and needs straightening. After World War II, w hen the m odern era of government science advising began, both presidents and Congress latched onto techni­ cal views that suited their political purposes. Who could forget Harry Trum an’s decision to proceed w ith the hydrogen bomb, against the advice of his distinguished atomic advisers? Or, in the 1950s, Congress’s endorsem ent of the technologically silly project of a nuclear-powered airplane? Or in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan’s enthusiasm for a national missile defense—Star Wars—in the face of widespread scien­ tific opposition? And the federal dollar com m itm ent to research and developm ent has repeatedly been rocky. In the high-inflation 1970s, the federal R&D budget, m easured in constant dollars, actually fell. During the McCarthy era, political litmus tests were standard oper­ ating procedure in the affairs of government science. Under President Trum an’s loyalty program , some 60,000 scientists were subjected to 762 social research security reviews. Many scientists then and in the early Eisenhower years were denied clearances—and jobs—and m any were not told of the charges against them (Wang, 1999...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 761-778
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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