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Philip M. Smith Creating a Broader Political Center for Science and Policy AS HAS BEEN NOTED BY MANY DIST ING UISH ED HISTORIANS OF SCIENCE, there was a comparatively great distance between science and govern­ m ent in the United States until the m iddle of the tw entieth century. W hile governm ent had supported some research in agriculture, geodetic surveying, geological and geographical exploration, m eteorol­ ogy, standards and testing, and military research (mostly during World War I), there was no consensus that federal funding should be directed to w hat we today call basic research. And there was little enthusiasm on the part of political leaders or the public for federal support of research conducted in universities. The im portance of education had been recog­ nized in laws such as the Land Grant College Act, but the large sums of federal funds that began to flow into university research following World War II did not exist previously. Moroever, science was not gener­ ally seen as useful in crafting policy beyond quite specific applications such as agriculture. Basic research depended largely on industrial fund­ ing that was largely conducted by industry in its own laboratories or by philanthropic support for university research from wealthy patrons, often through the foundations they established. The relationship in the United States betw een science, govern­ m ent, and the public changed irrevocably in World War II. The massive research programs of the m ilitary services and the Office of Scientific Research and Development created a broad array of technologies and a large base of federally supported fundam ental science—quite a bit Roundtable Discussion 1049 of which was carried out by university research teams under contract, a new developm ent in government-university relations. Technologies and products such as radar, the proximity fuse bomb, sulfa drugs, and the atom ic bom b helped to win the w ar decisively. But there were three other m ajor legacies. There was an acceptance by the public and political leaders of the im portance of research and of governm ent’s support of it. That some w artim e technologies would rather quickly be converted into useful consum er products—for example, penicillin, blood banking, greatly improved television screens, air traffic ground approach systems, microwave ovens, and the prom ise of electricity from nuclear power—made the benefits of research real to the public. Second, there was acceptance of a role for governm ent in funding research at universities and finding the veiy best talent to cany it out, a case persuasively laid out in Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report Science: The Endless Frontier. And, the federal institutions that support R&D that we know today were established or expanded. They include the m ilitary research organizations of each of the three services, a transform ed and greatly expanded National Institutes of Health providing consider­ able university research support, the National Science Foundation, and the Atomic Energy Commission, the forerunner to the D epartm ent of Energy. (The National Aeronautics and Space Adm inistration and the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency followed a decade or so later.) Achieving political consensus for a larger federal research role during World War II was not easy even in the face of a wartim e em er­ gency that enjoyed broader political and public support th an any w ar the nation has been engaged in since. Nor was it easy to create the political consensus for the postwar era of a greater federal role in support of research and research carried out in universities. There were m any differences in views. Some congressional leaders wished for more specific congressional oversight, even to the approval of research proj­ ects. Others wanted federal research to include the social sciences and also initiatives that we would describe today as science-based social or societal assistance programs. In the executive branch, R&D leaders were 1050 social research zealous about retaining their decision-making prerogatives and insisted on peer review by scientists as the determ inant for support of research at the project level. The public was enthusiastic about technology-based products but was less certain about basic research support (although there was an inherent public...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 1049-1056
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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