Science Policy: In perspective

On May 21, 2020, a bill was introduced in Congress to pour $100 billion into technology development to “catalyze United States innovation.” Exactly 10 days later, the University of Colorado shut down its Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. The juxtaposition of these two events is not some bitter irony, but it does bring into sharp focus the essence of American science politics.

You can read more here.

The $100 billion technology bill is pertinent to the story because it demonstrates why such centers are expendable: no one really cares about science policy analysis unless it provides more reasons for getting more money into the research system

The pertinent highlights:

  • On May 21, 2020, a bill was introduced in Congress to pour $100 billion into technology development to “catalyze United States innovation.” Exactly 10 days later, the University of Colorado shut down its Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.
  • The $100 billion technology bill is pertinent to the story because it demonstrates why such centers are expendable: no one really cares about science policy analysis unless it provides more reasons for getting more money into the research system.
  • As for more money for more science making the world better, the problem is that science doesn’t drift down onto the world like cosmic dust; it comes via economic, social, and institutional arrangements, often transported by technological innovations.
  • Schumer (D-NY)—calledthe Endless Frontier Act. As the bill explains: “For over 70 years, the United States has been the unequivocal global leader in scientific and technological innovation, and as a result the people of the United States have benefitted through good paying jobs, economic prosperity, and a higher quality of life.”
  • Rather than being driven by specific problems in response to an agency mission, it would be driven by scientific research and technology development, mostly centered at universities, and aimed at creating new sources of economic opportunity in regions of the country that have been left behind by past innovation and growth.
  • Advancing science and technology without regard to outcomes is relatively straightforward; advancing it in a way that helps to address the knowledge and innovation needs of the nation—for affordable, high-quality health care, for decent, well-paying jobs, for clean air and water, for cheap and clean energy, for fresh, nutritious, inexpensive food, safe homes and streets, great education—that’s more difficult.
  • As Hamburg explains, the crisis has brought the scientific community together to move “in ways that the authors never thought possible in terms of the speed of development,” and Hamburg and Dzau propose models of collaborative innovation that are entirely outside the restricted domain of science and technology policy allowed by Science, the Endless Frontier.
  • Sampat suggests consideration of a DOD-like end-to-end government role in making new drugs accessible for all—the sort of approach to linking publicly funded innovation to societal outcomes that the Endless Frontier Act ought to be proposing, but isn’t.
  • The Endless Frontier Act notes that “more than 90 percent of the Nation’s innovation sector employment growth in the last 15 years was generated in just 5 major cities.” Appropriately, its programs focus on “partnering with the private sector to build new technology hubs across the country.” But as Carl Schramm shows in “Save America’s Dying Cities,” such programs are unlikely to take hold unless cities are well-managed, have good public education, and aggressively foster local entrepreneurship capacity and opportunity.
  • Ambiguity, and uncertainty of the world that humans continually create through their scientific and technological genius, it’s really quite unbelievable that models of the democratic governance of science could still be largely captured by the simple thinking in Science, the Endless Frontier.
  • As the articles here show—as, the author hopes, Issues in Science and Technology always shows—a rich array of experts are challenging the contradictions and incoherence of the Endless Frontier model, and offering positive new policy ideas and options.