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Re: <nettime> L.A. Times column, 8/14/00 -- Tech Policy
Gary Chapman on 19 Aug 2000 23:22:47 -0000


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Re: <nettime> L.A. Times column, 8/14/00 -- Tech Policy


Thanks to Geert Lovink for passing on to me Ronda Hauben's response, on
nettime, to my recent column in The Los Angeles Times about US science and
technology policy and the election this year. 

In general I agree with a lot of what Ronda has to say, as I usually do,
however we disagree about some things. Unfortunately, I think the things
we disagree with are fairly subtle and would require a very long online
discussion to explain. But I will offer some thoughts here in response to
Ronda's critique. 

Ronda is absolutely correct to point out that the Clinton administration
has presided over the privatization of the Internet, and, even more, the
privatization of ALL telecommunications in the United States. What was
once considered a more or less public resource, managed through monopoly
agreements and government regulation, has been turned over, without much
public debate, into private assets. 

However, I think given the political context of the U.S. these days, and
the drive towards competitive services on telecom networks, this was
inevitable. And not necessarily evil, although we certainly could have cut
a much better deal. I personally don't believe I would be uploading this
file at 384 Kbps if it were not for some modest amount of competition in
the telecom market in the U.S. On the other hand, we do need to fight for
open access, open standards, public space, more democratic oversight of
telecom policy and the Internet, etc. These are issues I've worked on for
quite a few years now, so I think I can say I understand this fight and
know its context and history in the U.S. 

Ronda seems to think, because of my column, that I'm against basic
research, or basic scientific research. Nothing could be further from the
truth. 

The issue that we've been fighting in the U.S. is that we (many
progressive activists who work on science policy) believe that basic
scientific research should be INCREASED, but -- the all-important but --
supplemented with and guided by "national goals" that are democratically
derived. Republicans don't believe in national goals for science policy.
They don't want any intermediate or "bridge" programs between basic
research and the private sector. This is an old, Vannevar Bush-era model
of science policy that other nations abandoned long ago. 

Ronda's ideal of the "old Internet," the one fostered by ARPA, was
actually NOT the kind of basic research Republicans favor, but a real
technology development program of the kind that progressive science policy
activists support. (It was in the Pentagon because that was the only place
where it could be supported for many years.) The ARPAnet program was
developing technologies, deploying them, fostering the intermediate sector
of technological R&D, and "gluing"  all these things together with a
vision that came from Licklider and Taylor and others. This is exactly
what the Republicans would kill, were it to appear again in some modern
form. 

When we attack the "black box" model of science, we mean a model of
science that is purely and EXCLUSIVELY "science for science's sake,"
something disconnected from any social goals, democratic oversight,
interdisciplinary collaboration for public purposes, any connection to
"'technology pull," etc. In other words, a priesthood of science that gets
to build an empire of government grants and elite facilities that have no
obligation to the public interest. Not only that, this fosters wasteful
and anachronistic competition between scientific fields -- scientists all
scrambling for their piece of the funding pie -- rule by paternalistic and
conservative organizations of elite science like the National Academies,
and all sorts of other things that are the exact opposite of what Ronda
advocates. 

Ronda writes, "Neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties in the US
have any vision for the future or for how to provide for the public
benefit." Absolutely correct, although I tried to argue that there is a
significant difference of degree between the two parties, especially when
former Congressman Robert S. Walker is on board in the Bush campaign. He
would dismantle everything Ronda would support, while Gore and his
supporters would be a little closer to what she wants, although not nearly
enough to satisfy her. 

She also writes, "But there also needs to be ways found for support for
public interest objectives rather than for commercial objectives for the
results of research." Again, absolutely correct. In fact, this is what The
21st Century Project, which I direct, has been all about for the past ten
years. It's my obligation to point out that we were making headway on this
project prior to 1994, when Democrats controlled the Congress. After 1994,
all progress toward this goal came to a screeching halt. In fact, the
progressive coalition working on science and technology policy essentially
gave up on Washington, D.C., after November 1994. 

(Ronda should see the testimony Dick Sclove and I submitted to the House
Committee on Science, Space and Technology in September 1994, and then
compare what we said needed to be done with what has been done since then.
Our testimony is at http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/21cp/testimony.html) 

Ronda and I are on the same side, although her hope for a noncommercial,
public interest Internet that looks like what the Internet seemed to look
like in the 1980s is, to me, utopian and hopeless. I think the Internet of
that time can serve as a benchmark and an ideal for what we should fight
to protect, but going back to that time is not in the cards. 

-- Gary

gary.chapman {AT} mail.utexas.edu







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