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Re: <nettime> L.A. Times column, 8/14/00 -- Tech Policy(part2of2)
Gary Chapman on 22 Aug 2000 18:48:53 -0000


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Re: <nettime> L.A. Times column, 8/14/00 -- Tech Policy(part2of2)


Ronda Hauben has a strong background in the history of technology policy
in the U.S., and equally strong opinions. Getting into a debate with her
about the history of U.S. S&T policy would be interesting but
unfortunately something I just don't have time to do these days. Moreover,
the kinds of things we disagree about would require serious megabytes to
develop, and would be like trying to squeeze a dissertation into a Palm
Pilot. 

Joel Yudken and I published a long critique of US S&T policy, including
the Clinton-Gore approach, as well as a lengthy set of recommendations
about what we should be doing instead, in our 1993 publication "The 21st
Century Project: Setting a New Course for Science and Technology Policy."
This was a 250-page document that would be difficult to summarize. I'd
also recommend, as a critique of the Vannevar Bush model of science, Dan
Sarewitz's excellent book, Frontiers of Illusion: Science, Technology and
the Politics of Progress (1997). (Dan was the late Congressman George E.
Brown's speechwriter in the early 90s, when George was saying many of the
things we were saying via The 21st Century Project, a remarkable display
of courage and vision for the chairman of the House Committee on Science,
Space and Technology.) 

Basically, Ronda's difference with me is that she seems to equate "basic
research" with non-commercial, public interest science and technology, and
"product-oriented" research with commercial interests. What the
progressive S&T policy community has been arguing for the last decade is
that we need a strong basic research infrastructure, but ALSO a targeted,
results and goal-oriented "technology pull" policy that is not serving
commercial interests but the public interest as a whole. Two Harvard
scientists, Gerald Holton and Gerhard Sonnert, have recently characterized
these two approaches as "Newtonian science" and "Jeffersonian science"
(see http://www.nap.edu/issues/16.1/holton.htm). Republicans, in the form
of ideologues like Robert Walker and Dana Rohrbacher, have condemned
"Jeffersonian science" and advocated ONLY "Newtonian science," or
"curiosity-driven" science instead of "mission-oriented" science. While
Democrats and progressives have no problem with Newtonian science, they
also believe it should be supplemented with national goals and missions
and that there should ideally be a "seamless web" between the two
approaches, as Harvey Brooks has put it. (The difference between the
Democrats and progressives is that Democrats are much more likely to
support programs that explicitly benefit private sector interests instead
of general public interests, and Democrats are much more comfortable with
elite-driven S&T policy.) 

What Ronda doesn't seem to see is that the Republican position on S&T
policy is NOT supportive of critical national investments such as those
that produced the Internet. In fact, Repubican ideologues are publicly
arguing these days that the government's role in fostering the Internet
was a historical fluke and the system really only took off when it was
turned over to the private sector. Democrats are countering that the
Internet would have never happened without government support and
coordination. So there is a difference, especially for programs like the
Next Generation Internet at NSF or the Internet 2 consortium. 

Moreover, the Republican approach to S&T policy would intensify
universities' growing dependence on private sector funding for research,
they would increase the link between R&D and weapons procurement, they
would curtail or even eliminate many civilian technology investment
programs such as the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles or the
Advanced Technology Program, and they would settle for a science community
that simply pits one sub-specialty against another for funding. Their
philosophy is that technology only comes from the private sector, and that
all technology is essentially a market commodity, and there is no role for
the government in fostering any technology that has any non-commercial,
public interest value. I'd say I have a lot of problems with that
philosophy and I think there's room in the Democratic Party for a critique
of that view, as George Brown demonstrated during his final decade of
speeches and work. 

-- Gary

gary.chapman {AT} mail.utexas.edu




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