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<nettime> U.S. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY (Loka Alert 8:2)
Loka on 17 Mar 2001 01:27:03 -0000

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<nettime> U.S. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY (Loka Alert 8:2)

[via: geert lovink <geert {AT} xs4all.nl>]

U. S. Science and Technology Policy: 
A New Century, A New Framework 
By Jill Chopyak

In his recent book, _Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern
Superstition_, Wendell Berry rallies against science and technology
advocates who believe that strict scientific inquiry will, in the future,
enable us to discover the meaning of life - logically and rationally. He
cautions that believing we have the ability to discover the "facts" behind
the mystery of life will be our downfall: "We can give up on life by
presuming to understand it...To reduce life to the scope of our
understanding is to enslave it, make property of it, put it up for
sale...to carry it beyond change and redemption, and to increase the
proximity of despair." (1)

The recent mapping of the human genome - and reactions to it - exemplify
the threat that Berry speaks of. The February 16, 2001 issue of _Science_
magazine was dedicated entirely to the human genome project. The
significant achievement of scientists worldwide who have been working to
unravel the mystery of our genetic makeup for decades should be applauded.
However, just as a map of the world shows only geographic boundaries and
none of the complex social, political and cultural relationships between
nations, a map of the human genome cannot possibly explain the complex
relationship between biology, society, culture and chemical makeup - all
brought together in a mysterious way that make us human. Berry's critique
is one that stresses the need for humility - to accept that there are
things we will never know. However, the current scientific and
technological view is that if we try hard enough, we will discover the
meaning of life.

_Science_ editors Barbara Jasny and Donald Kennedy state: "Humanity has
been given a great gift. With the completion of the human genome sequence,
we have received a powerful tool for unlocking the secrets of our genetic
heritage and for finding our place among the other participants in the
adventure of life." (2) The mapping of the human genome has tremendous
potential to combat disease and provide new information about human
evolution. Yet, it also has incredible social, political, cultural and
philosophical implications that have not been thoroughly discussed or
evaluated. For example, the ability to predict genetically transmitted
diseases could easily cause a "genetic hypochodria", with individuals
waiting anxiously for a disease that may or may not come. Issues around
insurance coverage in the U.S. for pre-determined genetic diseases are
already at issue.  Discovering the genetic details that makes us different
from our neighbors - or other species - will have a profound impact on how
we view ourselves and our humanity, which will, in turn, raise important
and complex ethical, spiritual and philosophical questions.

The impact of the mapping of the human genome on all aspects of our lives
is significant. Yet, there has been little public discussion or debate
about such issues prior to - or during - its discovery. In 1995, the U.S.
National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy-sponsored
Working Group on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Human Genome
Research organized a Task Force on Genetic Testing to review genetic
testing in the U.S. The Task Force was mandated to make recommendations to
the larger Working Group that focuses on ensuring the development of safe
and effective genetic tests. Of the 15 voting members of the Task Force,
only one represented a public-interest perspective.

The lack of public involvement in science and technology decision- making
is not isolated to the genetics field. Science and technology policy in
the U.S. to date has not addressed the need for citizen involvement in
science and technology decision-making. At the recent Annual Meeting of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San
Francisco, California, there was a symposium entitled, "Science Policy:
The Next 50 Years." The panel of speakers included individuals from
government, university administration, and business. Discussion focused on
new modes of collaboration between these stakeholders and almost
completely ignored issues of citizen concern, societal impact of science
and technology, or how these issues will affect future policy decisions.

At the same time, recent scares in Europe (mad cow, hoof and mouth),
controversies over biotechnology in Europe and the U.S., and movies such
as "Gattaca" and "The 6th Day" demonstrate that developments in science
and technology - and their affects on our lives - are of concern to
citizens worldwide. And increasingly, citizens no longer are appeased by a
"Trust Us, We're Experts" (3) mentality. Science and technology policy is
one of the most significant areas of today's decision-making realm. There
is a need for a new mode of decision- making - one that incorporates
citizen involvement and public interest concerns, and examines the social,
political, environmental and cultural issues involved in research, and
scientific and technological developments.


Science and technology policy in the United States since the Second World
War has included three predominate players: industry, Federal government,
and universities/established research institutions. Each of these players
have held a particular role in setting U.S. science and technology policy
agenda to the mutual benefit of all three.

Over the past fifty years, the primary role of the U.S. government in
science and technology has been that of funding research and development
(R&D). From 1953 - 1978, the U.S. government funded 50- 60% of total R&D
funding in the U.S. Half of this has consistently been spent on
defense-related areas. This funding went to academic researchers in
universities and federally-sponsored research institutions, and to public
and private laboratories that furthered broad Federal objectives, such as
military security. Occasionally, developments from this research had a
commercial use, and were used and marketed for profit, but this was not
the norm. During this period, science and technology was controlled and
developed by experts, who would transfer this information and results to
the public as needed. Public involvement in the process was not
considered, except as a consumer of the commercial innovations resulting
within industry. (4)

After 1978, commercial R&D funding began to supersede the federal
government, making the market and private sector the drivers of scientific
and technological developments. This trend has continued to the present
day. Currently, industry R&D spending is two to three times the amount of
Federal spending. This shift has changed the relationship between
universities, Federal funding institutions, and industry. University
research funded by industry (rather than government) has increased over
the past decade and continues to rise.  This has implications for research
ethics, accountability, and conflicts of interest. However, such issues do
not seem to be of concern to today's policymakers. A recent opinion piece
in _The Economist_, entitled "Science and Profit" discusses the connection
between research and the global economy: "Far from compromising science,
profit...has animated it, and directed it towards meeting pressing human
needs. It is a happy marriage." (5) The question that remains, however, is
whose pressing human needs this "happy marriage"  will more effectively

Although U.S. President Bush has not spoken extensively on his vision for
U.S. Science and Technology Policy (in fact, he has yet to name a Director
for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy), his recent
Federal budget proposal gives an idea of where U.S. R&D funding will be
focused. The budget includes a 4.8 % increase in R&D at the Department of
Defense (DOD), and slight declines or maintenance of other federal
agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of
Energy and the National Science Foundation. The National Institute of
Health (NIH)  is projecting at 13% increase in federal funding, continuing
a trend begun in 1998, and a focus on research in the biomedical field.
(6)  None of the budget outlays reflect the need to examine how science
and technology interfaces with society. A pressing issue as we use the map
of the human genome, advance in nanotechnology research, and spend
resources to hook up every classroom to the Internet.

The European Union (EU) is far ahead of the U.S. in their efforts to
address the interface between science and society. A recent Working
Document by the European Commission addresses this issue explicitly:

"Modern science has developed on the basis of an unspoken `contract'
between science and the institutions taking responsibility for it
(universities, industry, governments), on the one hand, and society and
the public, on the other. New relationships are needed that fit the new
mould of science, technology and society...There is a need to...create an
open dialogue between researchers, industrialists, policy-makers, interest
groups and the public as a whole." (7)

As part of this effort, the EU recently funded a project to establish an
international network of science shops/community research centers -
 institutions and organizations that conduct community-based research in
the public interest. Community-based research is research that is
conducted by, with or for the community. ("Community" in this context is
defined as a group of people with like-minded interests, and can expand
beyond geographical boundaries.) The SCIPAS (Study and Conference for
Improving Public Access to Science) project brought together nine partners
from the Netherlands, Denmark, Israel, South Africa, Germany, Romania, the
U.S., Austria and Ireland. Funded under the EU's Fifth Framework
Programme, the SCIPAS project conducted research and analysis on trends in
community-based research/science shop activities, and established the
initial framework for an international network. The project consortium
sponsored a conference: "Living Knowledge: Bridging Public Access to
Research,"  in Belgium, January 25-27, 2001, that brought together
approximately 120 interested individuals from 20 countries. Results from
research projects were presented, and discussion included resources and
projects for an international network.

Mike Rogers from the European Commission's Research Directorate General
summed the project up in this way: "Living Knowledge is not just about the
dynamics of the most valuable asset a society produces and that it flows
to society as well as to industry; it is also about the knowledge for
living the kind of life society has the right to shape for itself, in the
context of to-day's complex world." (8)


There are many examples in the U.S., Europe and the rest of the world
where citizen participation in research, science and technology decisions
have had a positive impact on the policy making process at the local or
national level.

For example, residents in the Northern section of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania (USA) participated in collecting information about lead-
poisoning awareness in their neighborhood. North Philadelphia is one of
the city's highest risk areas for lead poisoning, because of the lead dust
produced by lead-based paint in and on the area's old and deteriorating
housing. Forty-five percent of children in Philadelphia tested are
estimated to suffer from some degree of exposure to lead.  And because
many families in the area do not have sufficient access to health care,
children are being treated only on a crisis basis and miss recommended
health and development screenings. Because tenant council presidents of
neighborhood apartments were part of the research team, they were able to
reach a broader study sample, as well as design an effective
implementation strategy that included block parties, after school and camp
programs, and cultural activities such as puppet shows and music shows
that raised the awareness of neighborhood residents of the prevalence of
lead in their homes. This has resulted in a 27% increase in numbers of
children tested for lead and a 10% reduction in children with dangerous
lead levels.

In Denmark, the Danish Board of Technology has demonstrated how dialoguing
with citizens about science and technology issues has resulted in better
decisions. Their consensus conference process allows citizens to make
policy recommendations about specific scientific or technological
developments, and those recommendations are then included in the process
by which the Danish Parliament makes its decisions. Consensus conferences
in Denmark have taken place on topics such as gene therapy, traffic
issues, and telecommuting. The process has also been exported to 13 other
countries, including South Korea, the United Kingdom, Australia and
Israel. (9)

There are other ways in which the public can be involved in research,
science and technology decision-making. The Precautionary Principle is an
idea that has been gaining recognition over the past ten years.  In
January 1998, a group of U.S. activists and scientists gathered together
to discuss the principle of precaution, and came up with the "Wingspread
Statement" on the Precautionary Principle:

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the
environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and
effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this
context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear
the burden of proof...The process of applying the Precautionary Principle
must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially
affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of
alternatives, including no action." (10)

The Principle itself calls for citizen participation (those potentially
affected) in the decision-making process. Applying the Principle to issues
such as human genetic testing for example, would force us to examine
alternatives to such testing. Increasing the range of options that such
discoveries entail fosters greater innovation and creativity in the
scientific process, leading to better scientific decisions.


We are in a time of tremendous change. The global nature of the economy,
the process of gathering and using information, the nature of
partnerships, and our societal and cultural frameworks are shifting.
Decision-making processes have become more dynamic, and traditional
stakeholders are being replaced by unique and strategic collaborations.
Yet, our intellectual and creative energy is falling short in finding
effective solutions to society's current challenges.

The traditional model of scientific and technological development is one
that separates experts from the society in which they work.  Scientific
and technical knowledge and information - and access to it - has the power
to transform our communities and world. As the European community is
demonstrating, there is a growing recognition that such knowledge
resources are no longer held solely in universities and research
institutions. The valuable assets of our globe - cultural knowledge,
community-based information, and creative, human energy - are being
accessed and shared. This new mode of collaborative problem-solving and
knowledge creation has the power to bring the resources of experts and
citizens into a mutual exchange aimed at addressing society's challenges.

In order to realize a vision of a world in which scientific and
technological developments are determined by democratic processes, and are
focused on societal and cultural needs rather than solely economic ones,
we need to bring the rich resources of our globe together to solve the
pressing issues we face. We need to work together to provide communities
with access to the information and resources they need to solve the
problems they are facing.  And we need to provide communities with the
opportunity to articulate the type of future they desire, and ensure that
they are involved in making that future a reality.

Since 1987, the Loka Institute has been working to make research, science
and technology more responsive to democratically-decided social and
environmental concerns. With new organizational leadership, Loka is
renewing its commitment to the above vision, by focusing on the following

* Critical assessments: evaluation of science and technology policies and
decision-making processes; evaluation of citizen participation and the
social and environmental impact of science and technology policies at all
levels. * Education: build citizen and community capacity to have an
effective voice in decision-making processes at the local, regional,
national and international levels. * Dissemination and advocacy: create
avenues for citizen participation in research, science and technology
processes and policies.

Science and technology is driving the way we live our lives. As human
beings, we have a basic right to decide the kind of future we want.  That
ability to choose - and to act on our choice - is part of the miracle
Wendell Berry speaks of when he quotes Shakespeare's _King Lear_, "Thy
life's a miracle. Speak yet again."


(1) Berry, Wendell. (2000). _Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against
    Modern Superstition_. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint Press.
(2) _Science_, February 16, 2001. Vol. 291, No. 5507
(3) Rampton, Sheldon and John Stauber. (2001). _Trust Us, We're
    Experts_. New York: Penguin Putnam.
(4) Hart D. M. (1997) _Forced Consensus: Science, Technology, and 
    Economic Policy in the United States, 1921-1953_. Trenton:
   Princeton University Press.
(5) "Science and Profit." _The Economist_. February 15, 2001. 
(6) FY 2002 Budget. <http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/fy02.htm.>
(7) Commission of European Communities. "Commission Working Document:
   Science, Society and the Citizen in Europe." Brussells, 
   14.11.2000. SEC (2000-1973).
(8) For more information about the SCIPAS consortium and project, see
(9) For a comprehensive list of consensus conferences around the 
   world, see <http://www.loka.org/pages/worldpanels.htm.>
(10) Montague, Peter. "The Precautionary Principle." _Rachel's
     Environment and Health Weekly_, #586. 

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