Government support for science, there is nothing new about State support for science ,from the seventeenth century onwards, scientists have been directly employed as government officials to chart the land, the seas and the skin to check weights. measures and coms, to supervise the manufacture of dangerous chemicals and explosives and mans other technical jobs.
The industrialization of society as a whole has merely enlarged the responsibilities of every government for the welfare and security of its citizens, and correspondingly increased the scale and sophistication of the scientific work that has to be done by the government apparatus.
Government peonage of ‘pure’ science also goes back a long way into history. In Britain, the Royal Society and other learned societies were institutionally independent of the State but were sufficiently close to the centers of authority to extract occasional subsidies for major scientific protects.
The absolute monarchies of France, Prussia and Russia went much further, by setting up national academics whose members were paid a personal stipend to do full-time research .
Whatever the level of financial patronage it received, pure science was valued by the State as a cultural ornament, a sign of national security and as a potential source of economic and military benefit.
Nevertheless, although the academic scientific community was never averse to receiving government support for in larger projects, and many scientists were glad to have government employment, there was always a feeling that it should not become too dependent on the State for fear of losing its intellectual autonomy.
In recent years this situation has decisively changed. The scientific activities of most countries are now very largely financed by their central governments, and most scientism are, in effect, employees of the State.
In socialist countries, of course, all It & I/organizations. Born the most academic to the most technological. are organs of the State apparatus. But even in captain( countries such as the United Slates. where private corporations spend a great deal on industrial research, about half the total expenditure on II & now flows through the federal budget.
Government support lira science is particularly important in the Ins-developed countries whose local private industries seldom have the resources to undertake It & I) on their own account and usually have to rely on foreign multinational corporations for scientific and technological know-how.
This development was inevitable. for elementary economic reason. Only the State can find the resources for ‘Big Science’ projects, running to tens or hundreds of millions of pounds with no real – prospect of any financial return .
Only the State can feel sufficiently confident of its permanent existence to take on very-long-term research projects relevant to, say, the maintenance of energy supplies or the preservation of natural species.
Above all, the State has communal responsibilities such as national defense, public health and welfare, which can only be met, in the long run, by a proper mix of bask, strategy and targeted research.
Although the relative balance between private and public financing of It & U may be shifted one was or another according to the political and economic theories of the party in power, there seems no way back to a world where science is not vitally dependent upon public finds.
These relationships of authority and accountability transcend the conventional boundaries between the academic disciplines of sociology and political science: it has become impossible to give a satisfactory account of the external sociology of WHO: without reference to some of the theories and practices of national politics which make themselves felt deep within the world of research.
The politics of science
Nuclear center’ or ‘Congress gives go-ahead for R & D on new missile system’ arrangements; which department or agency manages which It & D activities: e.g. ‘ Engineering to have separate Research Council’ or’ National Academy of Sciences advises reform of Federal Government Laboratories. Technological projects; i.e. what costs and benefits will arise from which plans and proposals: e.g. ‘ Britain to build five nuclear power stations of advanced design’ or ‘Japan developing new generation of computers’.
lint the last of these themes, although of the greatest importance of the real world, is only incidentally concerned with science as such.
More and more issues concerning the use and abuse of advanced scientific technologies arc corning to pro in the political arena of every country in the world, but these involve so many other economic, social and ethical considerations that they cannot be dealt with satisfactorily in their meta scientific aspects alone. Since this book does not pretend to be a general text on ‘science, technology and society’.
We restrict ourselves here to a study of the direct financial and administrative relationships between science and government.
Even within this restructured definition. science policy is a complicated subject. To understand it in practice. one must have a good knowledge of the political and governmental system of the country where it is made and carried out.
Science policy is policy, not science, and obstinately refuses to conform to universal samples.
Nevertheless, certain types of problem are met with in all countries, and must somehow be dealt with by whatever sociopolitical devices arc available.
Generally speaking, science policy involves the problems of choice, patronage and control. Although these problems are all closely connected it is convenient to consider them separately, in somewhat schematic form.
Decisions on the allocation of resources between competing It & I) projects are the basic building blocks of science policy. This problem of choice arises at every level in industrial, governmental and academic science; indeed. it is implicit in the notion of decision-making in all human affairs.
Shall we construct a proton accelerator or an electron accelerator to look for zeta particles? In the ‘ war against cancer’ should we give priority to research on viruses or on environmental carcinogens? Should we buy more tanks for the army, or more ships fix the nay’, ? Whatever considerations may govern policy in principle, this it the form in which policies have to be put into practice.
Such decisions are particularly difficult in relation to It & 1). because most It & I) projects, however cut and dried they look on paper. arc essentially uncertain.
A research project. by definition, is only worth undertaking if it has a real chance of failing: it should always look more like a gamble than a safe investment.
This risk factor, moreover, is open-ended. The significance of success will not he clear in advance, so that any of a number of other possible investigations can scent equally attractive.
The task is not made easier by one of the characteristic, of a good saving (i.e. one whose proposals are worth supporting) – the imagination and enthusiasm to think up many more excellent research projects than can possibly be undertaken. One of the major questions in the theory and practice of science policy is whether there are any general criteria by which such decisions could, or should be taken.
As we have seen, economic criteria are appropriate in the final stages of technological development, although the canons of financial accountancy are seldom strictly applicable.