Gary Chapman on 22 Aug 2000 16:34:55 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] 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 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

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