Science policy for the '80s


  • Peter M. Bell


Science policy (if it ever was a policy) usually was to support ill-defined or ‘basic’ research in science; the ‘policy’ was embodied in the hope that supported research would someday pay off in the form of improved technology. One of the fathers of this policy during the post-WW-II period was Simon Ramo, a founding member of the National Academy of Engineering, chief scientist of United States ICBM defense operation, founder of the TRW Corporation, and now a member of President Reagan's science and technology task force. Simon Ramo represents an influential group dedicated to a ‘systems analysis’ approach to forecasting technological progress, and as such the ‘systems’ approach emerges as a central theme for science policy in the 1980s.

The new shift in national policy introduced by the Reagan administration includes revisions in science policy that have recently been termed as ‘searching examination’ (Chemical & Engineering News, Feb. 23, 1981, p. 22), ‘Unkind cuts’ (New Scientist, Feb. 12, 1981), and ‘The Spectrum from Truth to Power’ (Science, Technology, and National Policy, edited by T. Kuehn and A. Porter, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 1981). The idea now is to speed the conversion of scientific discovery into technology in an orderly way. As never before, there are growing debates over the roles of science in society, its lines of support, its applications. More than ever, social scientists, economists, and philosophical types are trying their hand at influencing science policy in very different ways than scientists themselves, as Vannevar Bush did 30 years ago.