Science technology and public policy policy formulation
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Science, Technology and Public Policy: Policy Formulation. Howard E. McCurdy. Moving from culture to policy formulation: the popular view of science and technology. Society faces an imminent threat or opportunity. The problem has a technical solution.

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Science technology and public policy policy formulation

Science, Technology and Public Policy: Policy Formulation

Howard E. McCurdy

Moving from culture to policy formulation the popular view of science and technology

Moving from culture to policy formulation:the popular view of science and technology

  • Society faces an imminent threat or opportunity.

  • The problem has a technical solution.

  • The president (or some national leader) declares an emergency and establishes a policy.

  • Scientist and engineers “ride to the rescue.”

Engagement at Prairie Dog Creek (Ralph Heinz); scientists invented radar to win the Battle of Britain.

Why do we study science policy why not just study public policy

Why do we study science policy?Why not just study public policy?

Science and technology impose conditions that are not so pervasively present in other policies.

Scientific methods presume a high level of objectivity, confirmability, and rationality.

Public policies are often formulated under conditions of bias and uncertainty.

The laws of nature do not respect the laws of politics.

The two forces (science and politics) often clash with dramatic results.

When worlds collide science technology and government

When worlds collide:science, technology, and government

The American political system is designed to accommodate different points of view without excessive efforts to resolve them.

Public officials are willing to live with ambiguity in social and economic policies.

Failures in science and technology are much harder to deny.

Imperfection in the Hubble Space Telescope primary mirror embarrassed NASA; futile efforts to control the drug trade in Baltimore drew viewers to HBO’s highly acclaimed “The Wire.”

Preface broad trends and transformations in the history of science and technology policy

Preface: broad trends and transformations in the history of science and technology policy

  • The flowering of scientific influence: the Manhattan Project, crash program to deploy ICBMs, Project Apollo.

  • Big Science becomes Big Business: Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle), Supersonic Transport, Superconducting Super Collider, International Space Station, SDI (“Star Wars”), International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor: every one a “policy failure.”

  • Innovation returns: the Internet, Robots in Space and National Defense (Mars Pathfinder), Human Genome Project.

The flowering of scientific influence the manhattan project three cases

The flowering of scientific influence:The Manhattan Project (three cases)

  • Roosevelt established “uranium committee” in response to the Einstein-Szilard letter warning of German competition (1939).

  • Supported by a coalition of presidential advisers (Vannevar Bush) and university physicists (Robert Oppenheimer).

  • Secretly approved by FDR; General Leslie Groves selected as project manager (1942).

  • Clearly specified objectives; urgent deadline; single project manager; projects within projects; parallel lines of research and development; redundancy; sufficient resources; small headquarters staff; reliance upon experts mobilized into the project organization; deference to experts; total organization.

  • Extreme secrecy.

  • Finite operation – July 16, 1945 test; abolished 1946 (became AEC)

J. Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Leslie Groves at Trinity Site.

Big science becomes big business superconducting super collider

Big Science Becomes Big Business:Superconducting Super Collider

  • Driven onto policy agenda by competition from Europe to discover the W boson.

  • Proposed by DOE and approved by President Reagan (1983-84).

  • Supported by a coalition of DOE bureaucrats, physicists, NSF, and legislators from potential states.

  • Congressional support evaporated when Texas chosen (1988).

  • Efforts to secure international partners (and $2 billion) undertaken after technical design and site settled.

  • Required conventional appropriations.

  • Cost rose from $4.4 to $8.3 billion.

  • Terminated by Congress in 1993.

Innovation returns human genome project

Innovation Returns:Human Genome Project

  • Placed on the policy agenda at scientific meetings encouraged by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences (1986).

  • Supported by DOE, NIH, NRC, OTA, scientists in several fields, and the biomedical industry.

  • Encountered strong “push back” from advocates of “little science.”

  • Approved through a series of congressional appropriations and earmarks (1987-1990)

  • Specific goals: map the human genome in fifteen years (1990)

  • Competition from the private sector (Celera Genomics)

  • Clear medical benefits

  • No single site (five sequencing centers)

  • No large engineering contracts

  • Completed ahead of schedule in 2003 for 2.7 billion (less than original $3 billion estimate)

Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project (1993-2008)

Making sense of these trends

Making sense of these trends


  • Deference to scientists

  • Rational policy making

  • Adequate resources

  • Faith in science

    Big Science:

  • Incremental policy making

  • Interest group liberalism

  • Conventional financing

  • Inadequate resources

  • Distrust of science

In his Farewell Address, President Eisenhower warned of the dangers of “unwarrented influence.”


-- End to “big government”

-- Skeptical of “big science”

-- Reliance on markets

Studying science policy a framework for analysis

Studying science policy:a framework for analysis

How did the issue get on the policy agenda? Was there some punctuating event?

What type of coalition did policy advocates form? (Include your policy “map.”) Did it affect the design or concept of the program?

How was the policy announced? How much technical discretion was allowed the scientists and engineers called in to run the program?

Was an attempt made to separate facts from values?

Was the policy incremental or “rational?”

What “tools” of government were used to implement the policy?

Ultimately, let the story tell itself.

Pick a policy and describe its history

Pick a policy and describe its history

Clockwise, from upper left: Three Mile Island, Project Constellation, Swine Flu, military drone aircraft.

1 how did the issue get on the public policy agenda

1. How did the issue get on the public policy agenda?

  • The study of agenda-setting provides a bridge between culture and policy.

  • Was the policy preceded by a culture shift or a period of cultural anticipation?

  • Did a precipitating event occur?

  • How much technical discretion did this provide?

The myth of presidential leadership how was the policy announced

The Myth of Presidential Leadership:how was the policy announced?

The sense of emergency associated with precipitating events favors executive power.

The myth: that politics ends when the president’s lips move.

NASA Administrator James Webb had to overcome substantial White House efforts to delay Project Apollo.

President Kennedy announces Project Apollo; President George H. W. Bush announces the Space Exploration Initiative.

2 what was the nature of the supporting coalition american politics is coalition politics

2. What was the nature of the supporting coalition?(American politics is coalition politics)

  • Interest group liberalism (once “iron triangles” form, they are very hard to disturb).

  • “Winners” in American politics attempt to control the policy agenda by forming stable coalitions.

  • “Losers” in American politics seek to redefine the scope of conflict.

  • Coalitions become unstable as new participants enter the issue arena and redefine the policy.

    E. E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People (1960); Theodore Lowi, The End of Liberalism (1969).

The framers of the u s constitution designed the government to work this way

The framers of the U.S. constitution designed the government to work this way.

  • Traditional government: preserve order through social regulation.

  • Pluralism: let “factions” check each other.

  • Federalist #10.

  • A government of

    • Separation of powers

    • Open access

    • No final decision points

    • Constant appeal

    • Strong legislature

James Madison (1751-1836) presented the basic draft of the constitution at the 1787 convention, seeking a means to promote stable government without suppressing liberty.

In the modern state pluralism can turn into interest group liberalism

In the modern state, pluralism can turn into interest group liberalism.

  • Interest group liberalism is the use of governmental power to provide benefits that institutions in the private or non-profit sector could not obtain through an open market.

  • A government run by legislative committees will produce more public policy than preferred by the median voter.

  • Lobbying is cheaper than investment.

  • Large voluntary organizations face substantial “free rider” problems.

  • Interest group liberalism retards change.

  • Different rules (e.g. supermajorities) produce different outcomes.

James Buchanan, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in economics

3 how do public officials judge policies the fact value divide

3. How do public officials judge policies?the fact-value divide

  • Social scientists hold that facts can be separated from values.

    • Facts can be discovered scientifically

    • Values are subject to debate

  • Others hold that the two are inseparable.

    • Douglas & Wildavsky

    • Facts have value consequences

    • People have special interests

    • “Efficiency for what?”

Oxfordians hold that only an educated nobleman with a knowledge of court customs and not a commoner could have written the plays attributed to William Shakespeare, a glover’s son and actor in the Globe Company. In a class conscious society, they ascribe authorship to the 17th earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.

Science technology and public policy policy formulation

Lacking a widely-agreed upon method for discerning facts, public officials in a pluralistic system substitute advocacy for the scientific method.

  • Science establishes truth through objective methods

    • Systematic experimentation

    • Ends-means analysis

    • Cost-benefit analysis

  • American government seeks truth through an advocacy system

    • Bias is accepted

    • Pluralism and open participation

    • Role-playing and appeal

Sam Ervin, a lawyer and state judge, served as U.S. Senator from North Carolina from 1954 to 1974 and chaired the investigating committee that uncovered the evidence leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

4 incremental versus rational decision making lessons from the u s space program

4. Incremental versus “rational” decision making: lessons from the U.S. Space program

Project Apollo: the quintessential “rational” policy

  • Advanced by a coalition of NASA and DOD officials

  • Placed on the presidential agenda by a succession of external events (Gagarin flight; Bay of Pigs)

  • Announced by President Kennedy (May 25, 1961)

  • Delegated to NASA.

  • Clear goal, means to an end, adequate resources.

  • Achieved July, 1969.

From rational to incremental politics the space transportation system

From rational to incremental politics:The Space Transportation System

  • NASA (an administrative agency) led the fight for the space shuttle.

  • Officials in the president’s budget bureau doubted that the shuttle would be cost-effective.

  • NASA officials used advocacy politics to construct a broad coalition:

    • Scientists

    • Military officials

    • Large aerospace companies

    • International partners

    • Presidential advisers

    • NASA field centers

    • Affected members of congress

Coalition politics affects program design

Coalition politics affects program design.

  • In an incremental system, the presence of conflicting objectives leads policy makers (often non-scientists or engineers) to make design decisions.

  • In an ends-means system, analysis of the objective should lead to one design.

  • “Everyone a shuttle designer.”

Why doesn’t the space shuttle have airplane-like wings?

Nixon s shuttle decision inaugurated thirty years of space policy incrementalism

Nixon’s shuttle decision inaugurated thirty years of space policy incrementalism

“We must think of (space activities) as part of a continuing process…and not as a series of separate leaps, each requiring a massive concentration of energy. ….Space expenditures must take their proper place within a rigorous system of national priorities.

Richard M. Nixon

March 7, 1970

Nature of incremental policy making

Nature of incremental policy-making

  • No long range plan.

  • No agreement on objectives.

  • Small, gradual changes in an established base (one step at a time).

  • Officials pursue similar goals for different reasons.

  • Leads to the creation of programs designed to satisfy multiple constituencies with unresolved interests.

  • Which leads to programs with conflicting and often forgotten objectives, funded with insufficient resources.

  • Which in the area of science policy tends to defy the known laws of physics.

    Charles Lindbloom, “The Science of Muddling Through,” Public Administration Review (1959).

To win approval for the space shuttle nasa officials promised more than they could deliver

To win approval for the space shuttle, NASA officials promised more than they could deliver

The Space Shuttle (1972)

  • Ferry astronauts to a large earth orbiting space station (original purpose)

  • Provide a “space truck” for commercial payloads, some bound for geosynchronous orbit

  • Deliver military reconnaissance satellites

  • Transport space station modules

  • Provide an orbital laboratory for science experiments

  • Repair and return satellites

  • Transport civilians (“anyone can fly”)

  • Increase reliability

  • Cut the cost of space flight by a “factor of ten”

  • Be reusable

  • Fly 24 to 50 times per year

The absence of focus and discipline in the space shuttle flight program led to a policy failure

The Absence of Focus and Discipline in the Space Shuttle Flight Program Led to a Policy Failure

“The increased complexity of a Shuttle designed to be all things to all people created inherently greater risks than if more realistic technical goals had been set at the start….The greatest compromise NASA made was…with the premise of the vehicle itself.”

Columbia Accident Investigation Board, 2003

Having made the error with the space shuttle government officials repeated it again

Having Made the Error with the Space Shuttle, Government Officials Repeated It Again

“The Space Station could be operational as soon as 1991….Based on our planning efforts, we estimate that, in FY84 dollars, a 1991 IOC would require approximately $8 billion….Because of our extensive planning efforts to date, we believe this program is as well estimated as any similar program at this stage of development. ”

P. Finarelli, NASA, to B. Borrasca, OMB

September 8, 1983

Incremental policy broad political coalitions are easier to construct than human space facilities

Incremental policy: broad political coalitions are easier to construct than human space facilities.

Space Station Freedom (1982-1987) was not feasible and could not be built for the estimated cost.

  • Satellite servicing and repair station

  • Checkout point for geosynchronous satellites (Space Operations Center)

  • Observation facility

  • Assembly point for deep space missions

  • Laboratory for military R & D

  • Space manufacturing faculty

  • Node for European, Japanese, and Russian modules

  • Technology development facility

  • Pallet for scientific experiments (co-orbiting power modules)

  • Life science research laboratory

  • Materials processing research center

  • $8 billion (1984 dollars)

  • Actual cost of ISS: at least $61 billion (2003) – redesign, technology, fabrication, transportation and operation to 2008

Policy advocates believe that science policy works best when objectives are rationally approved

Policy advocates believe that science policy works best when objectives are “rationally” approved.

  • A guiding long-range objective.

  • A set of alternatives.

  • Agreement on the criteria by which the respective advantages of the alternatives will be judged.

  • Weighing and selection of the best alternative (“biggest bang for the buck”).

  • Establishment of management and evaluation systems for keeping the policy on track.

Policy approaches compared

Rational approach:

Produces science policies that work.

Provides for a separation of policy-making and administration.

Generates much higher levels of technical discretion (“everyone a shuttle designer”).

Incremental approach:

Bias is omnipresent (facts cannot be separated from values).

Public officials do not have the information, time, or authority to use the rational method.

Leads to a myth of presidential leadership.

The idea that the president can and will protect the program once approved.

Policy Approaches Compared

Constellation is the project designed to return long term objectives to the civil space program

Constellation is the project designed to return long-term objectives to the civil space program.

Project Constellation consists of the Ares V and Ares I launch vehicles, Orion crew capsule, and Altair lunar lander.

The u s vision for space exploration 2004

The U.S. Vision for Space Exploration (2004)

  • Use the NASA space shuttle to complete the International Space Station

  • Retire the shuttle

  • Build a new generation of spacecraft and launch systems (Project Constellation)

  • Return humans to the moon and venture to Mars, preceded by robots

  • Maintain space science spending at current levels. Study the earth, sun, solar system, and universe; search for Earth-like planets; advance knowledge of aeronautics and the effects of space on human beings; repair the Hubble.

  • Encourage commercial and international partnerships

  • Do all of this within what is essentially a flat NASA budget.

Science technology and public policy policy formulation

The iron triangle of civil space policy


Congress: Space committees

Aerospace contractors

Political pressures to maintain the shuttle work force are clashing with the vision of restoring rationality in U.S. space policy.

“Politics is harder than physics.”Albert Einstein

Science technology and public policy policy formulation

Next: “tools of government:”How the manner in which the government organizes and finances science and technology policies affects their performance.

Summary does the u s policy system work well for science and technology

Summary: does the U.S. policy system work well for science and technology?

  • How did the issue get on the policy agenda? (Precipitating event versus “next logical step”)

  • What sort of coalition did advocates construct to win support for the policy? Did it affect the program design? (Superconducting Super Collider)

  • How was the policy announced? What level of technical deference was given to scientists and engineers once the policy was underway? (Manhattan Project, Project Apollo, Swine flu)

  • Were “facts” resolved in a scientific manner or through an advocacy system? (Global warming)

  • Were the methods of decision-making incremental or “rational”? (Space Shuttle, International Space Station)

  • What “tools of government” were used to implement the policy? (Human Genome Project, Wind Power)

  • Were ethical issues involved? (Stem cell research)

  • How well did scientists understand the economic and social consequences of the policy, especially unintended consequences? (Ethanol)

A postscript the u s system does not appear to work too well in other countries

A postscript: the U.S. system does not appear to work too well in other countries.

  • U.S. pluralism combined with “presidentialism” produces divided government.

  • System has failed in all but one of the countries that has tried it.

    • South Korea: military coup d'état (1961); assassination of president Park Chung-hee (who led the coup) by Korean CIA (1979).

    • Mexico: one-party PRI rule for 71 years (until Vicente Fox elected president in 2000).

    • Philippines: Ferdinand Marcos overthrown after 21 years as president (1965-1986).

The British parliamentary system of unified executive and legislative powers has proven to be far more stable and exportable than the U.S. system of divided powers.

Summary of concepts how many can you apply to your policy

Subgovernments and issue networks

Bias and ideology

Stable and unstable coalitions

Punctuated equilibrium


Interest group liberalism

Advocacy system


Rational decision-making or ends-means analysis

Myth of presidential leadership

Levels of technical discretion


Summary of Concepts(How many can you apply to your policy?)

Frist single frame photograph of the Earth and Moon, taken from Voyager 1 on September 18, 1977

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