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
Howard E. McCurdy
Engagement at Prairie Dog Creek (Ralph Heinz); scientists invented radar to win the Battle of Britain.
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.
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.”
J. Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Leslie Groves at Trinity Site.
Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project (1993-2008)
In his Farewell Address, President Eisenhower warned of the dangers of “unwarrented influence.”
-- End to “big government”
-- Skeptical of “big science”
-- Reliance on markets
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.
Clockwise, from upper left: Three Mile Island, Project Constellation, Swine Flu, military drone aircraft.
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.
E. E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People (1960); Theodore Lowi, The End of Liberalism (1969).
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.
James Buchanan, winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in economics
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.
Lacking a widely-agreed upon method for discerning facts, public officials in a pluralistic system substitute advocacy for the scientific method.
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.
Project Apollo: the quintessential “rational” policy
Why doesn’t the space shuttle have airplane-like wings?
“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
Charles Lindbloom, “The Science of Muddling Through,” Public Administration Review (1959).
The Space Shuttle (1972)
“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
“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
Space Station Freedom (1982-1987) was not feasible and could not be built for the estimated cost.
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”).
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.
Project Constellation consists of the Ares V and Ares I launch vehicles, Orion crew capsule, and Altair lunar lander.
The iron triangle of civil space policy
Congress: Space committees
“Politics is harder than physics.”Albert Einstein
Next: “tools of government:”How the manner in which the government organizes and finances science and technology policies affects their performance.
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.
Subgovernments and issue networks
Bias and ideology
Stable and unstable coalitions
Interest group liberalism
Rational decision-making or ends-means analysis
Myth of presidential leadership
Levels of technical discretion
Frist single frame photograph of the Earth and Moon, taken from Voyager 1 on September 18, 1977