Scientists, the economic crisis, and special interest strategies
Jack Stilgoe criticizes scientists for not doing more to address the economic crisis:
Much of the rhetoric of the scientific community has been about protecting its short-term health when public funding is under attack on all fronts. This was the correct tactic, but there has been little strategy… Now, surely, is the time to ask the science policy questions that are so important but rarely get asked – What science do we need and why? Who should benefit? Who should decide? – and leave open the possibility that the answers might call for a radical redesign of the scientific enterprise.
I think this attitude severely misreads the situation. Why should scientists sit quietly while their funding is being attacked? Are bankers strategizing, or are they calling for lower taxes and fewer regulations? How about teachers? Construction workers? The military? Opposing funding cuts is what interests groups do. That is their strategy.
The notion that science is a human institution created by real people, with all the flaws and biases of human institutions everywhere, is perhaps the central insight from science studies. So I’m always confused when STS scholars expect scientists to act differently than anyone else. It’s almost as if STS want their ideas to be wrong!
We are not surprised when unions and business groups fight for their members. We shouldn’t expect otherwise from the National Academies because they too are a special interest. If Stilgoe and I want to change scientists’ behavior, we’ll have to make it in their interest to do so.