Frontiers Of Illusion

Frontiers Of Illusion: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Progress

Daniel Sarewitz
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Frontiers Of Illusion
    Book Description:

    For the past fifty years, science and technology-supported with billions of dollars from the U.S. government-have advanced at a rate that would once have seemed miraculous, while society's problems have grown more intractable, complex, and diverse. Yet scientists and politicians alike continue to prescribe more science and more technology to cure such afflictions as global climate change, natural resource depletion, overpopulation, inadequate health care, weapons proliferation, and economic inequality.

    Daniel Sarewitz scrutinizes the fundamental myths that have guided the formulation of science policy for half a century-myths that serve the professional and political interests of the scientific community, but often fail to advance the interests of society as a whole. His analysis ultimately demonstrates that stronger linkages between progress in science and progress in society will require research agendas that emerge not from the intellectual momentum of science, but from the needs and goals of society.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0372-8
    Subjects: General Science, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The End of the Age of Physics
    (pp. 1-16)

    The age of physics came to an end on October 21, 1993, when the U.S. Congress canceled funding for the Superconducting Super Collider, a $10 billion-plus project whose scientific goals were to reproduce the conditions of the very earliest stages of the big bang and determine the origin of mass in the universe. To its supporters, the collider was many things: it was the ultimate physics experiment, an opportunity to develop a “final theory” that could unify all known laws of physics; it was a testament to humanity’s quest for knowledge and enlightenment and a laboratory for the education of...

  5. 2 The Myth of Infinite Benefit
    (pp. 17-30)

    The language used to portray the expected benefits of scientific research has not changed much since 1945, when Vannevar Bush, director of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development under presidents Roosevelt and Truman, issued his famous report,Science, the Endless Frontier.¹ This document virtually codified the rationale for government support of R&D in the post-World War II era, and in doing so created a rhetorical template for explaining the value of science and technology in modern society:

    Progress in the war against disease depends upon a flow of new scientific knowledge. New products, new industries, and more jobs...

  6. 3 The Myth of Unfettered Research
    (pp. 31-50)

    A lone scientist, frizzy-haired and bespectacled—the absent-minded, benevolent genius lost in thought; or perhaps the dedicated experimentalist clad in a white coat and laboring madly among the condensers, Van de Graaff generators, computers, and even electrode-covered cadavers: These are typical public images of scientific research. Real scientists protest such portrayals as distorted caricatures and sources of public misunderstanding. But the research community itself promotes an image of the scientist that is not so very different-that of the intellectual maverick isolated from the hubbub of daily life, restricted by nothing but the limits of imagination, dedicated to exploring the frontiers...

  7. 4 The Myth of Accountability
    (pp. 51-70)

    The myths of inevitable benefit and unfettered research do indeed imply that social accountability is inherent in the research process. If more research means more societal well-being, yet no particular line of research is more likely than any other to contribute to this well-being, then accountability is a strictly technical matter and the delivery of benefit to society is simply a question of how much knowledge the research system produces. A scientist's responsibility to society is therefore clear: to conduct work of high intellectual integrity. The broader responsibility of the research system as a whole is equally straightforward: to ensure...

  8. 5 The Myth of Authoritativeness
    (pp. 71-96)

    But where is the common ground between the orderly search for scientific truth and the chaotic forums of popular governance? As science and technology grow ever more pervasive in daily life, shouldn’t this common ground be sought in a more scientific approach to democracy rather than a more democratic approach to science? A 1990 editorial in Science illustrates the problem by means of an imaginary dialogue between a confused but well-meaning ingenue named “Science” and a sort of philistine Everyman called “Dr. Noitall”:

    SCIENCE. [It] is our job to tell people when 2 + 2 = 4.

    DR. NOITALL. That’s...

  9. 6 The Myth of the Endless Frontier
    (pp. 97-116)

    Although the government does support research in the expectation that new knowledge can guide policy making, and thus help indirectly to address a range of societal concerns, a much more significant motivation for federal sponsorship of R&D is the belief that many problems facing humanity can be directly confronted with concrete products and processes created in the laboratory. The effort to transform scientific ideas into tools for the direct resolution of societal problems is given shape through a view of technological innovation called the “linear model.” According to this model, the path from fundamental scientific research to useful products is...

  10. 7 Pas de Trois: Science, Technology, and the Marketplace
    (pp. 117-140)

    The products of the scientific imagination are responsible for shaping, to some considerable degree, the character of modern existence. The standard litany of discoveries and innovations made over the past century—plastics, vaccines, transistors, lasers, fiber optics, recombinant DNA—serves as one measure of societal progress, progress apparently derived from the astonishing and ever-expanding variety of new products and processes that have permitted us to conquer diseases, reduce the burdens of physical labor, increase the ease and speed of transport and communication, expand the options for leisure-time activities, widen access to information and data of all types, and create the...

  11. 8 Science as a Surrogate for Social Action
    (pp. 141-168)

    Progress in science and technology has created the technical capacity to cure human want on a global scale, at least for the moment. Failures in this regard are problems of allocation—of politics and global economics, of culture and conflict—but not of production capacity. How, then, can one now define the moral purpose ofadditionalscientific and technological progress in modern society? The research community continues to do so in terms of human welfare—additional contributions to health, to the environment, to overall quality of life. In a world where food production is sufficient to meet the needs of...

  12. 9 Toward a New Mythology
    (pp. 169-196)

    Since the late 1980s, a growing sense of turmoil has pervaded the government-supported R&D community, brought on by changes in the policy environment such as the end of the Cold War, the decreasing global competitiveness of U.S. high-technology manufacturers, the proliferation of expensive, long-term research projects such as the Superconducting Super Collider and the Human Genome, and the increasing competition for federal research funds.¹ Lurking beneath all such issues is the ongoing federal budget crisis and a political climate unfavorable to continued growth of the R&D budget. National politics contributed to the uncertainty, first as the 1992 election of President...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 197-230)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 231-235)