The consequences of developments in science and technology (S&T) permeate political, economic, and social behavior. These developments pose profound challenges to the survival of the planet and of the human species, through the possible detonation of nuclear weapons, environmental damage, and other threats. They alter some of the most intimate aspects of individual life, such as how new children are created and how life is sustained in the face of terminal illness. The scientific knowledge and technologies involved are understood by few, but their political, economic, and cultural consequences are so significant that widespread participation in their promotion and regulation is essential. Uncertainty dominates efforts to understand virtually every major issue in science and technology. The results of some actions may be essentially irreversible, at least for decades and beyond. Developments in science and technology pose fundamental dilemmas to personal and to public philosophy alike. They pose daunting questions of what kinds of public policies we should undertake to promote, regulate, and prohibit these developments.
Given these and other characteristics of science and technology, how can social scientists, philosophers, policy analysts, and others effectively study the issues surrounding science, technology, and society? Science and technology can illustrate phenomena of importance to political scientists, sociologists, and others. Science and technology, in turn, can be described and assessed in terms of paradigms, models, and theories from the social sciences. Philosophy can help identify the values and choices that underlay different technologies. Policy experts can assess how well policies achieve such goals as fostering scientific research, the commercialization of technologies, the protection of ecosystems against the risks posed by technologies, and a host of other questions.
The Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government's (CCSTG's) six-year study of science and technology is of great value to students of science and technology studies for the way in which it conceptualizes the study of science and technology, and particularly for the substantive conclusions and recommendations it offers. The reports that resulted from this major undertaking are also accessible to the public, and address how S&T interacts with democratic forces and concerns. Each of these aspects are discussed in this review essay, following an initial overview of the Commission's work and the studies it produced.
An Overview of the Reports
The Carnegie Commission was established in April, 1988. Its initial mandate was to "assess the process by which the government incorporates scientific and technical knowledge into policy and decision making" (Science & Technology and the President, executive summary). The Commission, chaired by William T. Golden and Joshua Lederberg, was comprised of former members of Congress, former President Jimmy Carter, and other former government officials, as well as academics and business executives. Another set of distinguished civic, business, and university leaders comprised an advisory council, including former President Gerald Ford. Commission reports were the product of a series of task forces that examined science and …