Reports of the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government
Bryner, Gary, Policy Studies Journal
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 technology in the major institutions of government, as well as specific categories of public policy.
The Commission created task forces and special committees for science, technology, and the Executive Office of the President, regulatory agencies, Congress, the judiciary, the states, and for several policy areas: international affairs, international development, international environmental regulation, defense procurement, economic policy and the global competitiveness of United States firms, math and science teaching in the public schools, energy and environmental policy, environmental research, federal government employment of scientists and engineers, and the incorporation by governments of nongovernmental research and advice. Concluding reports focused on broad issues concerning the role that science and technology plays in meeting the challenges confronting the United States and the world. The Commission produced 20 reports aimed at the major institutions of government, and at major areas of public policy, as outlined below. Nine reports focused on building institutional capacity for science and technology:
Science & Technology and the President (October, 1988);
Science, Technology, and Congress: Expert Advice and the Decision-Making Process (February, 1991);
Science, Technology, and Congress: Analysis and Advice from the Congressional Support Agencies (October, 1991);
Science, Technology, and Congress: Organizational and Procedural Reforms (February, 1994);
Science and Technology in Judicial Decision Making: Creating Opportunities and Meeting Challenges (March, 1993);
E3: Organizing for Environment, Energy, and the Economy in the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government (April, 1990);
Technology and Economic Performance: Organizing the Executive Branch for a Stronger National Technology Base (September, 1991);
Science, Technology, and the States in America's Third Century (September, 1992); and
Facing Toward Governments: Nongovernmental Organizations and Scientific and Technical Advice (January, 1993).
Eight reports focused on the role of science and technology in several policy areas:
Science and Technology in U.S. International Affairs (January, 1992);
Partnerships for Global Development: The Clearing Horizon (December, 1992);
New Thinking and American Defense Technology (August, 1990);
In the National Interest: The Federal Government in the Reform of K-12 Math and Science Education (September, 1991);
New Frontiers in Regulatory Decision Making: The Role of Science and Technology (April, 1993);
Risk and the Environment: Improving Regulatory Decision Making (June, 1993);
Environmental Research and Development: Strengthening the Federal Infrastructure (December, 1992); and
International Environmental Research and Assessment: Proposals for Better Organization and Decision Making (July, 1992).
One report explored broad, overarching issues in science, technology, and society:
Enabling the Future: Linking Science and Technology to Societal Goals (September, 1992).
Two reports summarized the reports and recommendations of the Commission:
Science, Technology, and Government for a Changing World (April, 1993); and A Science and Technology Agenda for the Nation: Recommendations for the President and Congress (December, 1992).
Conclusions and Recommendations
These reports offered a wide range of analyses and recommendations. A number of institutional changes in the federal government were recommended that illustrate the kinds of problems that were uncovered and the remedies that were proposed. In general, the studies found a fragmented science and technology infrastructure in the federal government that often was inadequate for assisting government officials in making decisions about promoting and regulating science and technology-related developments, and a lack of long-term assessments of and planning for developments in S&T. The White House, one study concluded, should strengthen the science and technology expertise available to the President and the Executive Branch by expanding the role of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and by elevating the position of Science Advisor to Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (Science & Technology and the President).
Reports aimed at Congress called for the creation of a bipartisan "Science and Technology Study Conference" to coordinate relevant issues among congressional committees, and a private nonprofit "Science and Technology Study Institute" to facilitate communication between Congress and scientists (Science & Technology and the President). A second study suggested that Congress strengthen the capacity of its support agencies to assess science and technology-related policies. One report focused on the Office of Technology Assessment, for example, and recommended that its reports give greater attention to policy issues and options, communicate to Congress the range of opinions it considered through its advisory and review processes, increase its capacity for economic analysis, and seek more discretion to undertake studies that anticipate developments in S&T (Science, Technology, and Congress: Analysis and Advice from the Congressional Support Agencies). A third report argued for changes in congressional committee structure to promote more consistent formulation, funding, implementation, and oversight of S&T policies; studies of S&T issues that cut across committee lines; closer ties between civilian and military S&T efforts; and the creation of a National Forum on Science and Technology Goals to identify goals for S&T in response to national and international concerns and to monitor progress in achieving them (Science, Technology, and Congress: Organizational and Procedural Reforms).
Other studies found shortcomings in the executive and judicial branch efforts to address S&T issues, and also called for the creation of new institutions to coordinate S&T-related policies and to develop the capacity to anticipate and assess long-range developments. Federal courts are overwhelmed by complex scientific issues, one report concluded, and recommended increased science education for judges, development of greater access for judges to scientific information, and the establishment of a nongovernmental Science and Justice Council to monitor the courts' ability to manage and adjudicate S&T-related issues (Science and Technology in Judicial Decision Making: Creating Opportunities and Meeting Challenges). Two reports called on the Executive Office of the President to take a proactive role in providing broad policy guidance to regulatory agencies and avoid micromanagement of policy details (New Frontiers in Regulatory Decision Making: The Role of Science and Technology), and to create a focal point for integrating risk-related policies across agencies and with other policy goals (Risk and the Environment: Improving Regulatory Decision Making). The report on science and technology in states sounded a similar theme, calling for the creation of an interstate compact to coordinate S&T activities among states and the appointment of both a science advisor to the governor and a science and technology advisory board to the legislature in each state (Science, Technology, and the States in America's Third Century).
A second set of studies focused on global concerns. They found an inadequate infrastructure to assist the United States in dealing effectively with issues that implicate science and technology, and proposed a number of new institutions for S&T issues. One study contended that, since foreign policy must be viewed in the context of S&T, the State Department should increase its capability to deal with science and technology issues as they relate to foreign affairs by, among other things, creating a Science and Technology Counselor to the Secretary of State and increasing the number of science and technology officers working at embassies abroad (Science and Technology in U.S. International Affairs). Another study urged that, since science and technology are among the most powerful tools for international development, a National Action Roundtable for International Development be created to stimulate the creation of public-private coalitions to address critical development problems (Partnerships for Global Development: The Clearing Horizon). A study that found numerous shortcomings in global environmental research and assessment advocated a new multilateral institution, the Consultative Group for REsearch on ENvironment (CGREEN) (International Environmental Research and Assessment: Proposals for Better Organization and Decision Making).
A study of defense policy found significant problems with the ability of the national security establishment's ability to address S&T concerns, and endorsed efforts to strengthen the Defense Science Board and establish a high-level national security science and technology advisory panel in the White House (New Thinking and American Defense Technology). Another report offered recommendations for moving the United States toward a single dual-use (commercial and military) technology base, including changing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) into a National Advanced Research Projects Agency (NARPA) (Technology and Economic Performance: Organizing the Executive Branch for a Stronger National Technology Base).
A third collection of studies explored the need for stronger S&T efforts in environmental policy and related concerns. One report concluded that a widespread failure to recognize the interaction of environment, energy, and the economy should be remedied by devising a mechanism within the Executive Branch for integrated policy analysis of these issues and for coordination of research (E3: Organizing for Environment, Energy, and the Economy in the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government). The distribution of research and development responsibilities for environmental issues throughout the federal government was examined in a report that proposed the consolidation of the EPA's laboratory structure, and the establishment of six major Environmental Research Institutes (Environmental Research and Development: Strengthening the Federal Infrastructure). A study of regulating environmental risks suggested that regulatory agencies follow the lead of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and conduct relative risk assessments. These assessments then should be used to establish priorities for reducing risk. Agencies should also establish long-run research objectives, strengthen the ties between research and regulatory policy, and streamline the process by which they promulgate regulations (Risk and the Environment: Improving Regulatory Decision Making).
Three studies took on broader themes. One called for coordinated efforts between the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to improve science and math education in the United States (In the National Interest: The Federal Government in the Reform of K-12 Math and Science Education). A second called on nongovernmental organizations to adhere to the scientific processes of critical review and open argumentation as they prepare and submit analyses to governmental bodies (Facing Toward Governments: Nongovernmental Organizations and Scientific and Technical Advice). Another study recommends longer-term thinking about S&T goals both within and outside government through institutional and other changes (Enabling the Future: Linking Science and Technology to Societal Goals). The final Commission report summarized the major themes and recommendations of the reports: science and technology expertise must be strengthened to match that for economics, national security, and other key fields; S&T considerations must be integrated across policy areas; S&T efforts must be coordinated; and more long-range research, planning, and anticipatory actions must be encouraged in order to ensure that the United States has the capability to respond to developments in science and technology and to shape them in desirable ways. New institutions are needed in every branch of government and in the private sector that will achieve these goals. New initiatives are required to encourage education and training in S&T, from the public schools to career scientists and engineers (Science, Technology, and Government for a Changing World).
Conceptualizing Science and Technology
The Carnegie Commission reports take a very broad view of S&T. This is a strength as well as a shortcoming of the studies. The reports demonstrate effectively the breadth of the reach of S&T-related issues. In the report on global development, for example, promotion of S&T is seen as the key to the creation of democratic societies, the protection of human values, productive economies, and effective development. Science and technology are the key to ensuring that development is sustainable - that development improves the quality of life for current as well as future generations. As a result, recommendations go well beyond the promotion of S&T in calling for "coordinating the ongoing efforts of the major donors," "major reform of 'foreign assistance' legislation and oversight," and a rededication of the United States "to a fair share of the effort on urgent development in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East and, at the same time, reach out to the extraordinary opportunities in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union" (Partnerships for Global Development: The Clearing Horizon). While these may all be needed and desirable actions, it is not clear how an inquiry into science and technology necessarily supports these policy prescriptions.
Nor do the reports help us understand what is, and is not, part of S&T. If we are to promote S&T, does that mean we should promote everything that has some connection to science or technology, or that we can invoke the image of progress and scientific sophistication because it rests on some technology? Are there some S&T developments that should not be promoted? If so, which ones? Science and technology are identified with national security, environmental protection, and international development; why not health care, or education in general? One paradox we face is that as we draw the circle of S&T more broadly, as we must in order to reflect its enormous scope and impact, we may dilute our assessment of what kinds of specific actions we need to consider to promote or regulate it.
Taken as a whole, these reports are remarkably optimistic. While there is some recognition that many of the problems discussed are a result of the adverse effects of otherwise desirable technologies, or sometimes the consequence of technology gone awry, there is a remarkable degree of faith in science and technology, and in our ability to direct and shape it. The reports repeatedly call for more long-range research and planning for S&T, as if the primary challenge was only to move us away from our short-run political concerns to longer ones, and to shift resources toward more scientists, computer modeling, and analysis of S&T-related phenomena. The reports do not help us very much to understand why some scientific and technological endeavors have become so problematic, or how we can deal more effectively with the tremendous uncertainty surrounding so many S&T-related phenomena, or how empirical experience can illuminate major theoretical constructs of science and technology such as high-reliability organization theory or the theory of "normal" accidents.
Democracy and the Study of Science and Technology
The optimism of the Carnegie Commission reports lies not only in their underlying belief that developments in science and technology are desirable, but also that they are subject to democratic control and direction. Much of the value of the reports is their successful attempt to bring together leading scientists and public officials to discuss and assess important issues and to make those discussions accessible to policymakers and to the public. However, the reports only hint at a host of questions concerning whether we want to embrace such an optimistic view of science and technology, whether some developments should be resisted, and what are the costs and benefits of our faith in S&T. Nor do they push our understanding further along in how we can ensure that scientific progress and technological developments further other goals of justice, equality, liberty, and self-government. Perhaps scientific and technological progress is inevitable and largely beyond our control. Perhaps progress is a question of faith, and not one susceptible to a broad, qualitative assessment of costs and benefits. But those are questions that will have to be addressed elsewhere.
Reports like those issued by the Carnegie Commission deserve to be assessed in terms of how well they achieve the goals they established for themselves. From that perspective, the reports are, indeed, a very effective means of "accelerating scientific and technological developments" (Science, Technology, and Government for a Changing World). They provide a host of specific as well as general recommendations for how our capacity to understand and foster S&T in our major public institutions, and in some of our most important public policies, can be strengthened. But reports also can be assessed in terms of the nature of the goals themselves. These reports are useful, valuable contributions to society, and to social science scholarship, in making the case for greater investments and confidence in science and technology. However, they must be read alongside studies and reports that question our ability to control developments in science and technology and challenge our confidence in analysis, expertise, scientific "progress," and technological "advancements."
Gary Bryner is professor of political science at Brigham Young University.
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Publication information: Article title: Reports of the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government. Contributors: Bryner, Gary - Author. Journal title: Policy Studies Journal. Volume: 22. Issue: 3 Publication date: Autumn 1994. Page number: 534+. © 1999 Policy Studies Organization. COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Group.
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