Retiring the Social Contract for Science

By Guston, David H. | Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Retiring the Social Contract for Science


Guston, David H., Issues in Science and Technology


Updating the way we talk and think about the place of science in society will lead to more effective policy.

A widely held tenet among policy scholars maintains that the way people talk about a policy influences how they and others conceive of policy problems and options. In contemporary political lingo, the way you talk the talk influences the way you walk the walk.

Pedestrian as this principle may seem, policy communities are rarely capable of reflexive examinations of their rhetoric to see if the words used, and the ideas rep resented, help or hinder the resolution of policy conflict. In the science policy community, the rhetoric of the "social contract for science" deserves such examination. Upon scrutiny, the social contract for science reveals important truths about science policy. It evokes the voluntary but mutual responsibilities between government and science, the production of the public good of basic research, and the investment in future prosperity that is research.

But continued reliance on it, and especially calls for its renewal or rearticulation, are fundamentally unsound. Based on a misapprehension of the recent history of science policy and on a failed model of the interaction between politics and science, such evocations insist on a pious rededication of the polity to science, a numbing rearticulation of the rationale for the public support of research, or an obscurantist resystemization of research nomenclature. Their effect is to distract from a new science policy, what I call "collaborative assurance," that has been implemented for 20 years, albeit in a haphazard way.

One cannot travel the science policy corridors of Washington, D.C., or for that matter, read the pages of this journal, without stumbling across the social contract for science. The late Rep. George E. Brown, Jr., was fond of the phrase, as Gerald Holton and Gerhard Sonnert remind readers of Issues (Fall 1999) in their argument for resurrecting "Jeffersonian science" as a "third mode" to guide research policy. The social contract for science is part of the science policy scripture, including work by Harvey Brooks, Bruce Smith, the late Donald Stokes, and others. Its domain is catholic: Last year's World Conference on Science, co-organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and the International Council for Science, called for a "new social contract" that would update terms for society's support for science and science's reciprocal responsibilities to society.

In a recent book, I unearth a more complete genealogy of the social contract for science, pinpoint its demise two decades ago, and discuss the policies created in its wake. I find its origin in two affiliated concepts: the actual contracts and grants that science policy scholar Don K. Price placed at the center of his understanding of the "new kind of federalism" in the relationship between government and science; and a social contract for scientists, a relationship among professionals that the sociologist Harriet Zuckerman described as critical to the maintenance of norms of conduct among scientists. Either or both of these concepts could have evolved into the social contract for science.

Most observers associate the social contract for science with Vannevar Bush's report Science, The Endless Frontier, published at the end of World War II. But Bush makes no mention in his report of such an idea and neither does John Steelman in his Science and Public Policy five years later. Yet commonalities between the two, despite their partisan differences, point toward a tacit understanding of four essential elements of postwar science policy: the unique partnership between the federal government and universities for the support of basic research; the integrity of scientists as the recipients of federal largesse; the easy translation of research results into economic and other benefits, and the institutional and conceptual separation between politics and science.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Retiring the Social Contract for Science
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.