Wednesday, 21 February 2007

AAAS Day 4: SUSTAINABILITY OF SCIENCE & RATIONALES FOR RESEARCH

BY JOHN THOMPSON, STEPS Centre member

AAAS Day 4: Sunday 18 Feb 2007

This was another largely US-focused event, which nevertheless raised some intriguing issues about the how the rationales for scientific research on sustainability are defined and who sets the agenda. In the US, two pillars sustain bipartisan political support for science: national security and economic competitiveness. This symposium asked whether these are sufficient and argued that even if they are, we need to be clear about what priorities for science should sustain these goals, given increasing internationalisation of science and of the technological marketplace.
For two decades, the US has ignored these questions and the research investments required to answer them. Now, the federal science establishment has awakened to the need for building the intellectual models and capabilities to address priorities for science and research policy. The US Office of Science and Technology Policy is discussing the matter, and the National Science Foundation and other federal R&D agencies are planning programmes and requesting budget increases for them. The purpose of this session was to consider what criteria should be brought to bear in developing and assessing sustainable science or research policy.

This is an enormous topic, of course, whose parameters range from issues of development of human and infrastructure resources, to questions about scientific integrity and public trust, to issues of climate change and international treaties. Sheila Jasanoff of Harvard University (pictured above) one of three members of the STEPS Advisory Panel to attend this year’s AAAS meeting, gave a presentation on “Research for Global Problems: Public Understanding or Public Trust”. Sheila argued that to generate and maintain public trust, knowledge produced in support of public decisions ordinarily has to meet explicit standards of quality and integrity, often in accordance with legal requirements. Administrative processes designed to ensure the reliability of policy-relevant knowledge include notice and comment, peer review, public hearings, and judicial review. While these procedures exist at the level of the nation state, processes for generating knowledge for global problems tend to be less specified and institutionalised. At the global level, therefore, producing public trust in science has proved to be a problem. Using examples of transnational knowledge production, Sheila addressed issues of credibility and reliability for research on problems of a global scale.

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