BOX ES.1 Why a Historical Approach?
Science and technology policy issues are usually approached in an analytical and quantitative way that projects the future from the present by extrapolating from quantitative data. A historical approach, as used in this report, provides a different perspective. History offers empirical evidence of the success and failure of past policies and allows patterns to be discovered that can inform future decisions. It allows analogies to be drawn between events that occurred decades apart but that may be applicable in the future. Furthermore, historical narrative can accommodate messy complexity more easily than can a tightly structured analytical essay, and it allows reflection on long-term process development and evolution. The case studies in this report present finely nuanced accounts that convey the ambiguities and contradictions common to real-life experiences.
Of course, history is limited in its ability to serve as a guide to future. History cannot suggest what would have happened if circumstances had changed in the past. For example, history can show the influence of federal funding on historical innovations in computing, but it cannot suggest what directions might have been taken without federal support. In addition, teasing out lessons from history that can inform the future is a difficult task. Past outcomes are often tied to specific circumstances. The success or failure of specific research programs, for example, may be influenced as much by the particular people involved as by the amount of funding available. The case studies presented in this report attempt to overcome some of the limitations of history as a guide by examining events that occurred at various points in time and identifying lessons that many, if not all, of the cases offer. In this way, they can contribute to judgments about basic policies that are effective in different contexts.