For example, when forest is converted into agricultural land, how can the land maintain an acceptable level of watershed protection, local climate control, carbon sequestration, biological diversity, or other environmental services that society (local, national, or global) deems necessary? The challenges to science are four-fold. First, an enormous effort in scientific integration is necessary, involving agronomy, atmospheric science, biology, civil engineering, geology, hydrology, and many other fields. Second, the decision sciences have to cope with the uncertainties of dealing with man-made changes (such as global warming) that are overlaid with partially unknown natural cycles that may be of greater magnitude and may run counter to the man-made trends. Third, the “scientific inputs” easily blur into value judgments about what ought to be. Thus far, scientists have been somewhat professionally self-indulgent in opting for ecosystems that are more scientifically interesting. Fourth, scientists are finding that their disagreements on technical issues, even if rather narrow in terms of implications for policy, are often used by politicians to avoid taking action on issues for which scientific input is potentially of great importance.

Conclusions and Implications

This “quick-and-dirty” survey emphasizes the implications of various probable trends in economic factors and public attitudes. It is based on a conviction that science policy will be shaped by reactions to economic challenges (more than to national security concerns as in the past) and to increasingly nonindulgent public opinion. Subjective trends (i.e., opinions and attitudes) are notoriously difficult to project. But it is certainly fair to say that public opinion toward science and scientists is in flux. The breakdown of the justifying myth of science appears to be a very strong possibility. The argument for science for its own sake seems unnecessary (why would science that can be justified for its short- or long-term potential for serving societal needs be any less promising a priori than science undertaken out of curiosity or as a result of the momentum of PhD mills and peer-review cliques?), and the Bush economic argument for basic science is increasingly problematic. In short, scientists will be held accountable. The acceptance of basic science may no longer be taken for granted, as people recognize that the distinction between basic and applied science frustrates accountability. A new fusion of scientific input and public participation may be necessary.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement