. "What Society Will Expect from the Future Research Community." Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1994.
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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference
the manner to which it has become accustomed, or it is the research community's fault for behaving like another greedy special-interest group.
Among elites a consensus seems to be growing that what is needed is more money for research and tighter linkages between science, technology, and societal needs. To many people this sounds like the “same old same old”—the solution to our problems is supposed to be a large dose of what got us into the mess in the first place (or at least what has failed to get us out of it). Insofar as there is something new in the idea of yoking together science, technology, and society, this smells vaguely dangerous to many people. It seems excessively rationalistic, and perhaps even un-American. Although we want to compete successfully with the Japanese, we do not want to become Japanese; we want to hang on to a standard of living that we feel is eroding, and also preserve our idea of the American way of life.
Clearly there are conflicts between the research community and society. The collapse of communism and the rise of federal budget deficits have exposed weaknesses that were there all along. The apparent peace and harmony of the good old days was in part an illusion sustained by papering over significant differences, and in part a reflection of the widespread acceptance of some convenient myths about the threat of communism and the economic benefits of scientific research. Furthermore, our golden memories of the good old days in which everyone agreed, in stark opposition to the present in which everyone fights with each other, are to some extent caricatures. There were dissonant voices in the 1950s, but they were dismissed and marginalized. Today the dissenters come from the heart of the science policy establishment; skeptics cannot be ignored if they are writing your budget. But although we now have visible and influential dissent, it would be a mistake to think that science policy is anywhere near the top of most people 's concerns. An occasional issue strikes the public fancy, but for the most part public opinion about science policy does not spring fully formed from the grassroots. Most of what we think about the research community is derived from views that we have about other matters such as education, equity, and economic growth.
There are, however, important differences between the present and the good old days. The environment in which science policy is made has become dramatically more democratic. This does not mean that the people rule, but it does mean that it is much more difficult to exclude them from matters in which they choose to take an interest. Public opinion and various organized (nonindustry) groups seldom are able to make the positive changes that they sometimes advocate, but they are very good at vetoing, delaying, and generally messing up other people's agendas. American society has also become more diverse over the last several decades. When we ask what society will expect of the research community in the future, it is important to recognize that there are plural societies with distinct values and interests, and their expectations are likely to be quite disparate.
In addition to these changes, broad forces at work in the United States and most industrial societies will help shape and form future expectations of the research community. Generally, people are quite cross with elite institutions, and the research community is not an exception to this. There is an increasing sense that those who have been granted privileges by society have turned them to their own advantage rather than using them for the public good. This both contributes to, and is a consequence of, the erosion of community. As the sense of community declines, people become increasingly envious and unwilling to forgo