Presidential Schema For The Post-Science Century

‘The next president of the United States of America will control a $150 billion annual research budget, 200,000 scientists, and 38 major research institutions and all their related labs. This president will shape human endeavors in space, bioethics debates, and the energy landscape of the 21st century.’ So says Chris Mooney in his seriously impressive review of the options – options in reality about human beings, not ‘just’ about knowledge – awaiting electors of the next President of the USA.
Chris Mooney, in his recent Seed Magazine blog piece entitled Dr President, examines the options for American science and suggests what needs to happen now.
America’s relationship with reality
During the past seven years of the Bush administration, Mooney tells us, America has been subject to ‘what can only be called antiscientific governance’. Scientists, he says, have been ‘ignored, threatened, suppressed, and censored across agencies, across areas of expertise, and across issues…
‘Under George W. Bush—the man who pronounced climate science “incomplete,” who misled the nation in his first major address about the availability of embryonic stem cells for research, who claimed that Iraq was collaborating with Al Qaida—America’s relationship with reality itself has reached a nadir.’
What’s next?
Chris Mooney is right. The status of science is in crisis, at least as far as States-side politics is concerned – and also in terms of what people in many parts of the world, even many sophisticated knowledge economy parts, understand about what science is and does.
‘To better grapple with emerging science controversies’, Mooney proposes that the in-coming president ‘reconstitute something akin to Eisenhower’s President’s Science Advisory Committee, but with a strong emphasis on forecasting the looming problems of tomorrow. …The conversations wouldn’t shy away from controversial or speculative topics. They would be designed, at least in part, to spark discussion in the media, on the Sunday-morning talk shows, and also at the kitchen table.’
Engagement beyond the science
This paper on antiscience, and its resolution through widespread debate and respect for scrutiny of the evidence base, offers many rich seams for us all to explore. But I think it also offers a new perspective on what I might call the ‘Post-Science Century’ which is before us.
The term ‘post-science’ means much more to me than simply the arid ‘total value’ anaylsis deriving from Milton Friedman et al. Instead, it focuses attention on the socio-political impacts and synergies of science and technology (one of a multitude of examples might be IT and the developing world) rather than on measures of money.
No longer can it be said that ‘knowing the science’ is enough – and Mooney is clear on this. We need to understand the future of climatalogical, environmental, genomic, military and many other applications of developing knowledge.
From tested knowledge to the human condition
In seeking to grasp what all these enormous issues, with their huge budgets, mean for each of us, we move from formal and tested knowledge to insights concerning the nature of human experience.
Perhaps it’s an irony of the twentyfirst century that the human condition itself will force us to think about science, rather than any new-found urge to look dispassionately at evidence bases and how to test them. This is what should drive the Science Advisory Council of the next President of the USA.
It’s not what we know, but why we all need to know it, that will spur this critical agenda.

Posted on October 19, 2007, in Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, Sustainability As If People Mattered. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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