Should Peer Review Dominate Decision Making?

NO / Guston and Keniston

Updating the Social Contract for Science
David H. Guston and Kenneth Keniston
Technology Review (November/December 1994) In the years following World War II, the United States established a scientific enterprise that became the envy of the world. This enterprise rested on a vision of science as an "endless frontier" that would replace the American West as the font of economic growth, rising standards of living, and social change. The institutions that supported this frontier were a distinctively American blend of public and private enterprises, eventually including an array of national laboratories, mission agencies, and even a National Science Foundation. The practices that supported it entailed what Harvard political scientist Don K. Price called a new type of federalism: the provision of financial support to scientists at public and private research universities without co-opting their independence. Research universities were the intellectual centerpiece of this enterprise, since it was there that most of the basic research was performed. At the heart of federal support for universities was the practice of competitive, peer-reviewed grants. The bargain that was struck between the federal government and university science--what is often called the "social contract for science"--can be stated concisely. On one hand, government promised to fund the basic science that peer reviewers found most worthy of support. Scientists, on the other hand, promised to "ensure that the research was performed well and honestly, and to provide a steady stream of scientific discoveries that would be translated into new products, medicines, or weapons. After five decades, the social contract for science shows signs of extreme duress. Scientists and politicians have serious complaints about each other. The issues are, by now; familiar: scientific fraud and dishonesty, the adequacy of science funding, indirect costs of research, administrative burdens in science, scientific priorities, big science, porkbarrel science, and so on. Reports by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government have analyzed what some perceive as a "crisis" in science policy. Despite this scrutiny, the underlying causes of today's conflicts in science policy remain obscure. We do not believe that the antagonism between science and politics signals either a new or a terminal crisis. But today's struggles do indicate that the old contract between science and government needs updating; they also point to enduring and irreducible tensions between the principles of science and those of democratic government.

Changed Government
Although scientists sometimes lament the passing of a golden age of government support for science, the history of postwar science policy fails to reveal a truly privileged past. Throughout the last 50 years, controversies between the political and the scientific communities have always been present--over the loyalty of scientists and the merits of military research, over financial accounting for grants, over applied versus basic research, over payment for the indirect costs of research, and above all, over how much money Washington should dedicate to scientific research. The pattern of federal funding for research and development [R&D] also belies any image of a lost golden age. Those who pine for the good old days usually recall the mid-1960s, when federal R&D spending reached an all-time high, whether measured as a percentage of the gross national product (in which case 1964 was the maximum) or as a share of total federal spending (in which case the peak came in 1965). But measured in constant dollars, the situation is less clear. By the Office of Management and Budget's method of discounting for inflation, the peak of real federal spending was 1966 or 1967. By the National Science Foundation's method, R&D spending in 1990 was about 30 percent higher than the supposed 1966 peak. . In any event, the mid-60s spending levels are a problematic reference point, because federal spending for science and technology in those years was inflated by competition with the Soviets and by the Apollo program. From 1963 to 1972, defense R&D accounted for almost 54 percent of federal expenditures in science and technology. The Reagan defense buildup raised average defense R&D spending between 1983 and 1992 to about 56 percent of total federal R&D. But the average defense share has since fallen to less than 53 percent, and President Clinton has promised to reduce the defense share to 50 percent. Furthermore, space-related R&D, which accounted for 27 percent of federal expenditures between 1963 and 1972, accounted for only 7 percent between 1983 and 1992. Another way to look at R&D spending is to compare it with the rest of the federal budget. Over the last decade the share of R&D in the domestic discretionary budget has risen, while almost all other items have fallen. That is, through the 1980s, R&D consumed a growing share of the shrinking pie of nondefense, nonentitlement spending. For this reason, calls for greatly increased science budgets are ill-starred from the beginning. The sufferings of scientists may: be real,

too.). And the proportion of the nation's workforce who are scientists and engineers engaged in R&D rose from its previous high of 67. they are not unique.000 in 1968 to 75. and the president's Science Advisory Committee. But however commendable this goal. complexity. the "imperial presidency" has extended the chief executive's prerogatives far beyond their prewar limits. In Congress. There has been a resurgence of congressional oversight directed at maintaining accountability over burgeoning programs and agencies. the end of the Cold War is probably the most consequential. and antimilitary movements that blossomed on the campuses of research universities.000 in 1987. it has a bizarre consequence: the more successful the program is. Meanwhile. George Brown (D-Calif. the power of committee chairs has declined through the postwar years and has been replaced by a radically decentralized organization. Attitudes have been negatively influenced by conspicuous technological failures-Chernobyl.000. As a result. The almost unqualified public enthusiasm that characterized the immediate postwar period has given way to a far more nuanced view of science and technology. perhaps the simplest explanation for the heightening of tensions between government and science is that the original contract was made between a kind of government that no longer exists and a kind of scientific community that has long since disappeared. has emphasized control of the sprawling bureaucracy. Ever since 1945." The apprehension of such an elite found expression through many voices: social critics like Theodore Roszak. the greater will be the future demand for research financing. It was President Eisenhower who appointed the first special assistant to the president for science and technology. Such changes--even if not intentionally related to science--have given both the executive and the legislative branch greater motivation and competence to evaluate and oversee the scientific community. The size and complexity of scientific projects have also increased greatly. Congress has also created an Office of Inspector General in each major department and agency to monitor the implementation of policy. Federal funding of research has always sought to turn out more PhDs so as to provide the nation with a highly trained scientific workforce. The Manhattan Project and other wartime endeavors inaugurated a trend toward "megascience. with participation from subcommittees as well as action outside of committees. At the executive level. from 495. Changed Science If government has been transformed in the last five decades. In the postwar years. The executive branch increasingly tries to coordinate federal R&D in the various agencies." centered in the Office of Management and Budget. Indeed. so has science. Challenger-which raise concerns about science by the reverse application of the logic that predicts technological benefits from scientific triumphs. The scientific enterprise has grown vastly in workforce. But it was also Eisenhower who warned the American public in his farewell address that "public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. environmental activists like Rachel Carson. Committee and personal staffs have increased in size and professional competence.9 per 10. In the early 1970s. Congress augmented its analytical capabilities by creating the Office of Technology Assessment and the Congressional Budget Office. For example. the promise of military applications and the specter of Soviet . This steady increase in the number of scientists means that despite real growth in R&D funding. a smaller percentage of applications for grants can be funded each year. and it has therefore grown more expensive to fund." Research projects today involve more people and require more expensive equipment than ever before. expanding the Congressional Research Service. More recently. the price of research has gone up much faster than inflation. and size of projects. one of the strongest patrons of science. scarcity is felt even in the midst of generous funding. Bhopal. and the "management presidency. popular support for science has waned.9 per 10. the scientific workforce nearly doubled between 1965 and 1988. Science has become a vastly more complex aggregate of new technologies and advanced education. composed of Cabinet chiefs and the heads of independent agencies and chaired by the president. scientific advisory committees have proliferated in other departments and agencies. It is rather as if a welfare program created a half-dozen new welfare applicants for everyone who is given federal assistance. both the executive and legislative branches have changed in ways that affect the support of science.Should Peer Review Dominate Decision Making? 11 NO / Guston and Keniston but in the words of Rep. the most recent mechanism being the National Science and Technology Council. For this reason. It nevertheless remains true that irreversible changes have occurred in the last five decades. The scarcity of research funds felt by the scientific community is quite genuine on a per capita basis. The White House has added analytical capabilities: the special assistant to the president for science and technology. and increasing control over the General Accounting Office. Of all the changes since the postwar negotiation of the social contract for science.000 to about 950.

political. and better health. but the rationales of employment and living standards are now being resurrected and redefined. But today. the argument is open to an obvious criticism: the United States is unquestionably the world's . the tension between centralization and pluralism in research. has become less effective in today's environment because it was geared toward a different set of military. Why do the same problems constantly arise? Why is it that no institutional arrangements seem capable of eliminating the tensions between government and science? One can find only a partial answer in the complaints that scientists and politicians make about each other. it is the Allison Commission of the 1880s. John Dingell's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations? Rep. The old military rationale for public support has lost much of its cogency. and the financial accountability of researchers. and political naiveté. is that a new rationale for public support is needed. the goal upon which almost everyone agreed was countering the Soviet threat. complexity. The contract clearly must be updated. Politicians are charged with a lack of knowledge and appreciation of the scientific enterprise. Science Versus Democracy Imagine members of Congress commissioning a National Academy of Sciences report on the organization of sciencefunding agencies. This redefinition sometimes involves a claim that science-based innovation is the elixir that will stimulate the nation's economy and improve its international economic competitiveness. The expected usefulness of science and technology to the conduct of the Cold War--both in material terms of building effective weapons and in symbolic terms of conquering the new frontiers of space. Like some dysfunctional family. other goals for science are alleged--or. Previously. to confront the same problems. In this simple version. the role of different sectors and institutions in the scientific enterprise. Is this Rep. competence. According to this argument. There are three fundamental tensions that make for an uneasy relation between government and science. But it must also confront the basic tensions between science and democracy. without an implacable communist foe. with arrogance. the merits of large-scale versus small-scale projects. never finally resolving them even over many years. including human betterment through fuller employment. has fallen behind in productivity gains. technological. the military rationale was only one among many. then gathering testimony from scientists on priorities in science funding. Government has increased in size. and a rising standard of living. and is being overtaken in standard of living and international trade. but it lags by international standards in health. the argument posits a direct causal link between the advances of science. Don Fuqua's Science Policy TaskForce of the mid-1980s? The Fountain Committee. Brown's recent Task Force on the Health of Research? Rep. the Elliot Committee. the science policy community in the United States seems. such innovation has produced entire new industries-consider the transistor and genetic engineering-and will give the United States a technological advantage in competing with other nations for markets and high-wage jobs. even though l1ighly successful so far.leading scientific power.Should Peer Review Dominate Decision Making? 12 NO / Guston and Keniston competition has driven federal R&D expenditures in both military and civilian agel1cies. the atom. It has become more fragile today partly because the two parties that agreed to it have changed. The first is simply that popular tastes and preferences are different from. Today. Even this cursory analysis of changes in the last five decades suggests that the current strains in governmentscience relations were inevitable and necessary. and economic challenges. and sometimes antagonistic toward. The old contract was written in simpler days. a rising standard of living. revived. success in the international marketplace. The health claim has never lost its persuasiveness. too. The deeper reason lies in fundamental and ineradicable differences between the organizing principles of a democratic polity and the organizing principles of a democratic polity and the organizing principles of the scientific community. those of the . In its simplest form. elitism. and capacity both to support and to oversee science. especially for the physical sciences. The result. a select congressional committee that examined all these questions with regard to the federal scientific establishment. more precisely. and the cell--meant that governments and publics (in the former Soviet Union and the United States alike) viewed science in a favorable light. scientists. or the Daddario Subcommittee of the 1960s? Actually. the instrumental value of science and technology has lost some of its urgency. More sophisticated versions of the theory therefore argue that good science is a necessary but not sufficient condition for productivity. has grown and now faces the consequences of its maturity. For the founders of the American system of science funding. But the dysfunction exists not simply because politicians can be ignorant or scientists arrogant. Science. A primary point of this more subtle formulation maintains that the postwar research system. and science faces a more critical public than it did SO years ago.

but that does not mean that the existing institutions and processes of science are democratic enough. lobbying is a time-honored and appropriate activity. we do not simply mean joining the horde of lobbyists competing on behalf of clients for public boons-although in the United States. because it is relatively rich and privileged. But in a democratic society. because popular pressures could seriously reduce the long-term viability of the scientific enterprise. The second tension derives from the fact that the economic organization necessary for science to flourish may be at odds with the economic organization necessary for democracy to flourish. The basic question behind the plutocratic tension is whether science. as well as worries about the real growth of the R&D budget when most other domestic programs are contracting. and possibly the worst--order to justify its claim to public support. as public employees and private firms benefit financially from the fruits of publicly funded research. that this contract should give explicit attention to the details of the interaction between government and science. more precisely. to be accountable for the outcomes. because the requirements for membership in decision making within science are more exclusive-that is. all the while recognizing that the differences between them are intrinsic. Even though science is the pursuit of the truth. science cherishes inquiry and the pursuit of truth. citizens must be allowed to choose between the viability of science and the viability of other valued enterprises. There is a risk that science may oppose democratic decisions that deviate from or deny some scientifically defined truth. will become richer and more privileged still. One might call this the populist tension. Because the gap between participation and truth can never be closed. The new contract as it evolves must take into account the blurred boundaries between politics and science. It therefore follows that something like a social contract for science continues to be necessary. it moves into an arena where it must be political-in the best sense.scientific community. must confront directly the fact that it is in competition for federal funding with other meritorious projects. and will mostly benefit the non-scientists who are already rich and privileged. for a particular focus of programmatic research such as women's health. One might call it the plutocratic tension. because of the importance of wealth in determining the distribution of scientific resources. it is still only one pursuit among many that citizens value. This tension is obvious in political concerns about the concentration of R&D funding at a small number of major research universities. Like it or not. the tensions will always exist. attempting to keep politics and science as separate as possible. if science expects public support. The tensions between democracy and science boil down to conflicting values: democratic politics cherishes participation and the pursuit of justice. or for a greater emphasis on teaching and patenting than on research itself. that does not mean that our current politics is sufficiently informed by scientific knowledge. An attempt to run science on democratic principles would destroy science. More than that. between the public and scientists. Another expression of this tension is the fear that the benefits of science-based technology--from the profits yielded by new drugs to the conveniences of consumer technologies--more often accrue to the haves of society than to the have-nots. But as political theorist Robert Dahl has written about the idea of allowing experts to guard democracy against incorrect decisions. and at times can reflect "antiscientific" attitudes. too. Democratic decision making constantly seeks to encourage and expand participation. or. Such a contract has indeed outlived its usefulness. The third tension between democratic politics and scientific practice arises from the fact that democratic processes and goals are largely incompatible with scientific processes and goals. in particular. An attempt to run government on scientific principles would destroy democracy. It is also evident in concern over the growing fuzziness between public and private interests. is simply a prettier name for dictatorship. One might call this the exclusionary tension. Scientists rightly ask whether public opinion should matter in science. Only by deliberately designing institutions and processes that confront the inevitable tensions between democratic government and scientific practice can these tensions be minimized. we mean recognizing and responding to the ways in which science and its support are embedded in public attitudes and public . scientific decision making limits it. if carried to an extreme. The old contract between government and science was fragile because it denied these tensions. The scientific community. The Future of the Contract Scientists and politicians must be willing to concede to the other some role in each other's enterprise. but similarly. being a scientist or an expert-than for membership in democratic decision making in general. for more applied research. and it can result in popular pressure for a more equitable Should Peer Review Dominate Decision Making? 13 NO / Guston and Keniston geographic distribution of research funds. By being political. What the populist tension really does is force the advocates of scientific research to articulate a publicly compelling rationale for their activities and then. like any beneficiary of public funds. scientific guardianship. It follows. Any two parties with different goals and structures require a carefully wrought contractual relation if they are to collaborate productively.

In both regards. At a more general level. an alliance of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] faculty with several major u. In this regard. As military preparedness yields to international economic competitiveness and domestic well-being on the list of national priorities.policy. Too often. At out own institution. to leaders of the private sector. In this regard. it is no longer enough-if it ever was-for scientists to wait in their laboratories for the telephone to ring. the temptation to confuse the performance of scientific research with the making of science policy is great. public input. corporations. university science has only begun to explore its role. Government. In the same vein is the creation of workshops for congressional staff members on science and technology. What the NSTC needs is a reasonable and articulate strategy for choosing among projects and disciplines. theories. education. and other fields to assess the output of federal research funding. or for that matter by state and local governments. to public administrators. The scientific community must initiate more activities like these: projects that move beyond lobbying to outreach and education. Such a strategy might include giving priority to important disciplines in which the United States compares unfavorably with other nations (as a recent report of the National Academy of Sciences suggests) and inviting consumers of research in industry. and second. The scientific community must treasure such individuals or risk undercutting public support for science. is essential at all levels of science policymaking. This outreach goes for naught if the public is excluded from decision making about science. public financing of science and technology is based on the political power of a particular disease lobby. to bring to the greater community those scientific insights. But there are others who are gifted teachers and interlocutors. A "national forum" on science . the relevance of scientific knowledge and perspectives to the public interest must be demonstrated again and again in concrete projects. It is not enough for the scientific community simply to claim that it is useful. too. aimed at training a cohort of corporate leaders versed in the latest manufacturing technologies and management strategies. One urgent and oft-noted need is for a more rational way to determine the level of overall federal spending for R&D and the priorities within those expenditures. we think of the Leaders in Manufacturing Program. This change will be difficult for scientists whose talents lie in the laboratory rather than in public speaking. to make clear the nature and workings of science. open. What this requires is a program of vigorous outreach to the public. Academic scientists need to participate more actively in broadly educational activities such as training science and technology journalists. however. At the same time. will require new strategies and perhaps new institutions if the contract with science is to be successfully renegotiated. We have urged scientists to reach out to the public to explain what they do and to help ensure that their work is put to good use. Should Peer Review Dominate Decision Making? 14 NO / Guston and Keniston The scientific community and the research universities in which this community is rooted must undertake an educational role with a dual purpose: first. MIT's Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program has expanded the knowledge of more than 100 leading science and technology journalists and media experts over the last 10 years. the eagerness of members of Congress to earmark scientific and technological projects for their home districts. and to lawmakers. and facts that can indeed contribute to the public good. the recently established White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) promises to be instrumental in drafting an overall R&D budget and in setting priorities within the budget.s. If academic science indeed has a contribution to make. and publicly accessible process. the future relationship between science and government depends heavily on the capacity of the scientific community to articulate a plausible rationale for public support and to demonstrate that rationale at every turn. Given that American science must compete with other good purposes and institutions for the favorable opinion and support of a democratic government. needs to be open and democratic. and given that the Cold War has ended. health. and whose enthusiasm for science impels them to share its beauty and its relevance with others. outlooks. The making of science policy by the federal government. Needed instead is an orderly. Precisely because research is difficult and performing it can require many years of training. along with focused pedagogic activities like collaborating with educators in primary and secondary schools to improve scientific literacy. support for science will depend on the scientific community's willingness and capacity to help resolve economic and domestic problems. and not just expert advice. the combination of political priority setting and scientific peer review must not shut out public input. or intensive lobbying by a group of scientists for their own specialty. activities that constitute a series of "mini-contracts" between the needs of particular constituencies and the capacities of the scientific community to respond to those needs. findings. More enterprising and collaborative projects are necessary. This body continues to rely on the tried-and-true process of peer review for evaluating individual projects.

not themselves scientists. a primary responsibility of public officials is to preserve as many independent centers of initiative and locally governed activities as is consistent with the broad rules of accountability and fairness. and Should Peer Review Dominate Decision Making? 15 NO / Guston and Keniston Government. The American system of science and technology has been outstanding in the last half-century in good part because public policy was designed to foster a plurality of centers of scientific and technical excellence with the maximum possible autonomy and responsibility delegated to each local center. could help provide such public input if properly constituted. Technology. Their participation should be welcomed and respected. But the only way to implement such requirements consistent with the federalism that inspired the social contract for science is to insist that universities and their researchers maintain primary responsibility. as in other areas of governance. from the distance of Washington. this means resisting the temptation to micromanage scientific work. among other scientific and technological projects. In science policy. But in recognizing the tensions. Millions of Americans. and the researchers and institutions that conduct it. To be sure. have strong and legitimate opinions about the value to them and to the nation of space travel. No better principle than federalism can be imagined for the new social contract for science. and cancer research. an incentive system for dealing with indirect costs-in which the government sets the' overall rate and universities can pocket the remainder if they come in under that rate may be preferable on grounds of both principle and efficiency to either the preexisting system of making a separate agreement with each university. For example. In the long run. In science policy. such as that recently proposed by the Carnegie Commission on Science. This is just as it should be in a federal republic like the United States. . they fail to thrive under the heavy hand of centralized control and unified direction. A third major obligation of government is to preserve R&D as an example of the sturdy American principle of federalism-that decisions should be made and actions taken at the most local level possible. the changes can make for a more robust and productive relationship. These amendments in the social contract for science will never resolve some of the tensions inherent between science and government.and technology priorities. government needs to establish standards: it may rightly impose exacting ethical and financial requirements upon researchers who receive public monies. local technologydevelopment centers. or any more invasive system in which government accountants would formulate budgets for overhead. science and technology flourish when multiple independent centers of activity are encouraged.

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