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Loka Alert 4:4 (August 1997)

Date: Wed, 13 Aug 1997
Subject: Science, Inc. vs. Science-for-Everyone (Loka Alert 4:4) (fwd)

Please Repost Widely Where Appropriate


Friends and Colleagues:

This is one in an occasional series on the democratic politics of research, science, and technology issued free of charge by the nonprofit Loka Institute. To be added to the Loka Alert E-mail list, or to reply to this post, please send a message to Loka@loka.org.  IF YOU SEND US A SUBSTANTIVE REPLY, LET US KNOW IF WE MAY REPOST YOUR NOTE to one of Loka's online discussion forums. And if you enjoy Loka Alerts, please invite interested friends & colleagues to subscribe too. Thank you!


Dick Sclove
Executive Director, The Loka Institute
(This archived alert contained outdated contact information. Please refer to the contact information at the bottom of the page.)



(A) The Rapture of Science/The Capture of Science....................................... (1/2 page)
(B) Does Public Science Drive Private Innovation?..... (1/2 page)
(C) Does Private Innovation Serve The Public Good?.... (1/2 page)
(D) Democratizing Science & Innovation................ (2 pages)
(E) Afterword: Media Coverage of Science............ (1/2 page)
(F) About the Loka Institute (including Internship Opportunities!)............................... (2 pages)
(G) Notes to "Science, Inc. versus Science-for- Everyone...................................... (1/2 page)


by Dick Sclove, The Loka Institute

According to a recent New York Times editorial, "Novel ideas conceived by American patent holders depend far more on research paid for by government than on research paid for by private industry....The implication is that proposed cutbacks in Federal research would damage the economy." The editorial is based on a new study prepared for the National Science Foundation by CHI Research, Inc.


Scientific leaders are predictably ecstatic at the latest evidence that what they do is vital to American industrial performance. "It's a watershed," Dr. Martin Apple, director of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, told Times' reporter William Broad. "It's a wake-up call for federal investment policies."

Charles Larson, executive director of the Industrial Research Institute concurs that the CHI Research study is "going to make people realize...that public investment in academic science through government-funded programs pays dividends to society....It pays off handsomely."[1]

But the rest of us should think twice before agreeing to pour more tax dollars into a science system that's become coupled much more tightly to business than to civil society, democracy, or the broader public good.

The new CHI Research report suggests an historic deepening in the relationship between science and industry. Of course, this isn't entirely surprising, given a two-decades-long trend in which university researchers have increasingly traded time at the lab bench for power lunches with venture capitalists and patent attorneys. But from a societal standpoint, what does this trend really mean?


Those already touting the new study to justify increased federal funding for science are making several arguable assumptions. The first is that patenting provides indisputable evidence of industrial innovation. In reality many corporations use patents to suppress inventions that compete with their existing product lines or to protect slight improvements, not to support real technological breakthroughs [2]. Indeed, while qualifications such as these are omitted in the new CHI Research
study, even CHI's own glossy corporate brochure explains that:

"All patents are not alike. Most are, in large part, enhancements built upon previous patents....A rare few actually break entirely new ground and form the foundation for inventions that follow."

Moreover, while the Times' editorial cites the new CHI study as proof that government-funded science far outstrips industry- funded science in spurring industrial innovation, here the Times was led astray by ambiguous wording in the CHI study. By examining the research footnoted in recent American patents, CHI found that "many of the cited research papers are supported by governmental and other research support agencies," such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Departments of Defense and Energy.

But when I checked with Dr. Francis Narin, principal author of the new CHI study, he concurred that a key ambiguity here is that modern scientific research often has multiple sources of support, both public and private. Thus CHI's finding that much of the research cited in patents is "government funded" doesn't tell us whether it was funded by government entirely, partially, or only marginally. For example, one can imagine a university research project in microbiology that is funded 60 percent by pharmaceutical companies, 40 percent by the National Science Foundation, and that receives further industrial subsidy in virtue of being conducted in an industry-funded university lab building. Until this ambiguity concerning multiple funding sources is resolved, one can't really draw any definitive conclusions about the relative commercial influence of government versus private science.


But assume for the sake of argument that government funded science does markedly accelerate commercial innovation. Is the obvious conclusion that we should increase public funding of science _as it is presently organized_?

Only if you believe that commercial innovation is tightly correlated with the overall public good. Of course, we all know that commercial innovation delivers many useful products--non-stick skillets, E-mail, contact lenses, pacemakers, and antidepressant drugs, to name a few. But it also contributes to plenty of social results we don't want (cardboard-flavored tomatoes, toxic wastes, global climate change, unneeded military weapons systems, job insecurity, and everyday stress and speed-up), while failing to deliver other results we do want (a just and environmentally sustainable economy, vibrant communities, healthy families, adequate leisure time, humane medical care, deep insight into social problems, etc.).

How could we get more of the knowledge, innovation, and social results we want, and less of what we don't want? Rather than showering more money on science as it is presently organized, we might start allowing Americans from all walks of life a say in decisions that profoundly affect them. 
After all, today key decisions about science and innovation are determined by just three social groups: business, the military, and elite academic scientists. All the rest of us can, of course, vote our preferences in the market, and that is precisely why a decent portion of commercial innovation winds up scratching where we itch.

But as a mediator between social need and the production of new knowledge and commercial products, the market is highly imperfect. As consumers in the marketplace we can't vote for products that are never made available; we can't vote on military, infrastructural, workplace, or business-to-business technology decisions; we can't vote on social science research priorities; we can't vote influentially if we're poor; and we can't affect the unintended social results that our individual purchases combine to produce.[3] Thus to recouple science to the public good, we need to reorganize our research-and-innovation system so that it becomes more responsive to democratically decided social and environmental concerns.


Sound absurd that citizens who can't even program their VCRs could ever contribute constructively to complex scientific and industrial issues? There are proven institutional innovations through which everyday citizens can do just that.

Just last spring a demographically balanced and diverse group of non-expert citizens assembled near Boston to cross-examine experts in information technology, deliberate among themselves, and then announce their own cogent policy recommendations at a national press conference on "Telecommunications and the Future of Democracy." The National Science Foundation, which sponsored the CHI Research study, also supported this first, pilot U.S. emulation of a time-tested European participatory institution. (In Denmark, for example, such citizens' panels have influenced the Parliament to place strict controls on the use of genetic information in insurance and employment decisions, while influencing industry to redirect its animal biotechnology research away from socially controversial areas.)[4]

There's plenty of evidence to suggest that a democratized science agenda would lead to different (I would argue more sensible) research priorities. For instance, while Congress and the Administration last year awarded $12.7 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), less than one-thousandth of that amount trickled down to NIH's diminutive Office of Alternative Medicine. Yet a 1993 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Americans--evidently fed up with uncaring mainstream medical bureaucracies--now make more visits to practitioners of alternative medicine (such as acupuncturists, chiropractors, homeopathists, and teachers of relaxation techniques) than to primary care physicians. "Expenditures associated with use of unconventional therapy in 1990 amounted to approximately $13.7 billion, three quarters of which ($10.3 billion) was paid out of pocket [i.e., not reimbursed by insurers]." Nor should one imagine that the clients of alternative medicine are ignorant dupes; in fact they are disproportionately affluent and well-educated.[5]

On the basis of this and related evidence, it's not hard to guess that if the American public had any say in the matter (which currently they don't), we'd see less research directed toward chemical- and machine-intensive medical interventions, job-displacing factory and office systems, military weaponry, user-discomfiting computer upgrades, and hypertension-inducing/civil-society-eroding information overload. Conversely, I'm willing to bet there'd be more research on alternative and preventive medicine, women's health concerns, organic and community-supported agriculture, public transit, job-preserving/quality-of-work-enhancing workplace innovations, and local economic self-reliance. We might also see more inquiry concerned with redressing the gross imbalance between civic efforts to enhance community life versus the relentless corporate drive to
expand personal consumption.

As Carolyn Raffensperger, executive director of the nonprofit Science & Environmental Health Network, puts it:

"Increasingly corporations decide the budget for research and development. The United States promotes a corporate science agenda rather than a 'people's science agenda.' By setting the agenda, they steer available money away from public health, sustainable agriculture and environmental protection and into product development."

Another way to couple research to societal need would be to support the effort of the Loka Institute and its nonprofit partners to establish a transnational Community Research Network through which universities and other nonprofit organizations would conduct more research collaboratively with grassroots, public-interest, and worker organizations. This would provide a healthy counterbalance to universities' deepening ties to industry, while offering participating students salutary education for citizenship and civic responsibility.[6] 

As Daniel Sarewitz writes in the latest Issues in Science & Technology:

"Numerous European nations are experimenting with ways to more fully involve the public in the science and technology policy process....Nascent efforts along these lines in the United States, such as those recently launched by the nonprofit Loka Institute, deserve the strong support and cooperation of U.S. scientists."[7]

Annual U.S. expenditure on research and development is currently $180 billion. (Two-thirds of this is paid for by the private sector, the remaining one-third by the federal government). Given the magnitude of that expenditure, a straightforward way to pay for vitally needed initiatives to involve citizens, workers and communities in science and technology decisions would be to place a one percent levy on all R&D expenditure. (There is precedent in the budget of the federally funded Human Genome Project, five percent of which is earmarked for studies of the social implications of genome research.)

So what will it be? A new Science-For-Everyone or the emerging, more narrowly focused Science, Inc.? If the latter, the clearest implication of new evidence that government funded science is vital to commercial innovation would be to tax--and thus return to the public coffers--a heftier fraction of the private profits resulting from this munificent public subsidy. But far better than acceding to an industrially dominated Science, Inc. would be to recreate science as a democratic force serving the broader public good. Only then should we start heeding scientific leaders' clamor for increased government funding.


The New York Times' flawed coverage of the CHI Research study highlights another necessary step for democratizing research and innovation: systematic introduction of diverse critical perspectives into science and technology reporting.

The Times and other "serious" news outlets don't cover new movie releases, restaurant openings, or even proposed corporate mergers by simply accepting at face value whatever is written in the unsolicited press releases they receive. E.g., media executives hire reporters to investigate and critics to interpret. Why isn't there a corresponding tradition of serious science and technology criticism?

In the case at hand, the Times' editors failed to catch a key ambiguity in the CHI research study and thereby leapt to unwarranted policy recommendations. Times' reporter Bill Broad's original story about the CHI study is carefully written and even took the added step of soliciting "expert reaction" to the CHI findings. Yet the experts chosen were a business professor, an industrial economist, and an industrial spokesman--not a group calculated to ask deeply probing questions about the validity and social significance of the CHI study.

A moral of this fable is that it is incumbent upon those of us concerned with the social significance of science and technology to press news media to introduce diverse critical viewpoints. One healthy start would be for news outlets such as the New York Times to augment their routine science coverage with a science-and-technology op-ed section open to critical social perspectives.

[Notes to this essay appear below, at the bottom of this Loka Alert.]



The Loka Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making science and technology responsive to democratically decided social and environmental concerns. TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE LOKA INSTITUTE, to participate in our on-line discussion groups or to help, please visit our Web page http://www.loka.org or contact us via E-mail at Loka@loka.org.

LOKA INSTITUTE INTERNSHIPS: The Loka Institute has openings for both paid and volunteer interns and paid work-study students for the remainder of 1997 (and beyond). We are a small nonprofit organization, and the activities in which interns are involved vary from research assistance and writing to assisting in organizing conferences, project development and management, fundraising, managing our Internet lists, Web page updates, helping with clerical and other office work, etc. If you are interested in working with us to promote a democratic politics of science and technology, please send a hard copy resume along with a succinct letter explaining your interest to the address at the bottom of this page.

DENMARK BOUND: From August 1 through mid-October 1997, Loka director Dick Sclove will be in Copenhagen working with the Danish Parliament's Board of Technology on several projects. One will involve exploring ways of incorporating democratic design criteria into participatory technology assessment activities. During this time, Sclove will also be affiliated with the community research center at the Danish Technical University. (While in Europe, Dick will continue to collect email at his regular address.

GREMLINS & APOLOGIES: We have recently discovered that, owing to mysterious technical glitches, over the past year some Loka Alert subscribers have not received posts, or have received them only intermittently. We apologize and hope that we have the problem licked. Meanwhile, to find out what you may have missed, please visit the "Loka Alerts" section of our Web page.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: Since July 1996 the Loka has received grants from the Aspen Institute (Nonprofit Sector Research Fund), the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Menemsha Fund, as well as project matching funds from the National Science Foundation, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, and UMass Extension, and the contribution of rent-free office space from Hampshire College. In the months since launching our annual fundraising appeal, we have also received individual donations totaling $23,000 from Loka Alert subscribers.

We are deeply grateful for this support. And we are always delighted to welcome new donors to the Loka family. Indeed, while we have had some fundraising successes, DURING THE PAST YEAR WE HAVE ALSO BEEN DECLINED ON ABOUT 75 FOUNDATION GRANT REQUESTS. THUS OUR FUNDING SITUATION REMAINS PERILOUSLY WEAK, SERIOUSLY IMPAIRING OUR ABILITY TO MAINTAIN VITAL FORWARD MOMENTUM. TO HELP KEEP LOKA'S WORK ALIVE AND THRIVING, please write a check drawn in U.S. dollars to "The Loka Institute" and mail it to the the address listed at the bottom of the page. [Introductions to your wealthy relatives and friends are also most appreciated. :-) ] Without your help, both small and large, cutting-edge organizations like Loka simply cannot stay afloat.

The Loka Institute is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization (Federal Tax I.D. 04-3334217), so your contributions are deductible on U.S. tax returns to the full extent of the law. For further information on contributing, please contact us at Loka@loka.org or via the address and phone number at the bottom of this Alert. THANK YOU!!


COMMUNITY RESEARCH NETWORK: We have recently published a report on our July 1996 national planning conference for the Community Research Network (CRN), and have in press a new introductory collection of readings about community-based research. We are also at work creating a World Wide Web-accessible directory of community research programs worldwide, as well as a set of comparative case studies of community research centers in the United States. (For information on these resources, email us at Loka@loka.org). Finally, we have initiated a strategic planning exercise to chart the next steps in establishing the Community Research Network. Included will be new institutional partnerships for expanding public accessibility to the CRN and creating several new community research centers, as well as a follow-on to last summer's inaugural CRN planning conference.

PILOT CITIZENS' PANELS: Following our successful April 1997 Pilot Citizens' Panel on "Telecommunications & the Future of Democracy," Loka Director Dick Sclove was invited to Washington, DC, to brief government officials, including representatives of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Commerce Department. We are currently assembling institutional partners to plan and organize several follow on citizens' panels at the national level.

TO LEARN MORE about the Loka Institute's concerns and vision, see Loka founder Richard Sclove's book, _DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY_--recipient of the 1996 Don K. Price Award of the American Political Science Association as "the best book of the year on science, technology and politics". For a paperback copy, contact your local bookseller or Guilford Press (in the U.S. telephone toll free 800-365-7006; or, from anywhere, fax Guilford Press in the U.S. at +(212)-966-6708 or E-mail: info@guilford.com):

"Mr. Sclove is refreshing in the way he rejects ideas so nearly universally held that most people have never thought to question them." -- _New York Times Book Review_

TO PARTICIPATE MORE ACTIVELY in promoting a democratic politics of science and technology, please join the Federation of Activists on Science & Technology Network (FASTnet). Just send an e-mail message to majordomo@igc.apc.org  with a blank subject line and "subscribe FASTnet" as the message text.

You will receive an automated reply giving more details. FASTnet is now a moderated discussion list, which protects subscribers from receiving posts inappropriate to the list's purpose.


Madeleine Scammell, Loka's Deputy Director, spoke at PISC '97 (the Public Interest Science Conference) in Eugene, Oregon, in May 1997, and at the Annual All-Affiliates Conference of the Community Technology Centers Network in Pittsburgh, June 1997.

During the spring Loka Director Dick Sclove spoke at the International Forum on Globalization Teach-In in Berkeley, the Annual Meeting of the Jacques Ellul Society (also in Berkeley), the Wingspread "Designing for Democracy" Conference, and the Third Mid-Atlantic Environmental Sustainability Conference at Ramapo College in New Jersey.

STAFF UPDATES: We are benefitting this summer from the fine contributions of Loka interns Scott Waltz and Breena Holland, consultant Jeff Hobson, and volunteer Tina Swift. We also welcome on board new Development Associate Tina Clarke, and new board of director members Frank von Hippel and Carolyn Raffensperger.


(G) NOTES to "Science, Inc. Versus Science-for-Everyone"

[1]. The CHI Research study is: Francis Narin, Kimberly S. Hamilton, and Dominic Olivastro, "The Increasing Linkage Between U.S. Technology and Public Science," 17 March 1997. The study is forthcoming in _Research Policy_, and available in the interim from Chi Research Inc., 10 White Horse Pike, Haddon Heights, NJ 08035, USA; Tel. +609-546-0600; Fax +609-546-9633; E-Mail <73302.1036@compuserve.com>. The Times editorial appeared as "The Leverage of Federal Research, _New York Times_, 15 May 1997, p. A36. The quotes from Apple and Larson appear in William J. Broad, "Study Finds Public Science Is Pillar of Industry," _New York Times_, 13 May 1997, pp. C1 and C10. 

[2]. Richard Dunford, "Is the Development of Technology Helped or Hindered by Patent Law--Can Antitrust Laws Provide the Solution?," _University of New South Wales Law Journal_, Vol. 9 (1986), pp. 117-135; Thomas Parke Hughes, _American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970_ (New York: Viking, 1989), pp. 54, 139-180). A further problematic feature of the new CHI study is that it's aggregate statistics on the commercial influence of "basic" science are skewed by the biological and biomedical sciences, in which--over 
the past two decades--any meaningful distinction between basic versus applied research has effectively vanished.

[3]. On the "unintended social results that our individual purchases combine to produce," see Richard E. Sclove, _Democracy and Technology_ (New York: Guilford Press, 1995), pp. 164-168.

[4]. For more information on the Boston Citizens' Panel, which was spearheaded by the Loka Institute and organized with the help of half a dozen other institutional partners, go to browse to that page or send an E-mail request to Loka@loka.org.

[5]. David M. Eisenberg et al., "Unconventional Medicine in the United States," _New England Journal of Medicine_, Vol. 328 (Jan. 28, 1993), pp. 246-252.

[6]. On the Community Research Network, browse to that page. An up-to-date article on the Community Research Network is: Richard Sclove, "Research by the People," in _A World that Works: Building Blocks for a Just and Sustainable Society_, ed. Trent Schroyer (New York: Bootstrap Press, 1997), pp. 278-290; a lightly modified version of this article is also forthcoming in _Futures_, August 1997.

[7]. Daniel Sarewitz, "Social Change and Science Policy," _Issues in Science and Technology_, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Summer 1997), p. 32.

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