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Governance of Science: Ideology and the Future of the Open Society

Steve Fuller
Open University Press: Buckingham
1999
0335202349 (pb); 0335202357 (hb)
15.99 (pb); 50.00 (hb)
167 pp

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Front Cover
The Governance of Science is a plea for a new vision of the role of science in society. Sociology (in the person of Comte) has been partly responsible for the 'sanctification' of science, Steve Fuller suggests, and sociologists can now contribute to demystifing it.

Fuller challenges several of the staple ideas of contemporary science policy, and of the usual academic commentaries on that policy. He questions the 'inevitability' of the rise of state support for Big Science. Why, he asks, is so much emphasis placed on innovation and the production of original ideas, when more time needs to be spent simply reviewing and assessing what we already know? How, he asks, did a small research elite get so much power in determining the direction science should take?

The book is brimming with provocative ideas. It is not written in the spirit of a memorandum to government ministers, but as an exploration of what might have been in order to seriously imagine a science policy based on ideals of social inclusion. In one enquiry down 'a road not taken', Fuller discusses the role of Vannevar Bush who is generally credited with being the architect of post-second- world-war US science policy. On the thesis of the inevitability of Big Science, Bush is usually depicted as a moment in the pre-history of modern science policy, who saw the importance of guiding science, but not yet the need for integrating science policy with industrial and social policy. However, in a history of lost opportunities, Bush and his colleagues may be seen as consolidating war-time levels of support for science; effectively inventing the category 'basic research'; making the funding of basic research the responsibility of the state; and introducing the bedrock of peer review as the mechanism for selecting among scientific projects. This, argues Fuller, was neither inevitable nor equitable, and lead to the self-reproduction of the scientific elite.

Fuller describes a partly familiar world where researchers spend their time in the production of papers that no-one will ever read; and where the actual social value of these papers is to vote for the citation rating of those few authors whose papers are read (or at least cited). He would like transform this world, for example by linking research activity to teaching activity; an end to the power of elite networks; and a variety of measures to encourage the separation of science from the state. He suggests, for example, that one criterion of research which is worth supporting from public funds should be the ease with which it can be explained to a lay or student audience.

One problem that I have in reading this book is the very wealth of different ideas that Fuller deploys. It is tempting to read it as a book of essays. He opens by drawing on recent work in political philosophy to suggest that what is needed is a 'republican' science policy. Republicanism (not of the party political variety) is described as a political philosophy that avoids the 'excesses' of communitarianism and liberalism and "requires the expression, not merely the toleration, of opposing ideas". But the brief descriptions of communitarianism and liberalism make a slightly contentious basis for claiming republicanism as the founding insight of the book.

Other chapters include a history of the university from ancient Greece to the present day, that identifies a dualistic tension that can be understood metaphorically as a conflict between a 'military' approach to knowledge as quest for truth, and an 'industrial' approach to the skilful production of knowledge. Elsewhere, he provides a sharp sketch of the differences between 'high church' and 'low church' multiculturalists.

Fuller's is an avowedly utopian vision, not least because the democratic governance of science would require a more general engagement in the issues addressed by science. I was not convinced by his solution to enrolling public attention: make science more like sport, where everyone can understand the rules and stakes.

Janet Vaux
University of Surrey

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