Self-governance of science was supposed to mean freedom of inquiry, but it also ended up serving the business model of scientific publishers while undermining the goals of science policy.
America’s globally preeminent university research enterprise is constructed on two bedrock principles of self-governance. The first is autonomy: academic scientists should be left free to determine their own research agendas. The second is internal accountability: the quality of academic science is best assessed by academic scientists. The commitment to scientific self-governance carries with it a policy requirement as well: support for research will mostly have to come from the federal government; companies will never make the necessary investments in undirected research because they cannot capture the economic benefits for themselves.
Regular readers of the material we post to the Resource Library already know how we feel about the issues and struggle described in this great article, but these are points that cannot be repeated too often.
But counter to the coordinated wartime R&D effort he had headed, Bush insisted that scientists must be allowed to work “on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for the exploration of the unknown.” Such curiosity-driven basic science would yield essential but unpredictable benefits at unknowable points downstream, he argued, and was an essential prerequisite for solving social problems. The quality of a proposed research project could not therefore be judged by its potential benefits to society—those were unforeseeable. Scientists would judge scientific merit according to their own internal criteria.
Neff, Mark W. “How Academic Science Gave Its Soul to the Publishing Industry.” Issues in Science and Technology 36, no. 2 (Winter 2020): 35–43.