The first post in this series noted the decline in some aspects of education since WW2 and the second described the rise of radical environmentalism using the anti atomic power movement as a “Trojan horse”. Moving on to another post WW2 development – Big Science funded by the Government.
The world of science changed out of recognition after 1945 with major government spending for the war effort, notably the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. The philosopher Karl Popper feared for the future of Great Science as a result of Big Science in the service of politicians. He saw the danger of too much money chasing too few ideas, the publication explosion (good buried under bad) and the distortion of incentives for scientists by the pressure to obtain grants for fashionable and the politically “hot” topics.
In The Poverty of Historicism, 1944/45 and 1957, he warned that one of the ways to prevent the growth of science would be to supress the diversity of ideas and critical thinking. At the time he was located in Christchurch NZ on a working holiday. Actually he was the one philosopher in the Canterbury college. For recreation he did skiing and bushwalking and he wrote The Open Society and its Enemies.
How could we arrest scientific and industrial progress? By suppressing or controlling scientific periodicals and other means of discussion, by suppressing scientific congresses and conferences, by suppressing Universities and other schools, by suppressing books, the printing press, writing, and, in the end, speaking…Science, and more especially scientific progress, are the results not of isolated efforts but of the free competition of thought. For science needs ever more competition between hypotheses and ever more rigorous tests…Ultimately, progress depends very largely on political factors; on political institutions that safeguard the freedom of thought. The Poverty, section 32.
Later he voiced his concerns from his chair of Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics. Some of his views were shared by a man with a very different vantage point – the Oval Office in the White House in Washington DC. In his farewell speech at the end of his term President Eisenhower warned “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present.” He noted the “equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Terence Kealey’s historical study of the economics of scientific research provides a mass of evidence to indicate the dangers of government involvement in science and in chapter 8 he traced the evolution of science policy in the US and Britain. They both started with a substantially laissez faire economy and also minimal state involvement in science, then during the 20th century the Czars of science took over and they went for central funding and control in a big way. For those who have been receptive to Kealey’s argument in the previous chapters the results are predictable (cw 18th century France).
For contemporary information about the central direction of efforts in US climate science, see some work by Bill Butos and and Thomas McQuade.
As of 2014, the coordination of climate-change-related activities resides largely in the president’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, which houses several separate offices, including Environment and Energy, Polar Sciences, Ocean Sciences, Clean Energy and Materials R&D, Climate Adaptation and Ecosystems, National Climate Assessment, and others. The Office of the President also maintains the National Science and Technology Council, which oversees the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability and its Subcommittee on Climate Change Research. The subcommittee is charged with the responsibility of planning and coordinating with the interagency USGCRP. Also, the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy is housed within the president’s Domestic Policy Council. Although Congress authorizes executive-branch budgets, the priorities these departments and agencies follow are set by the White House. As expressed in various agency and executive-branch strategic plans, these efforts have been recently organized around four components: (1) climate-change research and education, (2) emissions reduction through “clean” energy technologies and investments, (3) adaptation to climate change, and (4) international climate-change leadership.