“Whoever he is, whether he is the wisest scientist in the world, we must never tolerate a scientific overlord again.”C.P. Snow
Here we address a central question for science, technology, and public policy – how do governments decide about scientific issues? Decisions about science may be different from other decisions, because elected politicians and appointed bureaucrats may lack the specialized knowledge of the scientists who generate the knowledge about which decisions are being made.
In the Smardon text, Asleep at the Switch, you have a detailed explanation of a complex set of specifically Canadian scientific policy issues over a period of decades, described in several hundred pages. We have read Smardon in three parts: first, an overview; secondly, the industrial R&D experience; and finally, the policy background to that experience. As we come to Smardon’s conclusions, you get a sense of policy choices by successive governments, and their impact over time on Canada’s research and development capacity and industrial base. You should also have a sense of Smardon’s explanation of these choices, and in particular of the social (and personal) pressures that have led a particular class of entrepreneurs and decision-makers to behave in the way that they have.
Think of Smardon as a thoroughly detailed view of a single national case of science and technology policy examined over time. Now we will consider a brilliant synopsis of a big picture, universal generalization about scientific decision-making, which is nevertheless deeply rooted in an understanding of human nature and organizational dynamics, described by a participant in historical events.
Charles Percy Snow was a British physicist and public servant before the Second World War. As a young man, he was one of the secretaries to the Tizard-Lindemann committee, which was charged with a critical decision – could the new science of radar be trusted as a bulwark of British defence? Snow is a gifted observer of human dynamics (he’s also a celebrated novelist), and brilliantly describes the different characteristics of three different ways of making decisions. More than that, he tells the story as a drama of personal interaction, involving characters that have become household names (certainly Churchill and Lord Cherwell, and Tizard and Lindemann for the cognoscenti).
The text is 57 pages, and the self assessment questions below should keep you on track for the things to look for in each section.
Mukerjee, Madhusree (2015) “Lord Cherwell: Churchill’s Confidence Man,” History Net
Edgerton, D. (2005). CP Snow as Anti-historian of British Science: Revisiting the Technocractic Moment, 1959-1964. History of science, 43, 187-208.
Complete required reading and prepare for seminar.
If you choose this subject as your second assignment, the brief should address the question: What are the key roles of a national science advisor, and how might they be executed? You may vary from this if you discuss your proposal with the professor.
Participation evaluation for week 9 Concepts will consist of:
Questions and discussion