www.czu.cz ; www.raupp.info
For more than a half-century, U.S. academic scientists have thrived on a
tacit promise from the federal government to support their research in
return for working toward the public good and training the next generation
of scientists and engineers. Relationships between the government and
scientists have occasionally been strained, especially when budgets have
been tight, but in general the system has operated in a relatively civil
manner. And it has worked well enough for other countries to try to copy,
with mixed success, December 2004 by Jeffrey Mervis .
But in 2004 that social compact took a beating. Groups of researchers
accused the Bush Administration of undermining the scientific advisory
system and of putting ideology before science in a number of issues from
global warming to stem cell research. That elicited a strong rebuttal from
the president's science adviser John Marburger, who dismissed a letter from
60 Nobel laureates criticizing the Administration's science policies as
"complaints from the Democrats."
The United States wasn't alone in witnessing this breakdown of comity. In
France and Italy, researchers staged a yearlong series of protests against
what they viewed as attempts to undermine the scientific enterprise, from
budget cuts to the proposed elimination of tenure. Across Europe and Asia,
scientists felt the sting of activists denouncing work on genetically
modified crops or research involving animals. And back in the United States,
educators continued to battle antievolutionists seeking to influence science
instruction in public schools across the country.
The scientific community bears some of the blame for this breakdown. The
letter writers' overt sympathies for the Democratic nominee, Senator John
Kerry, made them vulnerable to countercharges that they were also putting
politics and ideology before science. The well-documented sclerosis within
the French and Italian research establishment is largely self-induced and
can't be cured with slogans and street demonstrations. And when a scientific
issue rose to the level of a national debate, as in the controversy over the
use of embryonic stem cells in research, the tendency of scientists to view
their critics as biomedical Luddites left little room for compromise.
Ironically, politicians have long urged scientists to become more active in
the policy arena. But this year was a reminder that there are risks
involved, too. As Congress and the Administration look for ways to trim
spending next year, scientists will need more friends in high places. And
that means finding ways to make peace, not war, with the powers that be.
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