Americans have been predisposed to like scientists and think well of them; but the original social contract was not a product of naivety. As Don K Price wrote, "Ever since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Americans have been inclined to put their faith in a combination of democracy and science as a sure formula for human progress."63 The economic linkage between basic research and the promised return on the federal investment gave society the upper hand; society could always withhold funding and call the scientists to accountability. The linkage also facilitated creation of a regulatory framework for scientific research, which did not exist before 1945, except for research directly related to military defence. Concern about potential abuse of human subjects and animals prompted expensive requirements for how (and whether) some research could be conducted; concern about environmental pollution began to restrict disposal of the chemical and biological byproducts of research.18 Requiring universities to establish procedures and offices for investigating potential misconduct fitted this overall pattern and added to the regulatory burden.
Today, "leaving it to the scientists" or relying on "personal ideals and social controls" alone is no longer considered appropriate or prudent.64 American scientists may be able to rebuild public and political trust in their integrity through future reliable performance; but the opportunity to forestall regulation is past. "Instead of a handshake giving generous funding along with broad discretion," Bruce Smith observes, "the pact between science and society will increasingly resemble a government contract, with much haggling over the fine print."17 Combined with less discretionary funding available for basic research and increased public wariness of science, a return to those golden days of an unblemished reputation now seems only a dream for a lonely Saturday night.
Was this article helpful?