The forgotten sense of “science policy”

In the absence of a science policy textbook, I would like to ask the scholars of science policy to forgive me for doing an online search for its definition. In fact, I invite them to comment to this post with a more scholarly definition.

In the meantime I have found the following definitions of science policy online. According to wikipedia:

Science policy is an area of public policy concerned with the policies that affect the conduct of the science and research enterprise, including the funding of science, often in pursuance of other national policy goals such as technological innovation to promote commercial product development, weapons development, health care and environmental monitoring [SENSE 1]. Science policy also refers to the act of applying scientific knowledge and consensus to the development of public policies [SENSE 2].

A Royal Society of Chemistry report defines it as:

Science policy is quite a broad term, encompassing not only areas in which science can help achieve policy goals [SENSE 2], but also areas in which policy itself influences science, for instance funding [SENSE 1].

The Canadian encyclopedia defines it as:

Science policy is a term which came into use in the 1960s to denote the co-ordinated measures that should be taken by governments to promote the development of scientific and technological research and, especially, to guide the exploitation of research results to further national economic growth and welfare [SENSE 1].

You must have noticed that I have marked in blue two senses of science policy. The first sense, annotated [SENSE 1] above, has to do with policies the government makes in order to shape the research environment with the ultimate goal of enhancing societal wellbeing. This sense is best defined above by the Canadian encyclopedia. This sense of course has partly to do with policies related to science funding, so in a way this is the sense for which the Science Is Vital campaign is mostly fighting for.

UPDATE: it was suggested to me on twitter by the very knowledgable  @jameswilsdon that this “policy for science” is now called Innovation Policy and  @stianwestlake  that it is called Science or Innovation Policy. I am wondering if Innovation Policy could refer to the policies taken in applied science, since I would think that most people working in basic science policy would not identify themselves as innovation policy makers.

from the Science Is Vital Rally – Autumn 2010 (from Alice Bell’s blog)

The second sense, annotated [SENSE 2], has to do with using scientific advice is all areas of public policy. There is an increase in popularity of this second idea is certain countries, especially english-speaking countries, in order to promote evidence-based policy making. In fact, even the European Commission now has a Chief Scientific Advisor that reports directly to the President. I should note here that even though both of these senses are touched upon in the Geek Manifesto, the fighting for this latter sense was in my opinion the added value of this book.

UPDATEit was suggested to me on twitter by  @stianwestlake  that could be called “science advise for policy”.

So my question is this: why when discussing a career in Science Policy, most people are referring only to the second sense?

Here is a list of articles that I have found on the subject:

And here is a list of  science policy job directories:

All these links – articles and directories alike – refer to the second sense.

But what about the equally important first sense? What about the shaping of National Innovation Systems? What about this kind of a career?


4 thoughts on “The forgotten sense of “science policy”

  1. I think that kind of career refers more to an art style rather than to a coherent scientific discipline. An art that combines different forms of knowledge (including but not restricted to science ) in order to formulate policies on science in countries with very different institutional arrangements.

    • I have to say that I would not call it an “art” since in many cases it is based on the scientific method, where ideas are tried and if they are found to be successful then they are repeated, otherwise these policies are rejected. From what I understand since the 60s different policies are used in a trial and error base, but usually with evidence-based reasoning behind them – some work, some don’t. But please correct me if I am wrong.

  2. I allegedly have a career in science policy, and both senses are well represented. I would suggest that neither represents a coherent scientific discipline. I do think that bench scientists may see the first sense as more connected to what they do on a day-to-day basis, and not requiring as much of a transition as taking scientific or technical knowledge and using it in the political process.

    Never mind that politics is present in the first sense as well, or that there are non-academic science policy jobs focused on that first sense (though I think it rare to find any science policy job where it’s just one sense or the other).

    Much of the first sense, if only indirectly, is part of a system that scientists have already been trained in. Students and faculty have been exposed to research administrators and disciplinary societies, and may simply see the work they do in this first sense as less alien.

    • I completely agree that “politics” is involved in both senses. I am a “science policy maker” in terms that I am involved in the funding of science. I am working with people that decide which science will be funded, so I can tell you that there is tons of politics in that, and in Europe there is the additional “diplomatic” complications, since in many cases multiple countries are involved with different hierarchies/policy makers/priorities.

      And yes I have to say that there is a tendency for the people that decide what science is to be funded to be distinguished scientists with strong strategic/leadership abilities, who nonetheless base their opinion on the recommendation of expert panels. These scientists have thus, as you said, not gone too far away from their academic research environment as much as those that are working to advise public policy makers.

      As for whether the two senses of science policy are scientific disciplines, I would dare to say that the first sense could be a scientific discipline if different strategies are tested in order to find the “best” one, as according to the scientific procedure. From what is suggested about the nature of science policy in the second sense, this discipline has at the moment the role of “scientific advise”, so in this case I would argue that science policy in the second sense is not a scientific discipline.

      Finally, I would like to mention that as long as there is funding to be distributed and a national innovation systems to be shaped, there is going to be a great number of jobs in science policy in its first sense, but this is not mentioned in all these articles/directories I have found. This was actually one of the points for writing this post: to emphasize that there is another option, another path that can be taken.

      At the same time, I wrote this post wondering if these two worlds have become quite separate – can someone working in science policy in the second sense move easily to a job in science policy in its first sense and vice versa?

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