John Marburger on Science Policy Research

May 26th, 2005

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In last week’s Science, John Marburger, science advisor to President Bush, calls (PDF, subscription required) for greater attention to science policy research:

“How much should a nation spend on science? What kind of science? How much from private versus public sectors? Does demand for funding by potential science performers imply a shortage of funding or a surfeit of performers? These and related science policy questions tend to be asked and answered today in a highly visible advocacy context that makes assumptions that are deserving of closer scrutiny. A new “science of science policy” is emerging, and it may offer more compelling guidance for policy decisions and for more credible advocacy.”

In my view, the “science of science policy” is being practiced most explicitly at Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and our own Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado. Dr. Marburger’s Science editorial follows up on his recent AAAS speech on the same subject.

Needless to say, we agree about the need for more systematic study of science policy – that is, decisions made about science and decision made with science. Our mission (PDF) here at the University of Colorado is based on the assumption/hypothesis that science policy decision making can be improved by expanding the scope of choice available to science policy decision makers. Perhaps we’ll prove ourselves wrong, but we’ll sure have fun along the way.

3 Responses to “John Marburger on Science Policy Research”

  1. David Bruggeman Says:


    Who, if anyone, would you say is doing something comparable to CSPO and your center with respect to technology policy, or even some combination of the two?

    Unless technology is assumed in all the mentions of science policy, which might make my question moot.

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  3. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    Hi David- Thanks for your comment. I am aware of a number of groups who have focused on technology policy research (which I’d claim is different than technology policy per se). Most notable I think are the Harvard, MIT and CMU programs. And surely there are other excellent programs out there that I am unaware of, in the US and Europe and perhaps elsewhere. CSPO does more technology policy research than we do, though we are working to further develop that capacity. A few of our grad students (who you probably know) have observed that in S&T policy research there is nothing really comparable to the “Handbook of STS” developed by Sheila Jasanoff and others. Similarly there is no real professional association (formal or informal) for people who do STPR, as there is for STS (e.g., 4S). When John Marburger calls for more “science of science policy” (which I’d call science and technology policy research) as the president’s science advisor, then I think that this suggests that there is an unmet need among policy makers for STPR. I would welcome other peoples thoughts on this as well.

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  5. David Bruggeman Says:

    A few additional thoughts on Marburger’s comments (both in Science and at the AAAS Forum):

    In his discussions, he’s seeking (among other things) improvement in the data collection and analysis done with respect to science and technology policy and science and technology activity.

    While all of the programs mentioned in this discussion conduct some kind of work in this area, it seems relatively specialized, or even piecemeal. While specialization is a fact of academic life, the absence of definition or coherence of STPR at a more general level makes it pretty inadequate in informing policy in the way or at the level Marburger describes.

    A secondary impact of this is that educating or training a next generation of scholars and practitioners in STPR as much of a hodgepodge as the literature we have to work with. Employment in the field, whether academic or not, doesn’t privilege general STPR education, so the labor market provides no incentive to change this.

    I think more general level scholarship is out there (Brooks, Mokyr and Hounshell come to mind), but as your grad students noted, it has not been put together into some common work, and their is no professional or academic organization interested in correcting this. Isis did some good survey work several years ago, but that is sadly an exception.

    However, none of this really addresses converting STPR research into the new models and information Marburger talks about. But we should probably build some capacity before trying to transfer knowledge.

    A final thought – while I don’t know a lot of SPRU in Sussex, it might be worth investigating as an entity that can produce the kind of information Marburger would like, if it were in the U.S.