The integration of History and Philosophy of Science in science policy discourse

This section argues that the exemplary logic, which is the circular integration between History and Philosophy of Science that results in a normative historically oriented iHPS. is a fundamental component of the Science Policy discourse. Science Policy consists of diverse topics concerning the allocation of resources for all the different activities related to science. For instance, topics include funding of science, careers of scientists, intellectual property policy and translation of scientific discoveries into technological innovation.14 Science Policy encompasses all the stakeholders that are involved in the management and governance of the scientific enterprise, from universities to institutions and social actors. Vis-a-vis the academia-based disciplines of History and Philosophy of Science, Science Policy does not take place only at the university. In fact, Science Policy discourse is spread across a large web of actors contributing to proposing, implementing, modifying, and even opposing science policies. University-based discourse on Science Policy is produced under the label of Science Policy and Innovation Studies (SP1S), and it is disseminated through scientific journals, the traditional academic format.1'' Different disciplines (e.g. management, economics, sociology) contribute to this field. On the other hand, the institution-based discourse is spread through different formats, including reference documents, white papers, and political speeches.

A detailed analysis of the structure and features of Science Policy discourse is beyond the scope of the present chapter.16 Instead, I aim to demonstrate how three prominent examples of Science Policy discourse follow the same logic that governs the Popperian integration of History and Philosophy of Science (namely, the exemplary logic). By using those three instances, I will show how the integration between a sui generis History of Science and a sui generis Philosophy of Science takes place in the same circular manner that characterises Popper’s normative historically oriented iHPS.17

The three examples are: Vannevar Bush's (1945) famous report Science, the Endless Frontier, Henry Etzkowitz’ 2008 The Triple Helix and the European Commission (2014) ‘self-evaluation form’ of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Starting and Consolidator Grant (a document provided to participants to self-evaluate the projects they submit to ERC for funding). I chose Bush’s report because of its historical importance in shaping Science Policy in the USA. Etzkowitz’s monograph is considered an example of contemporary academic discourse on Science Policy. Lastly, the European document provides a sample of documents generated by Science Policy institutions.

Vannevar Bush's science, the endless frontier

During the Second World War, Vannevar Bush headed the United States Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), which managed almost all wartime military research. This included the Manhattan Project, which carried out the wartime research and development that produced the first nuclear weapons. In 1945, Bush delivered to President Roosevelt a report, entitled Science, the Endless Frontier, which had a profound impact on postwar Science Policy in the USA. In the report, Bush stresses the strategic importance of scientific research for the future of the country after the war. Science and technology are depicted as the key to assure not only national security, but also economic growth and public health. However, he adds, the essential condition to maximise the potential of science was a strong investment of public money into scientific research. Bush’s idea is that the market alone could not provide the capital needed for research projects, as research would have been considered an extremely high-risk investment. Therefore, the money needed for scientific research should be supplied by the government. The main proposal advanced in the report is that the huge funding that the US government granted to science during the war should have been maintained also in times of peace, with the creation of a National Science Foundation.

In Bush's argument, the distinction between basic and applied science is pivotal. Today, these terms are widely used in Science Policy.18 However, at the time of Bush’s proposal, they were a recent acquisition since they were introduced in the 1920s during the British discussions on Science Policy. Bush actively contributed to shaping their meaning. In Science, the Endless Frontier, basic science is famously described as research ‘performed without thought of practical ends’, resulting in ‘general knowledge and an understanding of nature and its laws’ (Bush 1945, p. 18). On the other hand, applied research is characterised by research devoted to solving practical problems, building from the results carried out in basic research:

This general knowledge provides the means of answering a large number of important practical problems, though it may not give a complete specific answer to any one of them. The function of applied research is to provide such complete answers.

(Bush 1945, p. 18)

The idea that knowledge flows unidirectionally from basic to applied research is central in Bush's argument because it justifies the need of mainly funding basic research. This concept is in contrast to the pre-war US Science Policy, which basically only funded applied research (especially in agriculture and farming).19

The strategy used by Bush to justify his proposal builds on certain technological advancements that, he claims, could have been achieved only by progress in basic research. Radar was Bush’s favourite example. Radar was a military device that was essential to defeat Germany, and it was developed thanks to basic research in physics. Another example is antibiotics (such as penicillin), which were the outcome of basic bio-medical research and were crucial in saving the lives of thousands of American soldiers during the war.

We can say that Bush’s argument combines a normative proposed (the Science Policy principle of funding primarily basic research) with a set of examples that are patently desirable scientific outcomes, that is to say, they play an exemplary role. Thus, Bush's examples have the same purpose as the examples of good science in Popper’s normative historically oriented iHPS. Therefore, both Popper and Bush base their arguments on the same logic, the exemplary logic.

In the case of Popper, this logic relates examples of good science (History of Science) to good scientific methodology (Philosophy of Science). In the case of Bush, it relates desirable scientific outcomes to good Science Policy principles. Once again, a descriptive part (the History of Science part) is circularly connected with a prescriptive part (the Philosophy of Science part). Indeed, some episodes, such as Einstein’s relativity theory for Popper, and radar and antibiotics for Bush, are described as desirable scientific outcomes, that is to say exemplars. Starting from these exemplars, the authors build on strategies to prepare the ground for more exemplars: Popper formulates the idea of the conjectures and refutations method, while Bush states the principle of funding basic research. The whole process is indeed circular. Bush’s manifesto is the first example of circular logic, and it is a model of normative historically oriented iHPS. However, Science, the Endless Frontier was published in 1945 and is therefore a historic work. Hence, in the next section, I examine a recent Science Policy document to verify whether the same logic does still exist in current Science Policy.

Henry Etzkowitz's triple helix model of the relationship between university, industry and government

The second instance I consider is Henry Etzkowitz’ 2008 monograph The Triple Helix. According to Etzkowitz, a closer integration of university, industry and government (the ‘triple helix' mentioned in the title) is the key to increase growth and promote innovation in knowledge-based economies. The author proposes several policies to foster this integration. For instance, universities are encouraged to become entrepreneurial by taking on some roles that are traditionally attributed to industry, such as the development of new firms and the capitalisation of knowledge. At the same time, companies are encouraged to develop high-level training programmes and share knowledge by establishing joint ventures. Thus, private companies are supposed to become a form of para-university. Finally, the government is meant to combine traditional regulatory activities with public venture actions by providing public capital to high-risk (but potentially high-gain) research-based companies. Etzkowitz (2008, p. 1) thinks that the university should be the leading force of the triple helix, and he regards it as the ‘source of entrepreneurship and technology as well as critical inquiry’.

Etzkowitz’s programmatic book is permeated by exemplary logic: as in the case of Bush, the proposed policies are always coupled with instances that exemplify those policies. For instance, the pillars of the entrepreneurial university are the following (Etzkowitz 2008, p. 27):

  • 1 Academic leadership able to formulate and implement a strategic vision.
  • 2 Legal control over academic resources, including physical property, such as university buildings, and intellectual property emanating from research.
  • 3 Organisational capacity to transfer technology through patenting, licensing and establishment of business incubators.
  • 4 An entrepreneurial ethos among administrators, faculty members, and students.

Each of these pillars is explained in Etzkowitz’s work as providing tangible examples of universities around the world that have adopted the suggested policies and have thrived thanks to them. For instance, the Renssellaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York) is presented as the first institution that created an incubator (an organisation assisting university spin-offs that have their roots in academic research). Cases presented from Brazil and Africa exemplify the benefits of converting traditional universities into entrepreneurial universities: according to the author, this transformation has helped to spread an entrepreneurial ethos within Brazilian society, and has solved technological crises in Africa. In Chapter One ('Pathways to the triple helix’), the Boston Area and Silicon Valley in Northern California are pointed out as the best-case scenarios of the application of the triple helix model.

Etzkowitz employs throughout the text the very same strategy: while the best-case scenarios are the evidence of the good policies he suggests, at the same time, he considers those policies good because they are required for the very existence of the best-case scenarios. As we can see, Etzkowitz’ reasoning shows circularity, a characteristic feature of the exemplary logic. First, certain episodes are chosen to serve as examples of best science, that is exemplars. Second, a sui generis Philosophy of Science is extracted from those exemplars, which leads to the creation of a model, namely the triple helix model. The model is then used to explain the necessary conditions that set the stage for exemplary episodes. Finally, this Philosophy of Science is translated into guidelines for Science Policy, guaranteeing that its implementation will lead to new best-practice models.20 Therefore, we can conclude that the exemplary logic is still present in contemporary Science Policy texts, and. specifically, in the academic context. In order to address the question whether the exemplary logic exists also in the institutional discourse, I will now focus on European Science Policy documents, the final case-study of this chapter.

European Research Council Science Policy

The final instance of exemplary logic in Science Policy I consider here is the current European Research Council (ERC) policy, as it is represented by the self-evaluation form, which is provided by the European Commission (EC) to researchers submitting project proposals to the ERC (EC 2014). Although quite short, this document is particularly significant, since it summarises what kind of scientific research the EC plans to fund, and it illustrates the scientific desiderata of the EC. As I will show, these desiderata can be considered as the implicit normative Philosophy of Science that guides the European Research Council.

First, the research project should be "ground-breaking’, which means that the research should not follow existing research lines but it should be a true step beyond the state of the art.21 Research funded by the ERC should have the ambition to potentially revolutionise the whole research field by suggesting new paradigms and implementing novel methodologies. Interdisciplinarity is an important asset for projects: interdisciplinary research is more likely to lead to breakthroughs than research that only investigates a specific discipline. Moreover, the project should address important contemporary challenges: it should be ‘timely’, to put it in the Commission’s terms. These pending issues can be either science- or society-related. Scientific challenges include topics that have greatly attracted the attention of the scientific community in the past few years, whereas the societal challenges consist of all those issues that directly affect the life of European citizens. The rationale behind these criteria is that research should have an impact on citizens, as research should be able to improve their lives. In the ERC documents, the flag term that summarises all the features mentioned above is ‘frontier research', where the adjective ‘frontier’ means: frontier of knowledge (‘ground-breaking’), frontier among disciplines (‘interdisciplinarity’), and frontier between science and society, science and technology, science and industry (‘impact’). Research funded by the ERC should be ‘on the frontier’ by any means.”

However, all these notions remain quite abstract, and applying them to real research projects might be challenging. Here is where the exemplary logic comes into play. The ERC and university grant offices supply the participants with several examples of previously funded projects. By doing this, they aim to translate the abstract desiderata into something more concrete by providing tangible examples.22 These examples represent models of good science to which applicants can refer as a guidance to write their own research proposals. These exemplars stand for good research models, which embody the scientific desiderata stated in the European policy. The policy, in turn, is supposed to guarantee that new good models will be produced. The circularity of the argument is, once again, analogous to the previous two Science Policy examples I examined. In the case of Bush, radar and antibiotics were described as exemplary scientific outcomes. These episodes were then used to put forward a funding policy, where the priority was given to basic research instead of applied research. This policy, which can be seen as a normative Philosophy of Science, was in turn justified as the necessary condition to achieve new exemplary scientific outcomes, closing the circle of the exemplary logic. In the case of Etzkowitz, the descriptive and the normative are even more intertwined. The ‘triple helix model’ is presented as a description of the best model of university-government-industry interaction, and at the same time as a normative proposal for successful Science Policy. Therefore, we can see that all the three cases I examined are shaped by the exemplary logic, which is the same logic at the core of normative historically oriented iHPS. Figure 4.1 schematically depicts the exemplary logic to clarify and better understand its circularity.

Exemplary logic diagram

Figure 4.1 Exemplary logic diagram: The exemplary logic in Science Policy discourse (left) and in Popperian normative historically oriented iHPS (right). The typical circularity of this logic is clear in the diagram. The upper area of the diagram concerns the History of Science, while the bottom part the Philosophy of Science.

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