David Guston’s Between Politics and
Assuring the Integrity and Productivity
Reviewed by Kimarie R. Stratos, J.D.**
University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000, 213 pages.
** Bioethics and Research Counsel, Miami Children’s
Hospital, Miami, Florida.
Instead of a new
world order, we have “a new world of inordinate disorder,” Norman Neureiter
told an audience at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service less than
a month after the events of September 11th. Referring to the topic on everyone’s mind
since that tragic day—national security, Neureiter, the Science and Technology
Adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell, acknowledged that the role of
science and technology underlies all elements of the security task.
Scientific advancements related to intelligence, biological, biochemical and
technologic inventions used to ward against terrorist attack, bring science and
technology to the forefront of homeland security, now a Department in its own
right. These topics, combined with notable
pre-September 11th issues, including stem cell research, cloning,
HIV/AIDS, global warming, gene patenting, genetic modification of food, nuclear
waste clean-up and bioethics, have clearly placed science and the politics that
necessarily accompany it, in the forefront of intellectual debate throughout
the country. Politicians appear nightly
on cable news shows debating the pros and cons of policy related to science,
more often than not, in partisan alignment.
What is not typically discussed in the public arena, however, is the
framework within which two once unlikely bedfellows—science and politics—have,
over the last century, become inexorably entwined in a complex relationship
designed to serve the public good.
In his book, Between Politics and Science, David H.
Guston takes on the formidable task of examining this relationship within the
context of a detailed historical perspective, specifically focusing on the
areas of mutual interest to both enterprises, the assurance of integrity and
productivity. With the government’s
current focus on enhancing technology in the wake of September 11th,
Guston’s book provides a timely framework for review by academicians,
researchers, politicians, policymakers and others seeking to advance their
Guston is an
Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers University and a widely
published author in the field of science policy. His vast knowledge of public policy and its enmeshed
philosophical component are clearly revealed in this book, which provides the
reader with an overview of almost a century of political and scientific
interaction. Guston’s book takes the
reader on an historical journey, utilizing scientific controversies and
philosophical models to demonstrate the plausibility of a “social contract for
science.” It addresses the
applicability of the principal-agent theory in examining the appropriate
framework for the relationship between politics and science, and the changes
brought about by research misconduct and economic disappointments surfacing in
At the forefront,
Guston distinguishes his subjects, by noting that science is engaged in the
pursuit of truth, and politics, in the baser pursuit of interests. Though the two may appear as polar
opposites, he explains that they actually function in close proximity. “…[T]he bright line between politics and
science is a fine one,” states Guston, and it is on this line that science
policy perches. The book
describes the players in vivid fashion—to the one side is the “rough and
tumble, the horse trading and pork barreling, the colorful bustle of politics;
to the other, the ivory-towered, rational contemplation and methodical pursuit
of truth.” Policy in science involves the direction of
funds; science in policy involves the provision of expertise from science to
politics. Thus, the basic framework is set: there is an ongoing struggle
between the usual corruptive influences of politics and the potentially
unaccountable self-governance of an authoritative professional community. While exploring this struggle, Guston uses
history, philosophy and objective data to examine the boundary between politics
and science. His task is to determine
where each begins and ends through an examination of issues important to
both—the assurance of research integrity and productivity.
Perspectives: A Century of Politics
While resolving any
current problem, historical perspective often proves invaluable. Between Politics and Science provides
ample historical information with respect to both the political events shaping
science policy and the philosophical models developing around them. Recognizing
the multi-disciplinary make-up of his readers, Guston provides relevant details
of political history regarding science for the educated non-historian and
historian alike. Starting with the
Allison Commission in 1880 through World War II, where important debate ensued
over the appropriate role of the government and science, to the 1980s era of
research misconduct and the changes resulting therefrom, Guston provides an
excellent factual basis from which to analyze policy development. He explains that an account of science
policy must be preceded by an account of policy making and an account of
science. With this in mind, Guston
identifies the principal-agent theory as an important analytical tool for
defining the relationship between science and policy. The principal-agent theory, as applied to science policy,
suggests that the government (the principal) requests that an agent (science)
perform certain tasks that the principal cannot directly perform.
A Case Study: The Allison Commission
The book’s treatment
of the Allison Commission exemplifies the way the author utilizes history to
analyze the underlying principles of science policy. Guston explains the
Commission’s creation and function with an eye towards modern day application
as follows: The Allison Commission was
established by Congress in 1884 to examine the organization of federal
research, which at that time included charting, mapping, and other geological
and meteorological functions performed by different governmental and military
agencies. Ostensibly reviewing the question of
overlapping jurisdiction, a congressional body for the first time received
testimony from scientists and bureaucrats about the nature and quality of their
research. Unsurprisingly, issues of
territorialism and political self-interest surfaced.
Not unlike various
agencies today, the Commission questioned the basis and appropriateness of
certain administrative decisions impacting upon research. Thus, for the first
time, the issue of integrity, inherent in the delegation of science from
principal to agent, became an issue.
Likewise, the matter of productivity surfaced as the Commission inquired
into such things as the nature and number of publications by the agencies in an
effort to quantify productivity.
Scientists in turn accused Congress of ignorance and anti-scientific
attitudes—accusations still common today, notes Guston. He uses these historical facts in the
framework of the principal-agent theory to capably guide the reader through an
analysis of science policy. Without
hesitation, however, Guston acknowledges that when applied to the government’s
delegation of research to the scientific community, this theory is indeed
The author continues
by espousing the need for “boundary” work when acting within the
principal-agent framework, emphasizing the contingent demarcation of science
from non-science. Guston notes that in
the 1880s, there was no “boundary organization,” an entity acting as
intermediary between and answering to both science and Congress. Then, when Congress had a question, members
set at a dais and the scientists--the same ones who collected specimens and
chartered territories--sat across from them and gave the answers. A century later this same methodology was
used to investigate research misconduct, as Guston illustrates, and boundary
organizations were born.
A Social Contract for
Following his Allison
commission case study, Guston describes the development of the “social
contract” for science, an ideology defining the problem of delegation in
science from its institutionalization just after World War II to its
termination in the 1980’s. Guston
identifies a social contract as a ubiquitous, theoretical device used to
explore principals of civil and political relations. Citing the theories of Locke, Rousseau and
Rawls, the author argues that this social contract for science is plausible,
with science working to enhance the public good. He describes a climate where science is supported largely through
grants and contracts to private institutions, leaving internal control,
including the method and scope of research, to the institutions
themselves. This relationship, he
suggests, supports the concept of a social contract between the scientific
community and the American people, as represented by Congress. As such, the contract promised widely
diffused benefits to society in return for according intellectual autonomy and
internal self-governance to the recipients of federal support. As with the history of the Allison Commission,
Guston threads his description of the social contract theory with comments by
and recognition of noted philosophers, political scientists, sociologists and
other scholars, like Vannevar Bush, author of Science: The Endless Frontier,
which, as Guston puts it, “looms large in the Mythos of American Science
Challenges to the Social Contract: Assuring Integrity and Productivity in
After explaining the
social contract and its variations, Guston goes on to discuss challenges to the
theory. He contends that the social
contract remained intact in the post World War II era despite questions about
loyalties in federally sponsored research because the basic methodologies for
dealing with integrity and productivity remained the same. From there, Guston
describes an overhaul of science policy brought about in the 1980’s as
allegations of misconduct began to mount.
In 1981, then-Representative Al Gore and Senator Orin Hatch led a
congressional investigation of scientific misconduct with respect to research
supported by the National Cancer Institute.
Additional investigations of misconduct in other arenas followed. The outcome was significant. No longer could the issue of research
integrity be informally managed within the scientific community. Rather, Congress created early boundary
organizations, specifically, the Office of Research Integrity within the
National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Offices of the Inspector General
within the National Science Foundation (NSF) to assist in assuring research
Guston explains how
these entities function to serve both the “principals” in Congress and their
“agents”, the scientific community. For
example, the ORI defined policies and procedures under which grantee organizations
continue to maintain primary responsibility for investigation of allegations,
but with oversight by ORI. Acting as agent for the principal, ORI can act
either subsequent to or preemptive of an institutional investigation, to assure
the integrity of both the investigation and the scientific function underlying
it. ORI also acts as agent for science
by providing educational assistance on research ethics and validating
institutional policies on research misconduct so that scientists may act to
ensure that their research programs function within appropriate parameters in
order to maintain federal funding.
Guston also examines
changes to the social contract for science as defined by a demand for
productivity on the part of the principal.
Moving away from appropriation as the impetus to create results, Guston
describes how the government recognized what the private sector had long known,
that the traditional reward system providing compensation for achievement goes
far in encouraging productivity.
Legislation was passed to “incentivize”
researchers, in partnership with the government, to produce, and in the
process, another boundary organization, the Office of Technology Transfer, was
born. This change in policy, explains Guston,
coupled with an attendant promulgation of laws, use of contracts and
development of supportive infrastructure encompassed by this boundary
organization, has greatly facilitated the transfer of and remuneration for
scientific discoveries among the public and private sectors.
With the advent of
these third party mechanisms to encourage both integrity and productivity,
Guston contends that the social contract was replaced with a policy model
utilizing boundary organizations to assure the integrity and productivity of
science. The word “incentivize” has
entered the vernacular of the scientific arena with resounding speed, while the
regulation, oversight and ethics of research has come to the forefront of both
science and public policy. One need
only look at the advances from the time about which Guston writes to the
present—the de-coding of the Human Genome, the growth of the internet, the
creation of genetic therapies, and other technological advances--to analyze the
very definite impact changes in science policy have had on the productivity of
science and its resulting effect on our lives.
Indeed, in the months that followed September 11th, the
importance of existing science and the need for further advances became
painfully apparent as the country struggled in its efforts to detect and combat
anthrax and other forms of bioterrorism, to provide and enhance security
screening through more sophisticated detection devices and to utilize and
upgrade defense technology.
some level of knowledge on the part of his readers with respect to the theories
and philosophical views cited in his work.
While the newcomer to science policy can sift through the chapters and,
with some effort, deduce who defended which view and why, the task is not elementary. For this group, the book’s Abbreviation
Index will likely prove helpful to decode the scientific and governmental world
of acronyms that are liberally used throughout the text. To the non-academician, Between Politics
and Science’s description of the principal-agent theory and boundaries,
coupled with an analysis of the social contract for science, does not make for
light reading. To those already versed in the field, the commentary will no
doubt be illuminating and analytically refreshing.
Science Policy: Today and Tomorrow
In the aftermath of
September 11th, appropriations for research and development have
climbed dramatically, particularly in the area of biological and technological
research. President Bush’s fiscal year
2003 budget proposes an increase in NIH funding to $27.3 billion dollars, a
number double that of the 1998 spending level. The allocation for the Department of Energy
is almost $21 billion. Perhaps more telling than the numbers
themselves is their supporting rhetoric. In the tug-of-war for funding,
competing interests must now prove their worth. In that context, Guston’s present-day take on the importance of
scientific productivity could not be more glaring. The United States Office of Management and Budget frames the
question as a new one: “Going forward,
let the question we debate be not just ‘What will the federal government
spend?’ but also ‘What will the federal Government achieve?’.” In the text that follows its promulgated OMB
budget report, science agencies proudly proclaim their productivity, in both
qualitative and quantitative terms. Selected programs are assessed within the
parameters of “effective” and “ineffective” and performance is rated “overall”
and within subsets.
The pomp and
circumstance is also ever-present. Lest
there be political confusion about exactly who or what is responsible for the
creation of the Internet, the NSF proudly clarifies the issue. Per the NSF’s budget text, its backing of
computer science research led to the creation of a graphic browser which
precipitated the creation of the Web. The Department of Energy, the NIH, NASA, the
Environmental Protection Agency and others highlight their accomplishments as
well. Henceforth it seems clear that
any budgetary discussion will necessarily include an analysis of the
government’s role in the development and funding of scientific research,
including discussion of the boundary organizations that act as go-betweens at
the interface of science and the government to keep the process stable. Politicians will continue to demand
tangible evidence of research productivity and will require justification and
proof of regulation in certain, often controversial, research fields and of
interest to constituents (i.e. stem cell research or cloning).
Whether spurred by
the computer or biotech revolutions, or by September 11th, science
policy issues are no longer merely the interest of politicians and
scientists. Why hasn’t a cure for
anthrax been discovered? Where is the
fail proof screening technology to detect bombs and other destructive materials
aboard aircraft and in public places?
Beyond the current need for research and development lies the need for
the creation and refinement of the policies that govern them. What of confidentiality in an age where
participation in human subjects research can include the banking of tissue and
the associated concerns of possessing a person’s DNA? Should genes be patentable or is use of patent law in the area of
biotech and genetics an ill-advised effort on the part of policy makers? How should we deal with the globalization of
research in the information age?
Formerly reserved to classrooms, think tanks and those directly impacted
by the subject, science policy is now squarely on the minds of the public,
albeit not necessarily in Guston’s terms or within his framework. No matter how much thought is given to the
subject, the ultimate return on today’s investments in science will remain a
present day mystery. Yet it is clear that science today will lead
us to unknown places; science policy and its associated infrastructure must be
ready for the journey.
To the politician,
researcher or policymaker who may be adept at either politics or science but
new to the nuances of the interplay between the two, Between Politics and
Science will provide excellent insight into the background of current
science policy. It also provides the
building blocks to go beyond budgets and election platforms in analyzing the
development and maintenance of sound science policy through its infrastructure,
including boundary organizations.
Guston draws no finite conclusions about whether the current structure
of the relationship between science and politics will ultimately succeed in acting
for the public good. He notes that even
if all policies are followed and infrastructure is utilized, there remains a
residual uncertainty about whether the research at issue will prove to be
valuable to either or both parties.
That uncertainty, says Guston, may allow one party to take advantage of
the other, and from time to time, to sway boundary organizations. Guston appears to see this as an inherent
characteristic in the relationship and suggests that the organizations simply
need to be moored firmly down to weather the storms. One can only hope that Guston is right, for there will be storms
 FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News,
Number 131: October 23, 2001. Neureiter identified this task as having three
elements: intelligence, diplomacy and
 National Science
Foundation Director Rita Colwell acknowledged the importance of science and
technology in combating terrorism, stating: “(e)very discussion about airline
safety, contaminated by disease, failure of communication links, poisoning of
food and drinking water, assessment of damaged infrastructure and countless
other concerns depends on our scientific and technical knowledge.” Colwell, in a November 7, 2001 speech to the
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars entitled “Science: before and
After September 11.” The full text of
this speech can be found at
 Guston, Preface, p. xv.
 Guston, Preface, p. xv.
 Guston, Preface, p. xv.
 The budget then for
federal research was about $3 million in annual appropriations.
 “It is a shame,” quotes
Guston of one scientist “that a Congressman whose brain is not more than two
kitten power can kick (the Coast survey) around like a foot ball (sic).”
(quoting Guston 1994a: 30). Among others, Major John Wesley Powell appeared
before the Commission espousing what he believed to be the primary analytical
fact of science policy: scientists know things about the conduct of research
that politicians do not—an argument used as an apology for and acceptance of a
laissez faire policy for science.
Powell advanced the “pure-science ideal,” stating that “(s)cientific men
are, as a class, the most radical democrats in society” who become “restive and
rebellious when their judgments are coerced by superior authority”. Guston, p. 33-34.
 “The public is like a very
rich man,” quotes Guston of E.E. Schattschneider (1960: 139), “who is unable to
supervise closely all of his enterprise.
His problem is to learn how to compel his agents to define his
options.” Guston, p. 19.
 More specifically, Guston
states that a “…boundary organization is more specifically identified because
it provides space that legitimates the creation and use of boundary objects and
standardized packages; involves the participation of principals and agents, as
well as specialized mediators; and exists on the frontier of two relatively
distinct social worlds with definite lines of accountability to each.” Guston, p. 109.
 Guston, p. 45, quoting
Harvey Brooks, (1990b: 12).
 While not a new concept in
principal-agent theory, the idea of “incentivizing,” by providing economic
benefits or sharing of potential profits in
research was indeed novel. By the 1980s,
creation of public-private partnerships to share in both risk and reward,
including lucrative patent rights, became a reality.
 Legislation included the
Technology Innovation Act of 1980, the Patent and Trademark Amendments Act of
1980, the Small Business Innovation Development Act and others. See Guston, p. 113-126.
 “It is abundantly clear
that there is a concurrent need for increased scientific and engineering
knowledge. In times such as these, we
are acutely cognizant of living in a society defined by and dependent on
science and technology.” Rita Colwell,
Director of the National Science Foundation, infra, footnote 2.
 As Guston travels deeper within the
confines of the “NSF,” the “NIH” and other science organizations to discuss the
substantive groups and methodologies within, acronyms abound. In discussing the ORI and OTT in comparison
to the OIG or the issues of productivity and integrity within the context of
the functions of the APA, ILO, OSI, RIAB, DAB, PHS and HHS, among others, the
Abbreviations Index will be appreciated.
 Office of Management and
Budget, Budget of the United States, Fiscal Year 2003. The government’s budget is published at
 Said Ken Olsen—founder and
chairman of Digital Equipment Corporation—in 1977: “(t)here is no reason for
any individuals to have a computer in their home.” (Dr. Neal Lane, Director of NSF, “Science: Stepchild or Superstar,” delivered at the
AAAS Annual Meeting on Engaging Science, Sustaining Society, February 14, 1997,