Looking Back, Looking Forward
There is a troubling disparity between the scientific sophistication of our culture and its social and political backwardness, a disparity that hovers over every aspect of our civilization,” wrote Daniel Yankelovich 20 years ago to begin the first article in the first Issues in
Science and Technology. This is exactly the problem that National Academy of Sciences President Frank Press had in mind when he wrote in that same issue that this new magazine would be “dedicated to the broadening of enlightened opinion, reasoned discussion, and informed debate of national and international issues in which science and technology play a critical role.”
We are delighted to have Yankelovich back to kick off this special 20th-anniversary issue. He and all the other authors in this issue are revisiting topics that they wrote about previously in Issues. (A list of these articles can be found on the following page, and the articles themselves are available at www.issues.org.) Our goal is to provide readers with a quick overview of the wide range of topics that have been tackled in our pages and a sense of how critical concerns in science, technology, and health policy have evolved. But if you’re looking for a simple coda that will sum up the experience of the past two decades, you’ve come to the wrong place.
This edition, like all editions of Issues, has no party line. When one asks a group of very knowledgeable and politically savvy individuals from all sectors of society to express their personal views on a wide variety of contentious and important subjects, uniformity is the last thing one should expect. Reading these articles could leave one surprised, delighted, or dismayed. Every issue is different.
In some cases, the original problem continues unabated and the recommendations for action unchanged. In other cases, what might first appear to be the same problem is in fact quite different because of scientific developments or political shifts, so the recommendations for action are also different. Some authors have seen their recommendations become policy. In some cases, the result has been what they hoped; in others, it’s back to the drawing board. Some problems are worse, others better.
In all cases, we have learned something. Although it often seems to people in the science, technology, and health communities that their expertise is given little weight in policy debates, that is not the case. Policymakers are aware that special expertise is necessary to understand many of the choices they must make, and the scientists, engineers, and physicians that have become involved in public policy understand that their contribution is only one of many factors that contribute to the formulation of wise policy.
Politics and science each have long histories. The integration of science, technology, and health expertise into public policy is a recent and rapidly evolving phenomenon. We hope that this quick review of policy developments and Yankelovich’s perceptive overview will provide useful insights not only into the individual topics but also into the way in which expert knowledge can most effectively be used to inform public policy. To an increasingly large extent, humanity’s future course will be determined by how well these realms work together.