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Scientists and the Politics of Technology

Volume 25, Number 4 (Aug. 1971) Page 403-413

von Hippel, Frank; Primack, Joel


Among the first questions which occur to a scientist who has decided to concern himself with the potential dangers posed by a rapidly developing technology are: (1) How effective is the Federal Executive's enormous and often distinguished science-advisory establishment in helping bring about rational decision making for technology? and (2) how effective in comparison can individual or small groups of independent scientists be in affecting crucial decisions by taking the issues to the public? In a number of case studies we have found: (1) In cases where an Executive Agency has large political or bureaucratic interests at stake, unfavorable reports of science-advisory panels are often ignored, kept confidential, and even misrepresented to the public as supporting official policy; and (2) it has been established repeatedly that a small dedicated group of independent scientists can bring to public attention a policy which represents a major threat to the public health and welfare. If the danger is sufficiently clear, the issue is often taken up by politicians or made into a legal issue with a good chance for a modification of official policy being the result.