Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Science and Government

I just finished reading a brief lecture by C.P. Snow entitled "Science and Government" that, among other things, examines the role of science in decision making.  Anyone who is involved in committees, politics (governmental, office, academic, or otherwise), or decision-making should read this lecture. I found its central story both entertaining and enlightening.

One of the main conclusions of the lecture is that decision-making ought not succumb to the euphoria of secrecy, and that decision-makers ought not be obsessed with gadgets: personally favored creations that have little value and lack a broad base of support. Snow says,
The euphoria of gadgets; the euphoria of secrecy...are the origin of 90 per cent of ill-judged scientific choices. Any scientist who is prone to these euphorias ought to be kept out of government decisions or choice-making, at almost any cost.
And as argument against obsessive covertness he claims that "societies at about the same level of technology will produce similar inventions."

He also discusses the roles of committees in decision-making---regardless of political organiziation committees are almost invariably present---and gives some advice for what may constitute an effective committee, namely
  1. The committee's objective must be clear and not too vast.
  2. The committee must be placed appropriately within the hierarchy of the larger (governmental) system. 
  3. The committee must have powers of action. Advisory committees in particular have no power and therefore cannot make decisions.
I found the read quick, accessible, and relevant despite being 50 years old.

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