Sunday, March 14, 2010

M Polanyi, "The Republic of Science: its Political and Economic Theory," Minerva 1 (1962): 54-73

Polanyi wants to model the scientific community as a republic, and hence as a political body, with activities coordinated by the mutual adjustment of individual initiatives; each taking into account the activities of the others.  Under this model the problems to be investigated are chosen by the scientific community in order to guarantee that their efforts and resources will not be wasted.  The criteria for their selection are: plausibility; scientific value: accuracy, systematic importance, intrinsic interest; and originality.  He recognizes that there is a tension between the first (plausibility) and the third (originality) criteria.

As a republic, the authority of scientific opinion is mutual and is established between scientists, not over them.  He claims that scientific activities cannot be controlled from a central authority or directed from outside the community in order to serve public interest.  It is an organic growth from existing knowledge to new knowledge and cannot be predicted or shaped.  Any such attempts at direction or shaping will only result in mutilation.  The paradox of the republic of science is that its tradition is one that upholds authority while at the same time cultivating originality.  It is an association of independent initiatives that combine towards an indeterminate achievement.  It is a society of explorers.

No authoritarian technics, here, but neither do we have the federal government controlling science.

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