Seductive Intentions

John Ziman

  • A Science Policy for Britain by Tam Dalyell
    Longman, 135 pp, £5.95, September 1983, ISBN 0 582 90257 6

‘Science policy’ is not quite a contradiction in terms but it contains within itself a dialectical opposition between careful planning and the exploitation of opportunity. One might describe it as a strategy for groping around an unfamiliar blacked-out room. On the one hand, the results of research cannot be foreseen: if that were possible, then the research would not be worth doing. The prime characteristic of scientific work is the indeterminacy of its outcome. Every research project is essentially a step into the unknown. On the other hand, research projects have to be planned and executed with meticulous care. There is no human artefact so exquisitely designed as a space probe or particle accelerator. Big science experiments demand the co-ordinated efforts of people who have been trained for years in narrowly-specialised skills, brought together into teams within large, highly-organised institutions. Every research project is an action with a very conscious purpose.

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