Chapter 10: Comments
1 Mark Schankerman The starting point in Irwin Feller’s thought-provoking Chapter 8 is that the overlap between the real needs of policy-makers and the research questions addressed by academic scholars is distressingly low. In particular, he says that the ‘disquiet and dissatisfaction [of policy-makers] reflects the complexity, limited explanatory power and limited policy relevance of even the best and brightest of the science and technology evaluation work’. Moreover, Feller argues that the really important questions in science and technology policy involve making ex ante choices about government budget allocations both across broad scientific fields, and within specific areas, rather than ex post policy evaluation, but it is on the latter that economists have largely focused. Can anything be done to make ourselves (scholars) more useful to policy-makers, while at the same time maintaining scientific standards and credibility? Or is there a genuine trade-off between credibility and relevance? Do we really have to make a choice between answering narrower questions well and broader questions poorly? Let me start with program evaluation. There have been major advances in this area over the last 20 years which have enabled economists to be much more rigorous in assessing the impact of government programs. These techniques have been applied widely in many areas, including research and development (R&D) subsidy policies, innovation incubators and many other technology support programs. We are now much more attuned to, and sophisticated in dealing with, program application and selection issues. But despite the progress that has been made, there...
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