Chapter 14: Comments
W. Edward Steinmueller In his contribution in chapter 12, David Mowery has answered the provocative question of what economic theory has to tell us about missionoriented research with a sensible answer – not much. Indeed, the term ‘mission-oriented’ research already presupposes the necessity and the utility of the national government’s involvement in planning and commissioning the research. The term also serves to suppress consideration of alternative processes by which knowledge might be created or spread – an inherent contradiction of the social science devoted to examining the roles of competition and substitution. Yet, as Mowery observes, on those occasions when a rationale is offered it is likely to be one of market failure, a formulaic response that obfuscates rather than clarifies the rationale and implementation of government mission-oriented research efforts – no small matter, as such investments constitute over half of all government research expenditure in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and well over 90 per cent of the US federal research budget. Mowery’s argument that we should start with the dominance of mission-oriented research as a fact of life leads to useful insights into the effects or consequences of the political determination of research agendas. In particular, he observes that mission priorities quickly dictate the abandonment of the peer review of research or Vannevar Bush’s injunction that scientists should determine the agenda for exploring the endless frontier. Moreover, Mowery observes that once a mission has achieved its political backing, further confusion arises by pursuing other political ends such as...
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