Linear model, a worthwhile aspiration?


in M.Phil thesis, Politics, Science

If there is one thing my thesis has ended up being about, it is how the linear model of science-based policy-making is wrong. We do not move chronologically through a scientific process – isolated from politics – into a political process based on neutral scientific fact. Additionally, the policies that are adopted always have moral assumptions embedded in them, as well as normative consequences.

One issue that remains is whether our descriptive criticism of the linear model logically extends to it not being something to which we should aspire. Acknowledging that politics affects science doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t combat that, to such an extent we can. Administrations that have twisted science too far have often ended up looking silly for it (See Litfin). Likewise, while it is clear that various actors use scientific facts and arguments to advance their own agendas, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we should abandon aspirations towards the relatively neutral and balanced presentation of information. By way of comparison, think about adherence to the scientific method. While actual scientific practice doesn’t always follow the ideals of neutrality and objectivity as it should, that doesn’t mean that we should abandon those ideals.

The question, then, is whether the actual processes of science and politics are so far from this ideal that it isn’t even a useful guide for aspirational purposes, or whether we should persist in trying to apply such rationalist approaches.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon @ Wadh March 15, 2007 at 1:21 pm

Call it ‘linear model as noble lie.’

Milan March 15, 2007 at 2:13 pm

From Popper:

The genuine rationalist does not think that he or anyone else is in possession of the truth; nor does he think that mere criticism as such helps us achieve new ideas. But he does think that, in the sphere of ideas, only critical discussion can help us sort the wheat from the chaff. He is well aware that acceptance or rejection of an idea is never a purely rational matter; but he thinks that only critical discussion can give us the maturity to see an idea from more and more sides and to make a correct judgment of it.

“On Freedom” in All Life is Problem Solving (1999)

Tristan Laing March 16, 2007 at 3:31 pm

I don’t think the linear model is a worthwhile aspiration. Science is not valueless, humans are the valueing animals. A wortwhile aspiration would be to be clear, open and democratic in our valueing. Science can’t be neutral, nor aught it (real neutrality would have to be paradigm-less). The fact that we need assumptions about the world to learn anything about it proves that truth is always perspectival (we see the truth from a perspective, it’s no less truthful, but it’s never absolute, there are always other sides, it’s impossible to grasp all the sides, nor is it the goal). (Truth is showing, not correspondance of proposition and object)

Milan March 16, 2007 at 4:00 pm


What does that mean in policy terms? If you were a policy-maker trying to interact with scientists, what would that perspective mean for the work you are engaging in?

It seems a lot easier to say: “avoid politicizing science, if possible, and don’t pretend your solutions are technical and value free.”

Buzz March 20, 2007 at 1:00 am

You fool! Now we may never know if ants can be trained to sort tiny screws in space.

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