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Utopian And Pragmatic Rationalism: The Political Context Of Scientific Advice

Y. Ezrahi
Published 1980 · Political Science, Medicine

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Towards the end of the 1970s, disillusionment with the power of scientific knowledge to transform and rationalise the decisions and actions of governments led to a more sober reassessment of the role of science in public life. This shift was accompanied by awareness of the preponderance of political considerations in the formulation and execution of public policies. The process of democratic politics consists of endless conflicts, negotiations and temporary compromises; legislatures and public bureaucracies which, unlike private firms, are typically insulated from marketlike external tests of performance, and are not under compelling pressure to integrate scientific knowledge and technical standards into their activities. Nevertheless, scientific knowledge and techniques do enter into political decisions and governmental programmes, where they have a variety of effects. These effects are, of course, often quite different from the effects expected from the use of knowledge to enhance the rationality and effectiveness of governmental actions. It is our task to understand how scientific knowledge does become woven into the political and bureaucratic formulation and execution of policies. Despite the various constraints, the integration of scientific knowledge remains a factor the weight of which varies in different contexts.

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