Cover image for Ivory bridges : connecting science and society
Ivory bridges : connecting science and society
Sonnert, Gerhard, 1957-
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
227 pages ; 24 cm
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Q175.5 .S87 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A study of two bridges between science and society: governmental science policy and scientists' voluntary public-interest associations.

According to a widespread stereotype, scientists occupy an ivory tower, isolated from other parts of society. To some extent this is true, and the resulting freedom to pursue curiosity-driven research has made possible extraordinary scientific advances. The spinoffs of "pure" science, however, have also had powerful impacts on society, and the potential for future impacts is even greater. The public and many policymakers, as well as many researchers, have paid insufficient attention to the mechanisms for interchange between science and society that have developed since World War II. Ivory Bridges examines two such mechanisms: governmental science policy (often involving the participation of "scientist administrators") and scientists' voluntary public-interest associations. The examination of science policy is guided by the notion of "Jeffersonian science" -- -defined as basic research on topics identified as being in the national interest. The book illustrates the concept with a historical case study of the Press-Carter Initiative of the late 1970s and proposes that a Jeffersonian approach would make a valuable addition to future science policy. The book also looks at the activities of citizen-scientists who have organized themselves to promote the welfare of society. It shows that their numerous and diverse organizations have made major contributions to the commonweal and that they have helped to prevent science from becoming either too subservient to government or too autonomous. An extensive appendix profiles a wide variety of these organizations.

Author Notes

Gerhard Sonnert is a sociologist of science in the Department of Physics at Harvard University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Scientists never work in isolation; neither does science. In their creative and probing moments, scientists are seldom concerned with the practical usefulness, even relevance, of what they are investigating to the larger needs of society. Yet, they cannot enjoy the luxury of doing science for science's sake without the financial support and encouragement of society at large. In the US, there are any number of governmental organizations that direct and propel scientific research. There are also many scientific associations that serve the public in different ways. These are among the "ivory bridges" referred to in the title of the book. Long before the Soviets preached the concept, Thomas Jefferson recognized that it would be valuable for scientists to direct their customary curiosity to specific problems that would serve the national interest. Sonnert (sociology of science, Harvard Univ.) with Holton (physics; history of science emer., Harvard Univ.) examine some specific instances where the Jeffersonian model has worked effectively in the US. The book is well researched, factual, and informational. It includes a list of society-oriented scientific organizations with brief notes on each. A valuable addition to the literature on the sociology of science. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. V. V. Raman emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology