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Republican Science vs Democratic Science

Why I Don't Care About Shipping Containers |


| Enron and the Press

April 11, 2006

Republican Science vs Democratic Science

Michael Mandel

Ed Felton of Freedom to Tinker has a good post about technology policy.

There seem to be regularly drawn battle lines in Congress, but for the most part tech policy doesn’t play out as a Republican vs. Democratic or liberal vs. conservative conflict. tech policy issues, we’re not thinking so much about technology vs. nature, as about technology vs. other technology. And in a technology vs. technology battle, an unshakable faith in technology isn’t much of a guide to action.

I've got to think about it some more.

10:47 AM


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This is an interesting framing of the issue, but I feel like there is something missing from it. Any Technology(tm) vs. Any Technology(tm) may not seem like a choice worth battling over, but if we understand that the technologies can be viewed from very different framings, then perhaps there is something worth debating. For example, one technology may increase productivity 10 units at the expense of 3 unit of jobs and 3 units of damage to the environment. Another technology may increase productivity of the same industry only 5 units, but also reduce damage to the environment by 3 units, and may create environmental jobs in the same industry for those displaced from their former job (let's say 3 units). Now, which is better? In the libertarian economic framing, option A is clearly a better option because it creates 10 units of productivity increase; the end. The environmental issues and job loss are just considered "non-factors" and irrelevant. However, others may consider the environment as a true variable in the equation (because ultimately, we DO have to pay for the use of those resources) and my also consider the immediate creation of new jobs to replace lost ones. Thus, to the libertarian, option A has 10 units of benefit, option B has 5 units of benefit. To an ecological economist, option A has a net 4 units of benefit, and option B has 11 units of benefit.

How things are framed changes how issues are debated and how choices are made. George Lakoff has done some good work in thise area. Though he's clearly a liberal and pro-Democrat, I would highly recommend looking past the political leanings and read his book "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives". It's a quick, short book you can absorb in a day and it's written in layman's terms, so you don't have an excuse not to. ;-)

Posted by: Brandon at April 12, 2006 09:31 AM

He uses Strategic Defense Initiative as an example of techno-utopianism: "But the killer argument against SDI was that enemies would adapt to SDI technologies by deploying decoys, or countermeasures, or alternatives to ballistic missiles such as suitcase bombs. SDI was an attempt to defeat technology with technology."

I would bet that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon capable of fitting into one of their ballistic missile, then the Israelis will be very glad that they have the Arrow anti-missile-missile. And I predict that European governments will be desperately trying to buy both the Arrow and the Patriot.

The argument that anti-missile technology is useless because there are other imaginable ways of delivering a nuclear weapon makes about as much sense as the argument that submarines are useless because they can't attack airplanes.

Posted by: David Foster at April 12, 2006 11:44 AM

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