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Scientific and technical knowledge and guidance influences not just policy related to science and technology, but also many of today’s public policies as policymakers seek knowledge to enhance the quality of their decisions. Science and technology policy is concerned with the allocation of resources for and encouragement of scientific and engineering research and development, the use of scientific and technical knowledge to enhance the nation’s response to societal challenges, and the education of Americans in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Science and engineering research and innovations are intricately linked to societal needs and the nation’s economy in areas such as transportation, communication, agriculture, education, environment, health, defense, and jobs. As a result, policymakers are interested in almost every aspect of science and technology policy. The three branches of government — executive, congressional, and judiciary — depending on each branch’s responsibility, use science and technology knowledge and guidance to frame policy issues, craft legislation, and govern.
The science and engineering community, however, is not represented by one individual or organization. On matters of scientific and technical knowledge and guidance, its opinions are consensus-based with groups of scientists and engineers coming together from different perspectives to debate an issue based on the available empirical evidence. In the end, consensus is achieved if there is widespread agreement on the evidence and its implications, which is conveyed to policymakers. Policymakers then determine, based on this knowledge and other factors, whether or not to take action and what actions to take. If there are major disagreements within large portions of the community, however, consensus is not yet achieved, and taking policy actions in response to a concern can be challenging.
Several organizations, when requested by the federal government or Congress, provide formal science and technology policy advice: federal advisory committees, congressionally chartered honorific organizations, and federally funded research and development corporations. In addition, many other organizations and individuals — international intergovernmental organizations, policy institutes/think tanks, the public, professional organizations, disciplinary societies, universities and colleges, advocacy, special interest, industry, trade associations, and labor — also provide their thoughts. These organizations may agree on the scientific and technical knowledge regarding an issue, but disagree on what actions to take in response, as their values on a proposed policy may differ. Policymakers may be overwhelmed with an abundance of information from these organizations.
Despite these challenges, scientific and technical knowledge and guidance can provide policymakers with an opportunity to make their decisions based on the best information available, along with other factors they might take into account, such as cultural, economic, and other values, so that societal and economic benefits are enhanced and losses are mitigated.