The recent spat over the UKs nanotech performance (time to dust off the dunces cap?) throws into relief the problem with the timescales of scientists and policy makers. This prompted me to dust off an article by Dan Yankelovich looking at the divide between science and society which appeared in ‘Issues in Science and Technology’ back in 2003.
The timetables of science (which operates in a framework of decades or longer) are completely out of synch with the timetables of public policy (which operates in a framework of months and years). It has taken nearly 30 years for the National Academy of Sciences to complete its study of the consequences of oil drilling in Alaska’s North Slope; in that time, a great deal of environmental damage has been done, and political pressure for further exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has gained momentum.
The same is true for risk asessments and toxicology – policy makers (and the public) want answers now, while the science takes years. Let’s get cracking then.