By Jean Moran

The title of this paper is not meant to imply comprehensive treatment of developments in Australian science from the 1940s to the 1980s. Its more modest objective is to isolate particular parallels in the debates and rhetoric about science in these two decades. It argues that shifting political and economic contexts condition scientists’ preferred strategies of self-legitimation. These shifts may cause major realignments within the scientific power structure. Two such shifts occurred during the 1940s. Coinciding with the outbreak of World War II, the catchcry of ‘science for society’ catalysed unprecedented moves to register science as a key national resource. But the projection of the scientist as social engineer/mediator was not to be realised. With the onset of the Cold War, the scientific community reverted to the defence of autonomy and non-interventionism in scientific organisation. Scientific ‘excellence’ rapidly replaced ‘relevance’ as a justification for government support of science. The appeal to freedom from political interference remains a powerful article of faith within the stratified research hierarchy. Increasingly, however, the rationale of autonomy is out of step with the economic and political climate of the 1980s. Some exploratory observations are made about the legacy of the 1940s in the emerging current political debate about Australia’s so-called ‘technological dependence’ and a renewed concern about strategic relationships among science, technology, productivity and national wealth.

page: 271 – 289
Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation
Volume 1, Issue 2

SKU: 0810-90288628931

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