A debut book offers an ambitious examination of a new approach to the formulation of policy regarding science.
As the pace of new technology quickens exponentially, there is a concomitant need to make pertinent policy faster and more nimbly. This new approach not only needs to be speedy, but encompass the multitude of economic, governmental, and sociological ramifications of new scientific breakthroughs as well. Michelson laments the current inverse relationship between science and government—as scientific discovery skyrockets, the government’s relevant agencies, like the Office of Technology Assessment, are either disappearing or suffering from radical defunding. But in crisis lies opportunity, and the author recommends a pivot away from a centralized, bureaucratically directed approach to policymaking in favor of “anticipatory governance.” Much of the book is devoted to explaining that concept, its history, and both its past and future applications. The approach divides into three main ideas: First, “foresight,” or the preparation for a broad spectrum of “plausible futures.” Second, there is an emphasis on “engagement,” involving the outreach to lay stakeholders so they can collaborate with scientific experts. Finally, the goal of “integration” is meant to create a partnership between both natural and social scientists. Michelson trains his attention on the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and its groundbreaking use of anticipatory governance, and he seeks to apply its methodologies to the field of synthetic biology. This is a rigorously researched work that exhaustively surveys mountains of germane literature. Despite the challenging nature of the subject, this is a generally accessible book even to the uninitiated, because the author carefully explains anticipatory governance from its historical inception and even supplies lucid explanations of nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Sometimes the prose gets bogged down in the kind of gratuitously dense, bloodless language that afflicts academic writing and instructions for building furniture, and the use of initialisms and acronyms is promiscuous enough that Michelson provides a glossary: “While the focus here has been on the EHS risk research inventories produced by PEN and ICON, the role of PEN’s CPI as a boundary object in its own right should not be shortchanged either.” But for those interested in the latest ideas on science policymaking, this book is more than worth the extra effort.
An astute, painstakingly documented introduction to anticipatory governance written with thoroughness and expertise.