THE BRAIN BANK OF AMERICA: An Inquiry into the Politics of Science by Philip M. Boffey

THE BRAIN BANK OF AMERICA: An Inquiry into the Politics of Science

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The National Academy of Sciences is not General Motors, so this study from Ralph Nader's Center for Responsive Law isn't likely to generate shock waves. It does, nevertheless, pose disturbing questions about the way our government uses scientific expertise and specifically investigates the advisory role of the National Academy of Sciences, which is simultaneously our most prestigious honorary society and a quasi-official agency. This elite academy is often called upon to supply the ultimate technical advice on such questions as food safety, the SST and lead poisoning -- one Pentagon official called its approval ""the endorsement of the Gods."" Yet Boffey reveals that the Academy has most often functioned as a ""creature of the government"" and limited its role to buttressing official policy. Thus, a commissioned study group that proved too critical of the AEC's plans for disposal of radioactive waste was disbanded at the agency's insistence. Worse, the permanent Food Protection Committee, which is supposed to investigate the safety of food additives, receives funding from the food industry itself and is dominated by scientists who have shown little concern for long-range hazards. More often the Academy's findings are simply wishy-washy and restricted in scope -- an ambiguously worded report, which glossed over the problems of sonic boom from the SST, was finally retracted under pressure from the membership. The problem is co-option rather than corruption. And the Academy has recently made some effort to reform itself -- by eliminating experts with ties to special interests from its study committees, for example. Boffey suggests that this will not be enough; financial independence from government and industry, broader participation from the scientific community, and an enlarged sense of responsibility for shaping, rather than facilitating, policy decisions would seem to be minimal goals. This is a temperate, considered analysis, and an eyeopener for citizens who still trust in neutrality of scientific opinion.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1975
Publisher: McGraw-Hill