Monday, January 30, 2012

Government in science: the synthetic rubber case

"The rubber research program was a wartime emergency effort that became a peacetime research program. The wartime effort achieved most of its goals; the peacetime program was markedly less successful. During the war, patriotism and the desire not to let down the boys at the front acted as powerful stimuli. Once the war was over, such psychological motivation was considerably reduced. The rubber companies once again gave priority to profits, technological advantage, and market osition. There was no advantage (even a positive disadvantage) in making technical breakthroughs that would have to be shared with competitors. The universities began to see the research program as an easy means of funding their research and graduate students. While they clearly tried to produce worthwhile results, in order to create a rationale to prolong the research program, the academic groups nevertheless selected topics whcih reflected their own research interests.

Commercial competition probably provides the best spur to innovation in peacetime... The marketplace can be replaced by the peer-review system used by pure science or by mission-directed research. Neither method was adequately employed by the postwar research program."

- Peter Morris, "The American Synthetic Rubber Research Program", University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989 (p. 50-51).

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