Is It Time for a U.S. Department of Science?

Essay by Anthony Mills: “The Biden administration made history earlier this year by elevating the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to a cabinet-level post. There have long been science advisory bodies within the White House, and there are a number of executive agencies that deal with science, some of them cabinet-level. But this will be the first time in U.S. history that the president’s science advisor will be part of his cabinet.

It is a welcome effort to restore the integrity of science, at a moment when science has been thrust onto the center-stage of public life — as something indispensable to political decision-making as well as a source of controversy and distrust. Some have urged the administration to go even further, calling for the creation of a new federal department of science. Such calls to centralize science have a long history, and have grown louder during the coronavirus pandemic, spurred by our government’s haphazard response.

But more centralization is not the way to restore the integrity of science. Centralization has its place, especially during national emergencies. Too much of it, however, is bad for science. As a rule, science flourishes in a decentralized research environment, which balances the need for public support, effective organization, and political accountability with scientific independence and institutional diversity. The Biden administration’s move is welcome. But there is risk in what it could lead to next: an American Ministry of Science. And there is an opportunity to create a needed alternative….(More)”.