Science and the Nation:

Notes Towards a Model

The foregoing arguments suggest that a model is possible and relevant. I am not suggesting that what I now propose is in any sense complete.

I can begin by suggesting a rule for what will happen if scientists are not consciously involved in the nation-building process.

The rule is that they will seek esteem within their discipline, and will publish to this end, and will migrate to the core where the action is. This would appear to be primarily the case with Wales, and also with Scotland, though perhaps less so, insofar as the existence of the Royal Society of Edinburgh acts as a national focus.

Despite the existence of an old-established Baconian institutional tradition in Ireland, this rule also holds, as scientific organisation has largely been allowed to atrophy, though for a time it looked as if there was enough of a critical mass to sustain local publication and esteem generation, and a status such as to make the State aware of science as an important factor.

There has to be a strong and transparent contract between the national movement, or the emerging national State, and the scientific and technological community, on the basis of mutual recognition and respect.

This contract should avoid the Faustian role which is endemic in the Baconian tradition.

We can perhaps define the science-State relationship as being 'post-Baconian' if the core of the arrangement is the concentration of scientific attention on building up the independent economic life of the emerging State, rather than on predation on neighbouring States.

The scientific and technological communities exist in the form of organisations, associations, institutions etc to which people adhere for the purpose of interaction with their peers, accreditation, information, contacts and so on.

If these exist, as autonomous entities, over a geographical area which is a candidate for recognition as a national State, then the scientific community may to that extent be considered 'national-minded'. It would then be in a position to organise itself over that geographical area, as a branch of an international or European institution. It is possible to talk about a 'national scientific community' with a conscious existence.

If such a situation exists, for each branch of science and technology, and if the organisations concerned are in a position to get together in the formulation of policy proposals, then we have a healthy situation, and the Government (or the national movement, in a pre-State situation) would have to listen.

This situation has never existed for Ireland, since the State was founded. There had been the basis for its existence for a period under the British, when the RDS was in Leinster House, close to the Academy in Dawson St.

There were however two channels (divide et impera!): the Academy dealt with the Treasury, like the Royal Society and the RS of Eddinburgh, and the RDS dealt with the Department of Science and Arts in Kensington. There was some exchange of ideas between the Academy channel and the Home Rule movement, for a period, but virtually none in the period leading up to 1916. This is an important contributing factor to the current lack of appreciation of science in Irish culture.

Fitzgerald and Stoney(19) in the 1880s tried to unify the organisational structure, on the basis of a single Royal Society of Dublin, in which Academy members would have had Fellow status, and from which the old RDS agricultural interests would have been shed. This failed because Kane and the then Home Rule Academy leadership(32) valued the status of the direct link with the Treasury and objected to being under the Department of Science and Arts.

The Irish State could have pulled this together, but it didn't. The Academy now deals with the Dept of Education, and the RDS is on its own, surviving on the income from the showgound and exhibition halls.

In the Irish Republic now the only unified body is the Institution of Engineers of Ireland, which unites all engineering disciplines, and has successfully lobbied the Government for an Act defining the status of Chartered Engineer. The scientific community however is divided, some being Irish-based and some being London-oriented.

For a brief period in the 1960s the present writer acted as the secretary of a body which attempted to draw together the scientific and engineering interests to produce a policy document, in the aftermath of the OECD Report, proposing how the State should set up structures in response. This was not successful; the NSC was set up as an appointed body, State centralist paternalism reigns, and the democratic process is in abeyance.

It would be of interest to analyse the scientific institutional structures in other emerging nation-states in terms of the Baconian model, and the extent to which they relate primarily to the central imperial structures for which they were designed.

It will also be interesting to see what comes out of the South African transformation. There are many parallels with the Irish experience.

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