Democratic Engagement and the Republic of Science

37 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017 Last revised: 4 Jan 2018

See all articles by Peter Lee

Peter Lee

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: August 25, 2017


The election of Donald Trump, who has been characterized as “the first anti-science president,” provides a fruitful opportunity to revisit federal science policy. In the decades after World War II, federal policy prioritized significant research funding and scientific autonomy, contributing to what Michael Polanyi called a “Republic of Science.” In subsequent decades, science policy shifted and began to encourage applied research, commercialization, and greater interaction among the “triple helix” of academia, government, and industry. For some observers, the Trump administration portends a new chapter in federal science policy characterized by decreased funding and increased politicization. At this potential inflection point, this brief Article makes two claims. First, contrary to prevailing political trends, it argues for robust federal funding for science. In addition to long-term and unpredictable benefits, publicly funded research enhances human capital, drives private-sector innovation, and advances immediate policy objectives of job creation and economic growth. Second, this Article argues for both significant autonomy and greater democratic engagement on the part of the scientific community. While the federal government has legitimate claims on the research it funds, deference to efficient communal norms counsels that the scientific community should largely determine its own agenda according to its own norms and peer review processes. However, this Article rejects the notion of an insular Republic of Science, arguing that the scientific community should more actively communicate its value and seek input from the broader society in which it operates.

Keywords: science policy, basic research, Donald Trump, commercialization, Bayh-Dole Act, climate change, patents, Republic of Science, science communication, federal funding

Suggested Citation

Lee, Peter, Democratic Engagement and the Republic of Science (August 25, 2017). 51 UC Davis Law Review 617 (2017), Available at SSRN:

Peter Lee (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

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