The linear model’ did not exist: Reflections on the history and historiography of science and research in industry in the twentieth century

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Why such a straw man as ‘the linear model’ gained such currency and such significance in the academic literature of the 1980s and 1990s is not a question readily answered. Indeed what needs explanation is not just this case for there was a general tendency in the science and technology studies literature, and the associated historical literature too, to deploy a number of other straw men like ‘technological determinism’ and ‘whig history’. One can understand why this was done—it was convenient to invent labels for naïve positions influentially peddled in the public sphere by scientists and engineers, and found in particular in the views science and engineering undergraduates taught by STS and other academics. The very failure of STS to define the public discourse around science and technology doomed us to attacking public science. Instead of engaging with the arguments of critics of naïve positions, of which there were by the 1990s several generations, the naïve conceptions still had to be attacked. These naïve conceptions created by academics thus achieved greater prominence than they would otherwise have had.xcix The result was a non-cumulation of the critical positions, to the extent that it came to be argued that even the older academic literature was contaminated. The ‘linear model’ case reveals how some academics systematically ignored several generations of academic work on innovation, which presented much richer accounts of innovation than those criticized. But it is hardly the only case. Let me take some examples from my own work. For example, the radical British Ministry of Technology of the late 1960s, famous then and now, did many things, which many analysts hold did not, and could not have happened in Britain.c Studies of the relations of science and the military and Britain have not maintained the knowledge present in Bernal’s otherwise famous Social Function of Histories of British industrial research done in the 1970s refuted the key conclusions of well-known work produced in the 1980s.cii The SCOT program relied to a significant degree on rubbing out previous generations of studies of ‘social construction.’ciii Perhaps the most devastating criticism of the linear model—that there is no correlation between national R&D spending and national economic performance, appears to be unknown to most students of innovation, certainly most critics of ‘the linear model,’ but was a commonplace in the 1960s.civ For the history of British science we have had generations of what I have called ‘anti-histories.’cv Readers will doubtless have their own examples.
In this particular paper I have argued that we should take on board what we have known (in principle) for several academic generations that the study of industrial innovation and science in industry, rather than starting yet again with an attack on a straw man. In studying science in industry we should start with the literature on industry, not academic science, and in particular from literature that it not driven by academic research model assumptions.cvi What deserves criticism is our own academic work, not straw men, or models popularized for propaganda purposes by the academic researchers.cvii The implications are that we should reject the academic-research-centered model of science, and indeed the research-centered model of science, which remain dominant, if we are to understand the relations of science and industry in the twentieth century. While the study of academic research science is interesting in its own right, it can’t stand for the study of science as a whole, unless, that is, we believe in the ‘linear model’.

i I am grateful to the participants at the Symposium for their many and varied comments, which have helped strengthen the argument of the paper. I am especially grateful to Mats Fridlund, Andrew Mendelsohn and participants in a doctoral seminar at Imperial College for their invaluable criticisms of earlier versions. Thanks are also due to Mats Fridlund for many examples of the use of the term I would otherwise not have seen. I am also grateful to Eric Schatzberg for his observations, and for some material I would not otherwise have come across.

ii As was clear in the preliminary paper for this Nobel Symposium, and indeed in many of the abstracts submitted.

iii I have sought to clarify meaning of ‘technological determinism’ in David Edgerton, “De l’innovation aux usages: Dix theses sur l’histoire des techniques,” Annales HSS, no. 4–5 (Juillet–Octobre 1998), pp. 815–837. English version, “From Innovation to Use: Ten (eclectic) theses on the history of technology,” History and Technology, vol. 16 (1999): 1–26. I deal with the particular inflexions of Whig history in the British case in England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation (London: Macmillan, 1991) and Science, Technology and the British Industrial ‘Decline’ ca. 1870–1970 (Cambridge: CUP/Economic History Society, 1996).

iv Here I am following on from a paper by Michael Dennis which is insufficiently known among historians of science (and technology) Michael Dennis, “Accounting for Research: New histories of corporate laboratories and the social history of American science,” Social Studies of Science, vol. 17 (1987): 479–514.

v I think it is clear from most of the criticisms of the linear model that what is objected to, is not just the linear sequence of steps, but also the alleged main source of innovation. I do not think it sensible to associate the term linear model with the argument that basic science was important, or the separate argument that research managers, say, plotted sequential models. One of the clearest linear models attacked is that in Terence Kealey, The Economic Laws of Scientific Research (London: Macmillan, 1996), which takes the model as one starting with publicly-funded academic research.

vi Donald Stokes, Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic science and technological innovation (Washington DC: Brookings, 1997), pp. 10, 18-19.

vii Harvey Brooks, “Lessons of History: Successive challenges to science policy,” in The Research System in Transition, eds. S. Cozzens, P. Healey, A. Rip and J. Ziman (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), p. 13. Kealey, Economic Laws also clearly extends the meaning of ‘linear model’ to include economic growth.

viii Bruno Latour’s ‘diffusion model’ is in many ways the linear model in another, funnier, guise. Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 132–144.

ix David E. H. Edgerton, “Research, Development and Competitiveness,” in The Future of UK Industrial Competitiveness and the role of Industrial Policy, ed. K. Hughes (London: Policy Studies Institute, 1994), p. 48. I went to state in a footnote that it was “largely a straw man invoked to demonstrate the superiority of current ways of discussing innovation […] If it existed at all, [it] was merely an apologia for the funding of pure science,” pp. 53–4, the argument I am developing here.

x Nick Henry, Doreen Massey and David Wield, “Along the Road: R&D, Society and Space”, Research Policy, vol. 24 (1995), p. 708. The article finds that ‘the linear model’ structures R&D and its relation to production in the companies they study.

xi Chris Freeman, “The Greening of Technology and models of innovation”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, vol. 53 (1996), p. 27.

xii Freeman, ‘The Greening of Technology’, p. 27.

xiii Ernest Braun, Futile Progress: Technology’s Empty Promise (London: Earthscan, 1995), p. 53.

xiv Doreen Massey, Paul Quintas and David Wield, High-Tech fantasies: Science parks in society, science and space (London: Routledge, 1992), chapter three. Thanks to Mats Fridlund.

xv Roy MacLeod, “Toward a New Synthesis: Chemists and chemical industry in Europe,” Isis, vol. 94 (2003), p. 114.

xvi William J. Price and Lawrence W. Bass, “Scientific research and the innovative process: The dialogue between science and technology plays an important, but usually nonlinear role in innovation,” Science, vol. 164 (1969): 802–3.

xvii The latter argument was extremely important in Schumpeter’s account of capitalism. See my brief account in Industrial Innovation and Research in Business (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1996); John Jewkes, David Sawers and Richard Stillerman, The Sources of Invention (London: Macmillan, 1958).

xviii J. Langrish et al., Wealth from Knowledge (London: Macmillan, 1972), pp. 72–3.

xix Wealth from Knowledge pp. 33–5.

xx Edwin Layton, “Conditions of Technological Development” in Ina Spiegel-Roesing and Derek de Solla Price, eds., Science, Technology and Society: A cross-disciplinary perspective (London: Sage, 1977), p. 204. This is the closest I could find to the linear model anywhere in this comprehensive landmark text, except in a passing reference (p. 234) by Chris Freeman to Layton’s chapter.

xxi Roy Rothwell and W. Zegveld, Reindustrialisation and Technology (London: Longman, 1985), p. 49.

xxii Nathan Rosenberg, Perspectives on Technology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

xxiii Chris Freeman, The economics of industrial innovation, Second edition (London: Pinter, 1982), pp. 194, 196–200. I have not checked the first edition.

xxiv See for example the particularly relevant cases of Karl Kreilcamp, “Hindsight and the Real World of Science Policy,” Science Studies, vol. 1 (1971): 43–66, and his “Towards a theory of Science Policy,” Science Studies, vol. 3 (1973): 3–29, and Harold Orlans, ”D&R allocation in the United States,” Science Studies, vol. 3 (1973): 119–159.

xxv R. R. Nelson and S. G. Winter, “In search of a useful theory of innovation,” Research Policy, vol. 6 (1977): 36–76.

xxvi Vivien Walsh “Invention and innovation in the chemical industry: Demand-pull or discovery-push?” Research Policy, vol. 13 (1984): 211–34.

xxvii David C. Mowery and Nathan Rosenberg, Technology and the pursuit of economic growth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Though it criticizes the neo-classical economic approach, which they say does radically separate between basic research, where the key steps are seen to reside, and the appropriation stage (pp. 4 and 6).

xxviii Rudi Volti, Society and Technological Change, Second edition (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1992).

xxix Bruce L. R. Smith, American Science Policy since World War Two (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1990). For Britain see Gummett, Scientists in Whitehall (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980).

xxx G. Dosi, “Sources, procedures and microeconomic effects of innovation,” Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 26 (1988): 1120–1171; R. R. Nelson and Gavin Wright, “The rise and fall of American technological leadership: The postwar era in historical perspective,” Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 30 (1992), 1931–1965; Paula E. Stephan, “The economics of science,” Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 34 (1996), Issue 3, 1199-1235.

xxxi Stuart Macdonald, “Technology beyond machines” in The Trouble with technology: Exploration in the process of technological change, eds. Stuart Macdonald, et al. (London: Pinter, 1983), p. 31. Thanks to Mats Fridlund.

xxxii Kline, S. J., “Innovation is not a Linear Process,” Research Management, 28:4 (July–August 1985), p. 36. On the latter point see p. 44 also.

xxxiii Steven Yearley, Science, Technology and Social Change (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988), p. 115, citing J. Ronayne, Science in Government (London: Edward Arnold, 1984), p. 44.

xxxiv Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker, “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts,” in The Social Construction of Technological Systems, Wiebe Bijker, Thomas Hughes and Trevor Pinch eds. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), pp. 22 and 28.

xxxv Arie Rip, “Science and Technology as Dancing Partners,” in Peter Kroes and Martijn Bakker, Technological Development and Science in the Industrial Age: New perspectives on the Science-Technology Relationship (London: Kluwer, 1992), p. 233.

xxxvi C. F. Carter and B. R. Williams, Industry and Technical Progress: Factors governing the speed of the application of science (London: Oxford University Press, 1957); Investment in Innovation (London: Oxford University Press, 1958) and Science in Industry: Policy for progress (London: Oxford University Press, 1959).

xxxvii Carter and Williams, Industry and Technical Progress, p. 54.

xxxviii Ibid., p. 56.

xxxix John Jewkes, David Sawers and Richard Stillerman, The Sources of Invention (London: Macmillan, 1958), pp. 6–7. The authors clearly wanted to make analytical distinctions between science, invention and development.

xl See my Science, Technology and the British Industrial ‘Decline’ ca. 1870–1970 (Cambridge: CUP/Economic History Society, 1996); “The ‘White Heat’ revisited: British government and technology in the 1960s,” Twentieth Century British History (1996) and Terence Kealey, The Economic Laws of Scientific Research (London: Macmillan, 1996). As an example see John Jewkes, David Sawers and Richard Stillerman, The Sources of Invention, Second edition (London: Macmillan, 1969), chapter X: “The last ten years in retrospect.”

xli Gerhard Rosegger, The Economics of Production and Innovation: An industrial perspective, Second edition (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1986) [first edition 1980] notes that economists and social scientists, in order to simplify a complex process of innovation, have used ‘sequential’ or ‘stage’ models, without specifying any, but giving a diagram, which is considerably more complex than the usual linear model one. He notes, “the stage model provides a very useful framework for the study of innovative activity” (p. 9). He notes three shortcomings immediately: 1) it involves arbitrary definition into phases 2) it is unidirectional with no feedback 3) it is useful only for major, visible innovations (p. 10).

xlii George Wise, “Science and Technology,” Osiris 2nd series (1985): 229–246.

xliii George Wise, “Science and Technology,” Osiris 2nd series (1985): 229–246. There is a whole literature surveying accounts of science technology relations, which is relevant. See for example: Alex Keller, “Has Science Created Technology?,” Minerva, vol. 22 (1984): 160–182; R. Kline, “Construing ‘technology’ as ‘applied science:’ Public rhetoric of scientists and engineers in the United States 1880–1945,” Isis, vol. 86 (1995): 194–221.

xliv Sir Edward Appleton, “Fundamental research and industrial progress,” in Federation of British Industries, Industry and Research (London: Pitman, 1946), p. 14.

xlv Albert H. Rubinstein ed., Coordination, Control and Financing of Industrial Research: Proceedings of the fifth annual conference on industrial research, June 1954, with selected papers from the fourth conference, June 1953 (New York: King’s Crown Press, Columbia University, 1955).

xlvi F.B. Tuck, Ideas, Inertia and Achievement: a survey of current opinion on how to shorten the time lag between scientific discovery and engineering application. New York: American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1960. Thanks to Eric Schatzberg

xlvii Freeman, “The Greening of Technology,” p. 27.

xlviii Donald Stokes, Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic science and technological innovation (Washington DC: Brookings, 1997).

xlix Ibid., p. 3.

l Ibid., p. 10.

li Ibid., pp. 18–19.

lii Science, The Endless Frontier: A Report to the President by Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, July 1945 (United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1945). I don’t know of any work that analyses the argument of the report with the exception of part of Ronald Kline, “Construing ‘technology’ as ‘applied science:’ Public rhetoric of scientists and engineers in the United States 1880–1945”, Isis, vol. 86 (1995): 194–221, but the argument here goes further. For the political background see: Daniel Kevles, “The National Science Foundation and the debate over postwar research policy 1942–1945: A political interpretation of Science—The Endless Frontier,” Isis, vol. 68 (1977): 5– 26; Jessica Wang, American Science in an Age of Anxiety: Scientists, Anticommunism & the Cold War (University of North Carolina Press, 1999); David Hart, Forged Consensus: Science, technology and economic policy in the United States, 1921–1953 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997)

liii Paul Forman, “Behind Quantum Electronics: National security as a basis for physical research in the United States, 1940–1960,” HSPS, vol. 18 (1987), p. 152.

liv It is claimed by Stokes that Bush coined the term ‘basic research;’ but Benoit Godin, “Measuring Science: Is there ‘Basic Research’ without statistics”, (Mimeo, Montreal, Observatoire des Sciences et des Techniques, 2000) shows it was used by Julian Huxley in Scientific Research and Social Needs (London: Watts, 1934). Thanks to Mats Fridlund.

lv The key statistical background was the following: “In the decade from 1930 to 1940 expenditures for industrial research increased from $116,000,000 to $240,000,000 and those for scientific research in Government rose from $24,000,000 to $69,000,000. During the same period expenditures for scientific research in the colleges and universities increased from $20,000,000 to $31,000,000, while those in the endowed research institutes declined from $5,200,000 to $4,500,000.”

lvi For the importance of distinguishing ‘research’ from the stock of ‘knowledge’ see for example, S. J. Kline, “Innovation is not a Linear Process,” Research Management, 28:4 (July–August 1985), p. 36 and Keith Pavitt’s paper in this volume.

lvii Arie Rip, “Implementation and evaluation of science and technology priorities and programs,” in S. Cozzens, et al., Research System in Transition, p. 274.

lviii Edward R. Weidlein and William A. Hamor, Science in Action: a sketch of the value of scientific research in American industries (New York: McGraw Hill, 1931), p. 278. Thanks to Eric Schatzberg.

lix Ibid., p. 267.

lx Sir Henry Tizard, “The passing world,” Presidential Address BAAS, September 1948.

lxi Smith, American Science Policy, p. 78.

lxii Ibid., p. 40.

lxiii From SET Forum Shaping the Future: A policy for science engineering and technology (1995)

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