The (economic) value of science



Thursday 23 February




Fabien Medvecky

Lecturer in Science Communication, Master's Programme Coordinator

The Centre for Science Communication, University of Otago


Stevie de Saille

Research Fellow, Research Policy, Evidence and Democracy

Crick Centre for Public Understanding of Politics, University of Sheffield


Governments across the globe are pushing for increased public understanding of and participation in the sciences, often under the premise that science (usually combined with technology and innovation) is a driver of economic growth. This is evident in policies such as the Responsible Research and Innovation framework embedded in Europe’s Horizon 2020 agenda, or the Inspiring Australia policy.

At the same time, scientific research is increasingly being funded based on “impact”, most commonly with reference to its benefit to society in terms of economic growth. Science, then, is pursued not for what it brings in terms of knowledge, but for its capacity to increase the economic well being of the nation.

While there are some quarters that clearly endorse this view, it has also been met with some criticism from other fronts from within the sciences. The critics argue that science is more than simply economically useful, and that this two-prong appropriation of science in an economic-growth agenda is short-sighted; it reroutes the aims of science from knowledge production to economic production; and it curtails science’s ability to come up with grand, blue-sky development. But what does this agenda do to economics?

In this talk, I show that whatever this “science for economic growth” agenda might do to science, its biggest flaw is that it rests on a naive reading of economic theory. I then consider why this flawed reading of economic theory persists in underpinning our view of science’s value and I argue we need to reconsider how we see and present the relationship between science and economic growth.

Fabien Medvecky is a lecturer in Science Communication at the Centre for Science Communication, University of Otago. He works on the role of value, especially ethical and economic values, in science communication. He is the sitting president of the Science Communicators’ Association of New Zealand.

Stevie de Saille, Research Fellow in Research Policy, Evidence and Democracy at the Crick Centre for Public Understanding of Politics, University of Sheffield. Stevie is looking at the use of scientific advice in policymaking, the responsible use of metrics in research assessment, and RI through the lens of steady state economics.

This paper challenges us to see science, and science’s connection to economic growth differently. While the economic appropriation of science has received some attention from the perspective of science, this paper argues we ought to also look at it from the perspective of economic theory.

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