Fri, Jun 20, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Liu in need of scientific approach

By Wu Chyuan-yuan 吳泉源

Since Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) took office, public discontent and political instability have been aroused over the increase in oil prices, the green card controversy, increased school tuition fees and the plan to stimulate the economy. Public criticism of the Cabinet centers on its members being elitist doctoral degree holders who ignore the wishes of ordinary people and lack sincerity and the ability to communicate their agenda.

However, Liu is no elitist. He is a clever man with political integrity. Former president of National Tsing Hua University Frank Hsu (徐遐生), a world renowned astronomer and physicist, once said Liu was the smartest Taiwanese he had ever met. Many familiar with Taiwanese politics believe the outcome of the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 might have been different if the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had adopted Liu’s reform suggestions.

The fact that this Cabinet of technocrats, despite being led by the politically experienced Liu, has encountered a series of hardships reflects a deeper crisis of governance. The key here is the branch of study Liu helped initiate after returning to the university to teach eight years ago — science, technology and society.

The political education that Liu and many of his technocrat Cabinet members received was based on a kind of “expertocracy” that developed from a foundation of science and technology that goes as far back as the Enlightenment.

In an expertocracy, “science” and “politics” are separate branches of knowledge that should not distort each other for the sake of policy.

When the elected political elite promotes major public infrastructure projects, the expertise of scientists serves as an important basis for making decisions and also provides the legitimacy politicians need to achieve their goals. Furthermore, the general public is basically considered by politicians to be ignorant, irrational and uneducated. This is also why opponents of a political approach stress the importance of going beyond populism and respecting technical expertise in an attempt to seek rational policies in a society filled with conflicts of interest.

National Taiwan University president Lee Si-chen (李嗣涔) insisted recently on raising tuition fees despite pressure not to do so. His action reflects the mindset that the authority of experts must be safeguarded and that the truth must override politics.

Advanced countries have gradually abandoned a scientifc approach to resolving disputes, turning to the concept of “scientific governance.” The reason is simple.

With the emergence of new technologies, the endless challenges posed by globalization and the power of democracy seeping into every aspect of life, disputes over nuclear power plants, the Suhua Freeway, the Lo-sheng sanatorium, reservoirs and steelworks and other public projects have become controversial.

Safeguarding environmental and social justice, respecting the wishes of local residents and encouraging public participation while pursuing economic and technological development poses a great challenges in public policy and social development.

Liu’s fellow technocrats may be unaware that technology has been embedded in an environment teeming with political uncertainty, heated public debate, a variety of opinions and complex social decisions. The most important issue that science, technology and society should discuss is what this new “science governance” should contain and its consequences.

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