V. Bush and the Linear Model – Who Believed What?

The fine folks at Ether Wave Propaganda have posted on the linear model associated with Vannevar Bush (that basic research feeds into applied research and then into technological development) and the theory advanced by David Edgerton (see article #41) that it doesn’t exist.  The discussion engages with whether or not the model (which is distinct from the linear model Roger Pielke talks about) as discussed was actually supported or articulated by Bush in his writings or actions.

While this certainly matters, whether or not Bush specifically outlined the linear model as described above may not be as important in the policy area.  That’s because the rhetoric of the linear model (if not the model itself), has become part of the language of science and technology research funding in the U.S.  I’m not sure that anyone who uses that rhetoric honestly believes that science and technology development is as simple as the linear model implies.  But the rhetoric persists.  For me (and possibly for the historians at Ether Wave) this raises a question of the consequences of using rhetoric that does not map to historical understanding.

In using a shorthand that suggests knowledge development is simpler than it is, or suggesting that an idea was championed by someone who didn’t subscribe to it, is there harm caused to the policies or practices meant to benefit from these ideas?  The persistence of the rhetoric associated with the linear model suggests that the consequences are not terminal.  But the cognitive dissonance that floats around this topic keeps me thinking that either there’s a problem with the disconnect between rhetoric and practice, or some kind of inefficiency.

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