Science Policy under Thatcher

Jon Agar

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ISBN: 9781787353428

Publication: June 03, 2019

Margaret Thatcher was prime minister from 1979 to 1990, during which time her Conservative administration transformed the political landscape of Britain. Science Policy under Thatcher is the first book to examine systematically the interplay of science and government under her leadership.

Thatcher was a working scientist before she became a professional politician, and she maintained a close watch on science matters as prime minister. Scientific knowledge and advice were important to many urgent issues of the 1980s, from late Cold War questions of defence to emerging environmental problems such as acid rain and climate change. Drawing on newly released primary sources, Jon Agar explores how Thatcher worked with and occasionally against the structures of scientific advice, as the scientific aspects of such issues were balanced or conflicted with other demands and values. To what extent, for example, was the freedom of the individual scientist to choose research projects balanced against the desire to secure more commercial applications? What was Thatcher’s stance towards European scientific collaboration and commitments? How did cuts in public expenditure affect the publicly funded research and teaching of universities?

In weaving together numerous topics, including AIDS and bioethics, the nuclear industry and strategic defence, Agar adds to the picture we have of Thatcher and her radically Conservative agenda, and argues that the science policy devised under her leadership, not least in relation to industrial strategy, had a prolonged influence on the culture of British science.

Jon Agar is Professor of Science and Technology Studies at UCL. He has written on the history of radio-astronomy, computing, and mobile phones, and his most recent book, Science in the Twentieth Century and Beyond, surveys the history of science across the twentieth century. He also co-edited Histories of Technology, the Environment and Modern Britain (UCL Press).

1 Introduction
2 Who made science policy?
3 The central debates on science and innovation
Coda to Chapter 3: AIDS and bioethics
4 Power/leaks
5 Radioactive privatisation
6 The Strategic Defense Initiative and the politics of research
7 Environment and science
8 Science policy under and after Thatcher


'Agar's most important contribution in his identification of who was and who was not influential in shaping science policy."
Richard Joyner   THE
'Very well documented and persuasive …The earlier chapters single out specific issues or episodes, such as civil nuclear power, the environment, and the public debates over AIDS and IVF …The detail is deeply fascinating for anybody interested in the mechanics of government and policy-making. I really enjoyed reading it.’
  The Enlightened Economist

Format: Paperback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

304 Pages

Copyright: © 2019

ISBN: 9781787353428

Publication: June 03, 2019

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