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Theses Doctoral

Intellectual Freedom of Academic Scientists: Cases of Political Challenges Involving Federally Sponsored Research on National Environmental Policies

Sun, Jeffrey C.

This study contributes to the literature on the academic profession's intellectual freedom. Drawing significantly on two methodological approaches, comparative case study and grounded theory, this dissertation examines three controversies in which government officials challenged academic scientists' federally sponsored research, which had implications for national environmental policies. To structure this examination, I used a two- part framework. For the first part, I investigated the evolving interpretations of events and actors' interests, which revealed the tactics and pressures employed by government officials when challenging the academic scientists' federally sponsored research. For the second part, I used Freidson's theory of professional dominance to help us understand how and in what ways institutionalized arrangements within society supported the academic profession's autonomy and authority over its work. This analysis identified the means by which the academic scientists in my three cases exerted some degree of control over scientific decisions regarding the research assumptions, methods, and analyses of their findings. The study's key findings are presented in the form of five research claims: First, the government challengers may try - sometimes successfully - to exercise their influence over indirect participants in the federally funded research in an attempt to control the dissemination of the federally sponsored research findings. Second, the government challengers, though not scientists themselves, relied heavily on their own judgment to declare publicly the kinds of activities that can and cannot count as legitimate scientific research, rather than relying on the traditional scientific peer-review process. Third, academic scientists may involve members of the public in the dispute. When that happens, the public may help decide whether government officials or academic scientists are better equipped to address the scientific matters associated with the federal policy. Fourth, academic scientists' political allies can support academic scientists' efforts to defend their research within the policymakers' setting. Fifth, academic scientists may assert academic conventions (e.g., peer review) as the standard (or possibly as the preferred) practice through which to evaluate science, even when government challengers question the validity of those conventions. Placed in context of the extant literature, these claims, taken together, suggest that the government officials tried to take actions that exceed their professional competence, specifically as boundary breakers who attempted to infiltrate the jurisdictional responsibilities of the academic scientists. In addition, despite the government officials' attempts to engage in professional boundary-crossing activities, the academic scientists asserted institutionalized practices and standards of the profession (e.g., peer review and open dialogue) and drew on the assistance of external actors (i.e., members of the public and political allies) as countervailing forces to exert control over their research.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Education Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Heubert, Jay P.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 9, 2012