Stabilizing the boundary between US politics and science: The rôle of the office of technology transfer as a boundary organization

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Abstract

The sociological study of boundary-work and the political-economic approach of principal-agent theory can be complementary ways of examining the relationship between society and science: boundary-work provides the empirical nuance to the principal-agent scheme, and principal-agent theory provides structure to the thick boundary description. This paper motivates this complementarity to examine domestic technology transfer in the USA from the intramural laboratories of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). It casts US policy for technology transfer in the principal-agent framework, in which politicians attempt to manage the moral hazard of the productivity of research by providing specific incentives to the agents for engaging in measurable research-based innovation. Such incentives alter the previously negotiated boundary between politics and science. The paper identifies the crucial rôle of the NIH Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) as a boundary organization, which mediates the new boundary negotiations in its routine work, and stabilizes the boundary by performing successfully as an agent for both politicians and scientists. The paper hypothesizes that boundary organizations like OTT are general phenomena at the boundary between politics and science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-111
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Volume29
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1999
Externally publishedYes

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technology transfer
principal-agent-theory
organization
politics
science
politician
incentive
economic approach
health
productivity
innovation
Technology Transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Social Sciences(all)

Cite this

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abstract = "The sociological study of boundary-work and the political-economic approach of principal-agent theory can be complementary ways of examining the relationship between society and science: boundary-work provides the empirical nuance to the principal-agent scheme, and principal-agent theory provides structure to the thick boundary description. This paper motivates this complementarity to examine domestic technology transfer in the USA from the intramural laboratories of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). It casts US policy for technology transfer in the principal-agent framework, in which politicians attempt to manage the moral hazard of the productivity of research by providing specific incentives to the agents for engaging in measurable research-based innovation. Such incentives alter the previously negotiated boundary between politics and science. The paper identifies the crucial r{\^o}le of the NIH Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) as a boundary organization, which mediates the new boundary negotiations in its routine work, and stabilizes the boundary by performing successfully as an agent for both politicians and scientists. The paper hypothesizes that boundary organizations like OTT are general phenomena at the boundary between politics and science.",
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