He Told Us There’d Be Days Like These

Dan Sarewitz Retires

Almost 25 years ago, back when Issues was only published on dead trees, Daniel Sarewitz wrote, “The promise that more science will lead to more societal benefits may increasingly be at odds with the experience of individuals who find their lives changing in ways they cannot control and in directions they do not desire. For example, continued innovation in information and communication technologies fuels economic growth and creates many conveniences, but it also undermines traditional community institutions and relationships that may be crucial to the welfare of the nation. The resulting disaffection can fuel social movements that are antagonistic to science and technology.”

In his long association with Issues, as a writer, collaborator, instigator, and, most recently, editor-in-chief, Dan has combined a cutting analysis of the myths and tropes of US science policy with generous empathy and an editorial sensibility that’s both fiercely optimistic and deeply skeptical. He has been, as the quote above demonstrates, frequently, presciently, terribly, right.

Now, for the first time since the 1940s, policymakers and the whole knowledge-creation enterprise are seriously debating new ways to do science policy, and science itself, with the goal of creating a healthier, more equitable, more hopeful society. In his most recent Editor’s Journal, Dan was characteristically insightful about the three competing agendas involved in this debate: “One looks toward supporting the institutions that were successful in the past, one considers solving the problems of the present, and the third proposes to prepare for the unknown. Taken together, they suggest an extraordinary moment for new alignments and goals for the nation’s scientific enterprise.” He concluded on a cautious note: “Whether this energized debate will translate into science and innovation policies suited to an extraordinarily complex, rapidly evolving global context remains to be seen.”

Earlier this week, Dan retired. He will be missed, but his work will continue to inspire us and generations to come.

Revisit Dan’s work: