Scientific advice, Roland Jackson makes clear, was shaped by the political climate, and the extent to which such advice was heeded depended on that climate. His argument is supported by a wealth of empirical data, his work the fruit of massive research, and his coverage of the field detailed and comprehensive. No other book offers such a thorough-going survey of scientific advice and its ramifications in nineteenth-century Britain.
In twenty-first-century Britain, scientific advice to government is highly organized, integrated across government departments, and led by a chief scientific adviser who reports directly to the prime minister. But at the end of the eighteenth century, when Roland Jackson’s account begins, things were very different. With this book, Jackson turns his attention to the men of science of the day—who derived their knowledge of the natural world from experience, observation, and experiment—focusing on the essential role they played in proffering scientific advice to the state, and the impact of that advice on public policy. At a time that witnessed huge scientific advances and vast industrial development, and as the British state sought to respond to societal, economic, and environmental challenges, practitioners of science, engineering, and medicine were drawn into close involvement with politicians. Jackson explores the contributions of these emerging experts, the motivations behind their involvement, the forces that shaped this new system of advice, and the legacy it left behind. His book provides the first detailed analysis of the provision of scientific, engineering, and medical advice to the nineteenth-century British government, parliament, the civil service, and the military.
Jackson draws skillfully on an impressive array of sources to provide the first systematic account of the growing role of scientific advice to the nineteenth-century British state, on food and energy production, war and empire, industry, transport, taxation, and health. Combining history of science with history of the state, his book sheds new light on both the status of science and scope of government action.
Important, timely, and an excellent introduction to how science becomes institutionalized during this century, often at the expense of the Royal Society. Roland Jackson underlines the durable tension between the pursuit of knowledge as an individual endeavor (requiring independent funds) with state-funded research via official bodies. Anyone who wants to understand the relationship between British science and government during this period will have to read this book.
Roland Jackson is a historian of nineteenth-century science, an honorary research fellow at University College London, and a visiting fellow at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. His career has spanned scientific research, science education, science communication, science policy, and the history of science. He has been head of museum at the Science Museum London, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and executive chair of Sciencewise, which works across the UK government on policy relating to controversial issues involving science and technology.