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In search of relevance: The changing contract between science and society


  • Laurens K. Hessels


  • Harro van Lente


  • Ruud Smits



This paper presents a framework to study the historical development of the relationship between science and society. We elaborate this relationship as a contract that specifies the mission of scientific research, the rationales for public support for science, and the conditions under which scientists work. These three structural elements will always be part of the contract, but their specific content can vary. The credibility cycle, as a model for scientific practice, helps to describe and understand the consequences of a changing contract for the work of individual scientists. A brief case study of chemistry in the Netherlands demonstrates the usefulness of the framework. We show how concepts of relevance have changed since 1975 and how this affects the practice of academic chemistry.

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  • Laurens K. Hessels & Harro van Lente & Ruud Smits, 2008. "In search of relevance: The changing contract between science and society," Innovation Studies Utrecht (ISU) working paper series 08-16, Utrecht University, Department of Innovation Studies, revised May 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:uis:wpaper:0816

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Etzkowitz, Henry & Leydesdorff, Loet, 2000. "The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and "Mode 2" to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 109-123, February.
    2. Van der Meulen, Barend, 1998. "Science policies as principal-agent games: Institutionalization and path dependency in the relation between government and science," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 397-414, August.
    3. Hessels, Laurens K. & van Lente, Harro, 2008. "Re-thinking new knowledge production: A literature review and a research agenda," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 740-760, May.
    4. Leydesdorff, Loet & Meyer, Martin, 2006. "Triple Helix indicators of knowledge-based innovation systems: Introduction to the special issue," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(10), pages 1441-1449, December.
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    relevance; contract; credibility cycle; chemistry;

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