Vol. 1 Issue 1


Technology Transfer and American Culture
By Paul Roman

“Technology transfer” is a term that captures the heart of what ATTC activity is all about. It will be the major theme of this publication, approached from many directions.

Thinking back to my youth, probably my first image of technology transfer came from the motto of the DuPont Corporation, Better things for better living….. through chemistry. The image for me carried by that phrase was of course the white-coated scientists in the laboratory, working to make things “better” and add to the never-ending upward course of American “progress.” While DuPont abandoned that slogan in 1982, the replacement slogan that they company adopted makes the point even more strongly: the miracles of science.

“Progress” itself is a concept and a value that is intertwined with American culture in complex ways. In a book so titled, the political sociologist Seymour Lipset refers to the United States as The First New Nation*, in part describing our ancestors’ sharp departure from the patterns of political and social organization of the European continent. A key departure was the abandonment of the concept of royalty. Royalty implies an established order, a pre-designed set of rules about relationships among people, and ways of life steeped in tradition. Tradition was to have henceforth an ever dwindling hold on American culture and beliefs.

By abandoning and essentially banishing royalty from having any part in the New Nation, the door to Progress slowly opened, and it became a central American cultural theme. Whereas royalty-bound societies look to tradition for guidance toward the “best” way of doing things, the essential equality (initially, equality only of those of European descent) of everyone in America undermined tradition, and if anything, created a tradition of change.

Technology transfer is all about change and progress. We admire change and we expect change. It is sometimes the case that we equate change with progress. As the sociologist Robin Williams has pointed out in his book, American Society, progress is one of a small number of fundamental American values which guide our everyday choices about what we should believe and how we should behave. Closely related values in Williams’ scheme are those based on science and rationality and practicality. Note that all of these values fly in the face of “tradition” as a guide for behavior.

Stemming from these values, we have a firm belief that there are methods by which new techniques or practices are objectively determined to be improvements over those techniques or practices in current use. This is the scientific process of creating “evidence-based practices.” Within the community of substance abuse treatment providers, the central importance of utilizing evidence-based practices to the greatest possible extent has become a central theme in our current organizational culture.

Many of us have lived and worked all of our lives in environments where there seems always to be a desire for improvement and change. This is not necessarily the way of the rest of the world. Thus, it is important to understand the cultural context that encourages and facilitates this sort of thinking. For several centuries, American culture was differentiated from much of the rest of the world by our rejection of tradition, our “worship” of science, and our obsession with progress. But for better or worse, our Western culture continues to permeate deeply other cultures around the world through globalization (and with little flow of cultural change in the reverse direction). Progress based on science appears to be an increasingly common cultural theme throughout the world.

For Additional Reading:

Seymour Martin Lipset. 1979. The First New Nation, New York: W W Norton.

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