"Basic research is the lifeline of practical advances".

Unfortunate though it is, we in the scientific community seem to have to justify regularly the “relevance” of basic, or curiosity-driven, research. Case in point, the February 2008 issue of the CAUT Bulletin has a commentary by Vern Paetkau who makes the point once again that basic research underpins most future advances in applied science. I will let Dr. Paetkau speak for himself by simply referring you to his piece, which can be found here. I will, however, re-quote what I think is a superb point by Nobel laureate Arthur Kornberg:

“No matter how counter-intuitive it may seem, basic research is the lifeline of practical advances in medicine and pioneering inventions are the source of industrial strength.”

Scientists know this, but those with control of the funds often do not see it this way — and that’s a big problem for everyone, not just researchers.

2 thoughts on “"Basic research is the lifeline of practical advances".

  1. “We are probably not going to cure HIV/AIDS anytime in the near future. And, despite the effort of thousands of the world’s brightest minds, working for about 25 years, we have not yet found the desperately needed HIV vaccine. There are several vaccine “paradigms” that have worked for creating viral vaccines in the past, but it is becoming painfully clear that none of these are going to work for HIV. The well is dry. When I was a post-doc, one of the foremost HIV vaccine investigators told me that he thought that the answer was going to have to come from Basic Science. That is, we are going to have to go back the beginning, to think outside the box, and to create new ideas for attacking this disease. “

    – Sara Sawyer

  2. At the end of the book The Fly in the Cathedral about the race to split the atom, there is a description of the many practical applications that stemmed from this basic research. The author, Brian Cathcart, makes the point that none of the major players at the time had these applications in mind when they did the work. Moreover, many of them could not even have been foreseen at the time. The passage, coming as it does at the end of such an interesting and well researched book stands as a very strong argument in favor of supporting basic research.

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