At least someone likes us…


Media support from at least one quarter for pure research over the increasing tendency to divert blue skies research money to areas deemed to be more immediately of economic benefit.

Of course ElReg’s tone is always irreverent and more than a little hyper, but in this case their heart is in the right place and they’re making some telling points.

ETA: If you’re in the UK and would like to express an opinion about these funding changes you can use WriteToThem to send a message to your MP.


4 Responses to “At least someone likes us…”

  1. Tim Says:

    Dave, This isn’t directly related to the article you mention, but this is a point worth further discussion, especially in the UK:
    I think most research groups around the world need a good base of (economically) immediately viable / relevant work before they can invest much time to “blue sky” work. The UK is historically notorious for just ditching stuff that is not immediately relevant, even in my field (military). This political posturing on research can be seen all the way back to Peeps and the Navy…

    • Dave Says:

      I actually disagree. I think the immediately economically viable work should be done by companies, not governments. Companies are the experts in making money, so we should let them do it. In contrast, companies will not be putting money into blue skies research, but this is the work that can be truly transformational. Examples of curiosity driven, blue skies work that would never have been done by a company are unravelling the structure of DNA, the invention of the laser (famously described as a ‘solution looking for a problem’ and now found almost everywhere), the discovery of electricity and the invention of the WorldWideWeb (done at CERN to help particle physicists but applicable to a somewhat wider range of applications).

      Government meddling in research usually cocks things up in the long term from both a blue sky and an application point of view.

      [I’m a little confused that you seem to be arguing *for* immediate applicable research in your first sentence, but against it at the end, so apologies if I’ve misunderstood]

  2. Tim Says:

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear [I think it’s a Friday thing]. I wasn’t so much arguing “for” immediately applicable research, just expounding that it seems to be the norm around the world that it comes before blue sky stuff.

    Certainly *political* meddling in research nearly always cocks things up. But *goverment* or philanthropy backed research is, as you show, usually the route to the larger, more successful blue skies projects.

  3. Dave Says:

    Yes – fridays are like that…

    You’re right – there does seem to be a shift away from curiosity driven research into things that are more mundane and applicable. This is partly the economic times, but also, I think, because many governments (especially the current UK one) are taking a utilitarian attitude to science. It’s there to do a job (make money) not to find stuff out (which it is in fact better at doing). Of course finding stuff out leads to bigger returns in the longer term, but when everyone is worried about share prices in the next two weeks rather than the next 20 years you have a problem.

    That is why governments should be better at funding basic research, and why the likes of Bell Labs, a company-funded pure research lab that did some truly great things in the past, no longer exist.

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