Reward research that changes society

Source: Nature

There is a classic narrative that stresses the importance and value of fundamental science. To make progress, one must take persistence by researchers, mix in patient financial support and then add creative imagination and logic (important for creating hypotheses and testing predictions). Then sprinkle on some unpredictable outcomes and stew for a century, or perhaps even longer.

The 2016 announcement of the detection of gravitational waves is a fine product of this recipe for success. It was borne of theories of relativity that were esoteric but which now, unforeseeable at the time of their origin in 1916, underpin technologies such as global navigation. Readers of Nature probably have their own favourite examples of such success stories.

Support for fundamental research remains essential, both as a signal of cultural values and as a driver of future societal progress. But research with a shorter-term or more-local vision of practical outcomes deserves reward and prestige, too — a fact perhaps taken for granted by engineers or clinical scientists, but less so in some other disciplines.



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