Tracing the links between basic research and real-world applications

Does basic scientific research lead to marketplace innovations? This question has been asked (and attempted to be answered) ever since the emergence of the activity we call R&D. Answers have been mixed with some concluding that basic research is the genesis of almost all marketplace advancement and others questioning if we are getting any returns at all on our research dollars. The authors attempt to answer the critical question:

What kind of return are we as a society recouping on this large investment in new discoveries? Does scientific research reliably lead to usable practical advances?

The authors make the point that a prevailing attitude in our society seems to be:


The idea that marketplace innovation rarely relies on the work of universities or government labs.

And that this could be a cause of the fact that:

Federal spending on basic research (as a share of GDP or a share of the federal budget) has been in decline over the last several decades.

But if it’s true that there is a definite link (perhaps indirect) between research and marketplace innovations, then our lower federal spending on R&D is a real cause for concern.

In this era of big data and advanced analytics, the question of whether R&D leads to market innovations can plausibly be answered once and for all. And the answer is:

We found remarkably widespread linkages between scientific research and future practical applications.

Their results and analysis are summarized in this article and are worth a read. One key point is that the traditional dichotomy between basic and applied research is probably not a very useful model. Something like what has been proposed by Donald Stokes in Pasteur’s Quadrant seems much more appropriate today.

Original Article »



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