The promised injection of £2 billion into the united kingdom science ecosystem is without doubt a good thing. Nonetheless, there’s some doubt as to how it will be handed out.
There must be a demonstration that the cash has been “well spent” since this is citizens’ cash: the big question is what defines well-spent science funds?
To those with a commercial mindset, the translational approach has the greater worth. You get money in, you get better stuff out. So why invest in pure research?
Fundamentally, fundamental science underpins translational research: about how to make material better, the notions come from pure research. Newton’s objective wasn’t to place rockets, although plenty of modern engineering depends on us understanding how gravity works. While the results will not be immediately tangible, basic science underpins technologies that are the foundations of billion-dollar businesses – for lasers example cancer immunotherapy, the internet, GPS, fluorescent and luminescent proteins.
Funding translational science at the expense of basic science may pay off in the short term, but it damages improvements in the long run.
Companies utilise (and regularly contribute to) the basic research being performed by academia, but rarely begin basic research programmes by themselves: though there are exceptions, the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory (which has acquired two Nobels) has just celebrated its 60th year as well as the AT&T Bell labs made 8 Nobel prizes.
If universities are initiating the research, it raises a question about who financially benefits from the basic research, as the money might not look to come back to the originator. But it is going to dribble in employment, tax revenue, better medications, autos that are cleaner as well as other indirect benefits.