Basic Research vs Applied Research….Is Basic Research Becoming Beyond the Joke?
During the past few years there has been a sudden plethora of completely useless information being thrown to the public that goes under the name of ‘scientific research’. The debate of applied vs basic research is a major controversy within the scientific community. Questions such as who should fund basic research create many arguments within the government and the public.
Basic research, also known as fundamental or pure research, is driven by a researcher’s curiosity, which is motivated to expand human’s knowledge. The main motivation of basic research is to expand man’s knowledge of the world and not invent something. Basic research is said to be laying down the foundation for applied science that follows. Dr George Smoot quoted “People cannot foresee the future well enough to predict what’s going to develop from basic research. If we only did applied research, we would still be making better spears.” Basic research tries to answer questions such as ‘how did the universe begin?’, ‘how does genetic code determine who we are?’, and ‘what are protons, neutrons and electrons made of?’.
Applied research on the other hand is much more useful and contributes to society and the world, as it is proper scientific researches that seeks to solve practical problems, everyday problems, cure illnesses and develop innovative technologies, improving energy efficiencies of homes and improve agricultural crop production. Applied research is based on practical problems that exist in the modern world, rather than just acquiring knowledge. With so many problems in the world today, scientists believe that there should be more emphasis on applied research to help solve problems of overpopulation, pollution, illnesses and the depletion of the earth’s natural resources.
However, the distinction between basic research and applied research is not always clear; it may depend on a person’s perspective of the world or their point of view. According to Dr Ashok Gadgil, a way of separating basic research from applied research is to ask the question of “how long will it take before some practical application results from the research?”
Applied Research: if practical use is only a few months / years away;
Basic Research: if practical use cannot be envisioned in the foreseeable future.
For example, a grey area within research is the research that has been underway on developing fusion reactors to provide a controlled energy source for cities within the UK. Although there is a clear applied goal to this study, there are so many technical obstacles that need to be overcome that it may be another good few years before we see a functional fusion reactor in use in every country. The development of fusion energy could be regarded as both basic and applied research.
To a degree, I agree with Dr Smoot that basic research is needed in order to go on to applied research, but what I do believe is that the taxpayers should NOT be paying for ridiculous research that goes under the name of ‘scientific research’ to be carried out. There are thousands of examples of research that do not in any way contribute to science. For example, in the Weekly World News, scientists studying sexual behaviour in Turkey concluded definitively that fat men are better in bed. An extensive study was carried out at Erciyes University to find that fat men last longer whilst learning that fit men who often attend the gym are prone to premature ejaculation and impotence! The researchers of the study spent a year recording the BMI of 500 male participants, and women in Chicago and Los Angeles confirmed that fat men are indeed better in bed. The problem the researchers found with this study was that women are not typically attracted to obese men, and therefore suggested that women have sex with the lights out and fantasise about fit men, and also recommend women to get steel reinforced beds! I cannot see how this type of research contributes to science; it may well influence some males to overeat and become unhealthy and obese thinking that they would be better in bed!!
The Telegraph (06.02.12) stated that the government are preparing to ‘crack down’ on irrelevant research which might bring an end to the “quirky, sometimes daft, sometimes weirdly inspired research that brings harmless entertainment and occasional enlightenment to armchair boffins and science nerds everywhere.” All basic research studies that are funded by the taxpayers should have a substantial and concrete reason and possible outcome in order to be commenced. It ridiculous that the government has taken so long to put a stop to such nonsense research such as:
‘Dog fleas can jump higher than cat fleas’
‘Digital rectal massage is the cure for hiccups’
‘Why woodpeckers don’t get headaches’
‘Ducks can be homosexual necrophiliacs too’
‘Suicide rates are linked to the amount of country music played on the radio’
……therefore, no wonder tax payers get p’d off when studies like these are being published!!