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Application Driven Science vs Curiosity Inspired Science

Given that it’s hard to know what will be found through scientific discovery should commercial application be the only reason to do scientific research?
In this video Sheila Patek* said “Discovery-based research is most useful when new knowledge is sought for its own sake” – yes I agree with this [1], but fundamental scientific discovery-basted research± is one aspect of the scientific enterprise.
If you, as I do, buy into well researched notions that we are facing environmental, social, economic and technological risks – facing problems that directed science and engineering could provide answers to, it seems that at least in principle there should be a _balance_ between application-directed research for the sake of solving immediate known problems and novelty-oriented discovery research for the sake of new-knowledge (that once understood could actually help solve ‘real-world’ problems)[2].

Why knowledge for the pure sake of knowing is good enough to justify scientific research

[1] I’ve argued elsewhere that fundamental scientific discovery-based research is culturally useful µ (as a source of awe & wonder etc), as well as being very useful in that historically it has enabled putting to purpose ‘unknown unknowns’, transforming them into very useful real world applications – applications which seem difficult or impossible to anticipate until we get up close.

[2] The question then becomes understanding and refining this balance. Science is underfunded everywhere – it shouldn’t be the case that huge funding trade-offs should have to be made between goal oriented and novelty-based scientific research while we live in a world where there are huge piles of resources being spent on other wasteful enterprises.

*1 Duke University biologist Sheila Patek has faced criticism from lawmakers over her research into mantis shrimp and trap-jaw ants, with some calling her government-funded studies a waste of taxpayer money. But according to Patek, not only do her findings have important practical applications, but scientific inquiry is most fruitful when knowledge is sought for its own sake, not to justify budgets.

± Here I have treated ‘Discovery Science‘ in a similar sense to ‘fundamental scientific research‘.

µ Science focused on curiosity may – in the far future, be an imperative – we may never want an end to novelty, we may wish to mine for ever more effective axiologies, search for new & interesting models of value as opposed to being satisfied with current conceptions of what counts as valuable.

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