What is the value of basic science?

Each week, Symposium’s blog highlights comments about the week’s featured article. This week’s piece is Prof. Rick Wilson’s “The War on Social Science.”

An excerpt from Professor Jennifer Victor on The Mischiefs of Faction addressed the piece.

Rick Wilson notes that some in Congress (especially House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX)) would like to see the NSF’s mission redefined to focus only on these applied science type endeavors.

On its face, it may sound reasonable. After all, shouldn’t public money have the highest standard of justification for its value? However, in order for scientists, policy makers, or analysts to “apply” scientific findings, there must be scientific findings to apply. This is where basic science research comes in. Through basic science research, scientists in all fields use their knowledge and tools to explore the microfoundations of our world.

The questions and puzzles that scientists tackle through basic science may appear to have questionable value–and indeed they might. It is difficult to accurately predict when a basic science finding will translate into an applied science discovery. However, it should be apparent that without basic science research, and scientists’ own freedom and creativity to follow their knowledgeable instincts about valuable questions, there would be no applied science.

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