Some Favourite Quotes On The Value and Funding of Applied vs Basic Research

There are two kinds of science – applied research and not yet applied research

Lord Kelvin Porter


To feed applied science by starving basic science is like economising on the foundations of a building so that it may be built higher. It is only a matter of time before the whole edifice crumbles.

Sir George Porter


Today, when so much depends on our informed action, we as voters and taxpayers can no longer afford to confuse science and technology, to confound “pure” science and “applied” science.

Jacques Yves Cousteau


No category of sciences exists to which one could give the name of applied sciences. There are science and the applications of science, linked together as fruit is to the tree that has borne it.

Il n’existe pas une catégorie de sciences auxquelles on puisse donner le nom de sciences appliquées. II y a la science et les applications de la science, liées entre elles comme le fruit à l’arbre qui l’a porté.

Louis Pasteur


Applied science, purposeful and determined, and pure science, playful and freely curious, continuously support and stimulate each other. The great nation of the future will be the one which protects the freedom of pure science as much as it encourages applied science.

Edwin Herbert Land


William Gladstone question “What is the practical worth of electricity?”

To which Michael Faraday astutely answered: “Why sir there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it!”


The forces of nature, such as electricity for instance, were not discovered by men who started out with the set purpose of adapting them for utilitarian purposes. Scientific discovery and scientific knowledge have been achieved only by those who have gone in pursuit of it without any practical purpose whatsoever in view. … Heinrich Hertz, for instance, never dreamt that his discoveries would have been developed by Marconi and finally evolved into a system of wireless telegraphy

Max Planck


This example illustrates the differences in the effects which may be produced by research in pure or applied science. Research on the lines of applied science would doubtless have led to improvement and development of the older methods—the research in pure science has given us an entirely new and much more powerful method. In fact, research in applied science leads to reforms, research in pure science leads to revolutions, and revolutions, whether political or industrial, are exceedingly profitable things if you are on the winning side.

J J Thompson


Sir Harry Kroto paraphrased the physicist J.J. Thompson “if we had had targeted research in the Stone Age, we would now have wonderful stone axes, but no one would have discovered metals.”

{Harry’s claim is itself supported by research. Some of the most compelling evidence was uncovered by the American physiologists Julius Comroe and Robert Dripps in 1976, when they analysed the research origins of the ‘Top Ten’ post-war clinical advances in cardiovascular and pulmonary medicine and surgery. They found that two-thirds of the research articles on which these advances were based had no clinical application in mind when the research was done, let alone the application to which the results unexpectedly led}


It is blindingly obvious that the really unexpected and unpredictable discoveries are invariably more important than those that are the result of targeted initiatives. However, my experience is that one can point out the obvious issues until one is blue in the face and no one with any influence on science funding ever takes a blind bit of notice!

Sir Harry Kroto


The research I have been doing – studying how foodstuffs yield energy in living cells – does not lead to the kind of knowledge that can be expected to give immediate practical benefits to mankind … I am convinced that an understanding of the process of energy production will eventually help us in solving some of the practical problems of medicine.

Hans A Krebs

We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.

Marie Curie


Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination

John Dewey

Exploration of nature can be enabled by but not directed in a modern civilization by resting on the serendipitous discoveries of thousands of curious minds

Margaret Bowden


Frequently, I have been asked if an experiment I have planned is pure or applied science; to me it is more important to know if the experiment will yield new and probably enduring knowledge about nature. If it is likely to yield such knowledge, it is, in my opinion, good fundamental research; and this is more important than whether the motivation is purely aesthetic satisfaction on the part of the experimenter on the one hand or the improvement of the stability of a high-power transistor on the other.

William B Shockley


Well private money can take risks in a way that government money often isn't willing to.

Bill Gates

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow

Robert H Goddard

Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten but they may start a winning game

Johann Goethe

On the way to the impossible we might find something eminently doable

Brian Cox


Discovery is an accident meeting a prepared mind

Albert Szent Gyorgyi


The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers he is one who asks the right questions

Claude Levi-Strauss


The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful… I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances… What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a …. Pure intelligence can grasp.

Henri Poincare


A long but good explanation of the worth of a culture supportive of scientific inquiry and research:

The value of fundamental research does not lie only in the ideas it produces. There is more to it. It affects the whole intellectual life of a nation by determining its way of thinking and the standards by which actions and intellectual production are judged. If science is highly regarded and if the importance of being concerned with the most up-to-date problems of fundamental research is recognized, then a spiritual climate is created which influences the other activities. An atmosphere of creativity is established which penetrates every cultural frontier. Applied sciences and technology are forced to adjust themselves to the highest intellectual standards which are developed in the basic sciences. This influence works in many ways: some fundamental students go into industry; the techniques which are applied to meet the stringent requirements of fundamental research serve to create new technological methods. The style, the scale, and the level of scientific and technical work are determined in pure research; that is what attracts productive people and what brings scientists to those countries where science is at the highest level. Fundamental research sets the standards of modern scientific thought; it creates the intellectual climate in which our modern civilization flourishes. It pumps the lifeblood of idea and inventiveness not only into the technological laboratories and factories, but into every cultural activity of our time. The case for generous support for pure and fundamental science is as simple as that.

Victor Weisskopf