A plea for exploratory research

By Hilary Miller 08/06/2010

On more than one occasion I’ve been asked what the commercial applications of my research are, usually by people who have no background in science themselves. When I tell them I do basic research in evolutionary genetics that doesn’t have any commercial application there often follows outrage that the government actually gives out money to pursue this research (and of course I would argue that there isn’t nearly enough funding to do this type of research).

In this TED talk, Brian Cox makes the case for curiosity-driven research.  Although his examples come from physics and astronomy, there are countless similar examples in biology.  I particularly like the quote from British chemist and inventor Humphrey Davy that he ends with:  ”Nothing is more fatal to the progress of the human mind than to presume that our views of science are ultimate, that our triumphs are complete, that there are no mysteries in nature, and that there are no new worlds to conquer.”

In tough economic times, our exploratory science programs — from space probes to the LHC — are first to suffer budget cuts. Brian Cox explains how curiosity-driven science pays for itself, powering innovation and a profound appreciation of our existence.