Introduction to Basic Research

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INTRODUCTION TO BASIC RESEARCH –
‘Basic research’ is a term that is widely used but with little apparent consensus on what it actually means. The term basic research usually refers to study and research on pure science that is meant to increase our scientific knowledge base. This type of research is often purely theoretical with the intent of increasing our understanding of certain phenomena or behaviour but does not seek to solve or treat these problems. Most scientists believe that a basic, fundamental understanding of all branches of science is needed in order for progress to take place. In other words, basic research lays down the foundation for the applied science that follows (ELSI Research) Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundations of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view. In comparison, Applied research is original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective (OECD, 2003). It is because of the lack of a particular definition or structure that it is widely regarded to be only academic and some researchers are critical of basic research at times. “Dealing with deficiencies in business R&D by making basic research more ‘relevant’ is like pushing a piece of string” (Pavitt 1991:117).

Importance –
Several scientists in the UK commented that the political climate for basic research is better than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. One reason given for the increased importance of basic research is the emergence of certain new technologies (such as biotechnology) which require very basic research but then quickly produce marketable products - now a ‘fundamental’ breakthrough can simultaneously be a commercial breakthrough (Elzinga 1985).

Benefits -

The benefits of basic research are examined by Ben R. Martin and Puay Tang in their SPRU (Science and technology policy research) article of 2007. They have been re-examined and illustrated by me.

1. Increasing stock of useful knowledge –

Usually two types of research based knowledge is created – codified and tacit. Codified knowledge is in written form and the more visible of the two whereas tacit knowledge is related to skills and work experience.

Firms generally need a threshold level of internal research effort in order to develop the tacit knowledge and provide the ‘absorptive capacity’ needed to identify and assimilate potentially exploitable scientific knowledge elsewhere (Cohen and Levinthal, 1989).

It may be decades before a commercial application may be set up but it is evidently important to have all knowledge possible to assist in any future endeavour.

2. Supply of skilled graduates and learners –

New graduates in their post graduate studies in university who enter into the industry either for summer internships or part time work bring with them fresh levels of enthusiasm, new skills to perform research, to develop ideas and have a know - how of using latest instruments and techniques taught by their professors who also perform research at universities. Video link - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHjrMtECVo0

3. Creation of new scientific instrumentation and methodologies –

Researchers continually develop new equipment, laboratory techniques and analytical methods to tackle specific research problems. Hence, the development of new research instrumentation or scientific methodologies is often a key output from basic research (Rosenberg, 1992).

In all of the top research based industries, these are of utmost importance. It's a two way flow process to make processes simpler and tackle problems that require consistent research.

In all of history of science, many examples of scientific instrumentation or research methodologies have brought benefits to the industry, for example,...
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