Curiosity-driven Research: a threatened vital activity?

One of the issues which has been high on the agenda of the Learned Society of Wales over recent years has been the funding of research in the United Kingdom and, in particular, the changing balance between the funding of curiosity-driven, blue sky research towards and the funding of directed programmes.

The Society commissioned its Inaugural President, Sir John Cadogan, to write a paper on this important subject.

Sir John Cadogan’s paper, Curiosity-driven ‘Blue Sky’ Research: a threatened vital activity? is published by the Society today, 30 June 2014.

The paper questions superficial assumptions about value of funding blue skies research; analyses and celebrates the impact it has on our economy and quality of life; and criticises the heavy contemporary emphasis on well-funded directed research programmes and points out some negative side-effects.

In particular, the paper contains testimony from many of the UK’s top scientists and engineers, including Fellows of the Society,  41 Fellows of the Royal Society (of whom seven are Nobel Laureates, one a Crafoord Laureate and one a Fields Medallist).

It concludes that the balance has swung too far in favour of directed programmes and calls on the UK Government to devise a funding programme, with its own budget line, to ensure ongoing support for blue sky research for its own sake.

As the evidence gathered by Sir John reveals, undirected research has delivered many unexpected benefits, for example penicillin and antibiotics. So it requires sufficient space within research budgets to retain the potential for further unplanned discoveries.

Read Curiosity-driven ‘Blue Sky’ Research here