Monday, October 22, 2012

Nobel warning

Expecting (and demanding from) researchers -- particularly experimenters -- to spell out in every detail, what is to be expected out of their research program and its 'usefulness' is an efficient way to prevent crackpots from usurping research funds. It is also an effective way to dampen curiosity-driven research.

In his recent Nature piece, Serge Haroche, co-winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics for his, primarily experimental, work on quantum optics, warns:
During this long adventure in the micro-world, my colleagues and I have retained the freedom to choose our path without having to justify it with the promise of possible applications.

Unfortunately, the environment from which I benefited is less likely to be found by young scientists embarking on research now, whether in France or elsewhere in Europe. [...] Scientists have to describe in advance all their research steps, to detail milestones and to account for all changes in direction. This approach, if extended too far, is not only detrimental to curiosity-driven research. It is also counterproductive for applied research, as most practical devices come from breakthroughs in basic research and would never have been developed out of the blue.