It is clear; Society faces significant challenges that require a solution, such as the consequences of Covid-19, climate change and economic recovery. Of course, science is being searched for answers. But how do you organize that?
The government likes to take advantage of strategic research for this. This is done on the basis of political or economic motives and focuses on the problems of the day. Peer, free research, is driven by scientific curiosity: searching for the edges of knowledge in original and innovative methods, regardless of whether there was political interest in them at the time. Dutch science financier NWO Spends double the amount right now Strategic research as well as organic research. You might think it’s cool, but scientists say it’s untenable, because there are more and more circumstances and less and less room for your own questions. Consider mandatory consortium collaboration, expected returns, or a requirement for companies to add money.
Don’t you think politics affects the research being done here? then read Message dated May 17 The NWO wrote to its whistleblowers: “In the previous cabinet term, the NWO translated research investment plans from the coalition agreement from policy into concrete research programs and projects.” This system is faltering.
years of curiosity
There is a risk in fully committing to strategic research. The first problem is that solutions to major problems often come from unexpected sources. Now famous scientist Ugur Sahin, founder of research on BioNTech/Pfizer mRNA vaccine against Covid-19, I’ve been working on mRNA for 20 years To find a vaccine to treat cancer. His discoveries were obviously of immense value to society, but it took years of curiosity and perseverance before this product could be used for a purpose it was not originally intended for. Ironically, strategic “missions” can have a crippling effect, by focusing all available budget in one direction and giving scientists less freedom to take new paths.
Read about mRNA technology: Are these vaccines changing the world?
The second problem is that strategic research often unilaterally pursues economic growth. The National Growth Fund, for example, encourages innovative scientific research on the condition that the results boost the economy. Of course, there is no doubt that new technologies are important to the economy and society. But we also desperately need new ideas about how citizens can give substance to sustainable living. We need more thoughtful opinions about governance and ethics. We need the wisdom of other societies and cultures to understand the meaning of marginalization. Understanding the impact of school closures on children is just as important as measuring the amount of carbon dioxide2 we send. We need a richer knowledge base about what it means to be human, and not get bogged down in a one-dimensional path of technological innovation.
Is the potential of free search policy underestimated? I ask myself regularly. Who am I as a scientist? I’ve always been fascinated by how the brain develops in adolescence. As a result, we now know more about the emotional and social development of young people. My lab conducts research in brain development and works with youth groups. We provide workshops for young people and advise policy makers. What label fits that? Am I a basic researcher or an applied researcher? Am I a psychologist or a neuroscientist? Am I a famous science writer or a lab head? Are these designations important? The most interesting question is: What am I trying to understand as a scientist? The questions that scientists seek are unique and require their own unique approach.
Well-intentioned strategic missions. But there is an inherent promise, for example, that problems will indeed be resolved in the next five years. And who actually determines what are the important strategic missions? Are field laboratories more important than researching problem biology? Have economic growth programs offered more than mental health research?
Scholars often put what is now called strategic research on the map long before politicians heard of it. Knowledge about climate change does not come out of thin air, it was preceded by decades of free research. Scientists do not work in silos and have sensors where urgent problems are picked up. Strategic research can bind but also oppress. Health systems must give scientists the confidence to explore the unknown questions of the future, freely, with partners who fit the specific question. It is the best way to maximize the benefits of science to society.
Evelyn Crone is Professor of “Developmental Neuroscience in Society” at Erasmus University Rotterdam.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on June 5, 2021
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of June 5, 2021