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Innovation from Research

November 27, 2011

Filed under: future — Terry Wohlers @ 10:25

Does scientific research lead to innovation? Most people might assume that it does, especially given the number of organizations conducting it, coupled with the vast sums of money supporting it. Evidence suggests that scientific research leads to a body of knowledge, but it does not advance the standard of living for the general population. This is according to thought leader Leland Teschler, editor of Machine Design magazine, in his August 25, 2011 column.

Teschler argues that major innovations from the past, such as the steam engine and cotton spinning machine, were developed by tinkering and trial ‘n error, not science. He explained also that the science behind these developments came after their discoveries, not before. Science journalist Matt Ridley believes the real importance of scientific research has been to clarify the empirical findings after discoveries have been made, according to Teschler.

Teschler went on to say that the transistor came from researchers who were not pursuing pure science. Physicists at Bell Labs invented the transistor when trying to improve switching at telephone exchanges. Teschler cites Google and Facebook as developments that did not receive any government research dollars.

One might conclude that funding for scientific research is of value to researchers and their institutions, but few commercially-viable innovations result from it. If you can point to specific innovations from scientific research that have spawned new products or services, I would like to hear from you.