There is a long-standing view that the Internet is the keystone example of why unfettered research in academia is a good idea. Michael Nielsen challenges that canonical story:
It is a staple of wisdom amongst many physicists that “physicists invented the web”. This is a story trotted out particularly when physicists justify their work to the outside world. A string theorist once told me that virtually all his grant applications include a paragraph that says “support fundamental research in physics – that’s what brought us the web”.
In fact, the claim that physicists invented the web is largely mythical.
It’s true that the principal inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, was a programmer working at CERN, the huge European particle accelerator. In 1988 he sketched out a way of hooking up hypertext ideas, developed by people like Ted Nelson and Bill Atkinson, to the internet, developed by people like Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. He talked the idea up at CERN for a year, with no response. In 1989 he wrote up and circulated a formal proposal around CERN. Again, no response for a year. Finally, he coded up a prototype in his spare time. In this, he actually was helped by his manager, who said it was okay if he used one of CERN’s workstations to build the prototype. It was launched to the world about one year later.
Berners-Lee didn’t succeed because CERN was doing fundamental research. He succeeded in spite of it.
Now this isn’t to say that unfettered research didn’t allow Berners-Lee to explore this but it reads more like a story of unmonitored development at work than a triumph of free expression.