A great article in the New York Times today by Stephen Quake on the artificial divide between pure and applied research.
These transcendent figures in the history of science flourished by moving back and forth between pure and applied problems. In today’s more specialized world, there are numerous artificial divisions between pure and applied work: different departments, different professional societies, and different journals. The stereotyped view is that the applied scientists control the lion’s share of funding, while the basic scientists control the most prestigious journals and prizes. The reality is more complicated and lies somewhere in between.
Whenever I hear that academics need freedom so they can devote themselves to pure research I cringe. And it is precisely for this reason. My belief is that for the most part pure research can translate into the applied and vice versa. Even in my own field of economics, there are still many academics who believe that to pay attention or be concerned about real world problems diverts them from some noble goal of pure thought. The evidence from our greatest scientists provides a clear counterpoint.