Archive for March 16th, 2015

March 16, 2015

Blue Skies Research

pasteur quadrant

Vannevar Bush

Blue skies research is scientific research in domains where ‘real-world’ applications are not immediately apparent. It has been defined as ‘research without a clear goal’ and ‘curiosity-driven science.’ It is sometimes used interchangeably with the term ‘basic research.’ Proponents of this mode of science argue that unanticipated scientific breakthroughs are sometimes more valuable than the outcomes of agenda-driven research, heralding advances in genetics and stem cell biology as examples of unforeseen benefits of research that was originally seen as purely theoretical in scope. Because of the inherently uncertain return on investment, blue-sky projects are politically and commercially unpopular and tend to lose funding to more reliably profitable or practical research.

Raytheon founder Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report, ‘Science: The Endless Frontier,’ made the argument for the value of basic research in the postwar era, and was the basis for many appeals to the federal funding of basic research. The 1957 launch of Sputnik prompted the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research to sponsor basic science research into the 1960s. By the 1970s, financial strains brought pressure on public expenditure on the sciences, first in the UK and the Netherlands, and by the 1990s in Germany and the US.

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