Let me initiate a debate with a controversy about the role of Science and scientists in modern societies.
The evaluation of Science, and its funding system, are nowadays very dependant on the assumption that good science should be profitable. Scientific research is beneficial for society, because it provides two valuable outputs:
- New technologies (output of applied research).
- Better education level (output of basic research).
The modern vision of Science considers only the first output, and places more and more the fundings for applied research in private hands (through grant systems controlled by major companies). Several reports show that this method is counter-productive, and even sometimes dangerous as in the case of pharmaceutical research, for instance read about:
- ADHD drug biased reports (http://www.alternet.org/drugreporter/20594/
- The problems of conflict of interest (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0404.brownlee.html
Why not trying to shift our concepts of how Science should be profitable? What will our societies want from Science: money or Progress?
It seems to me that scientists are being confused with engineers, commercials and/or journalists; and that this situation is becoming the norm rather than the exception.
A more productive system could target directly the desired outputs of science, by supporting the transformation from applied science to new products (creating new companies instead of letting established companies handling and controlling the applications with the grant system); and by encourageing a high level of teaching in universities (evaluating professors and the depth of their knowledge and their communication abilities rather than on the impact factor of their latest paper). This system has yet to be developped, and certainly will have its own traps; but waiting with fingers crossed until we crash on the wall does not seem a winning strategy...