Investment in science is more well-planned than it was before, but has this bred a divisive attitude toward what research is useful and what isn't?
The evolution of economic perspectives over the last century has had big impacts on the evolution of science. Science hasn’t influenced economic development – as much as it has enabled it – as much as economics has influenced scientific development.
What’re most telling are the emergence of large-scale trends and the simultaneous inversion of rate of science-research’s progress. True, the “value” of knowledge at first is higher than it is later on because no one knows anything, at which point knowing anything at all puts one ahead of the rest. For this reason, the shift from “paradigm-altering” finds to incremental ones is obvious.
But what’s to note is how this has changed how people and money engage with scientific research. What was earlier more prominently recognised as for communal development is today best understood as for personal development. Investments in science are carefully planned and executed by multiple governments together: that it’s no longer isolated is a good thing, but surely it’s created priorities that tend to sideline or slow down other, less favourable, classes of research.
A convenient example of this is research in nuclear physics: Necessitated more by the “someone else is doing it” rationale at first, and exposing oneself to risks of the sunk-cost fallacy over time.
The simplest reason for priorities is that, inflation aside, the more we find out, the harder it is to know what’s left to be found out, necessitating more precise and accurate instruments, better information dissemination channels, and more efficient analysis and interpretation of data. As investment increases, so does commitment, leading one away from one class of research and toward another.
I don’t know if the influence of this silently divisive attitude has bled into small-scale scientific research; now is, in fact, a bad time to consider this hypothesis practically: few economies are strong, and creating that strength requires one kind of scientific research before that of The Other Kind is undertaken.