Thursday, November 18, 2010

Basic vs Applied Research - Linear vs Nonlinear Models

I was reading a review in IEEE Spectrum of Henry Petroski's "The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems", and found several references to the linear model of how research is being conducted in the U.S.:

"Part of the problem, he [Henry Petroski] says, is the linear model of technological progress: Basic research spawns applied research, which in turn fuels technological development. This model is wrong historically, and it undervalues the creative juices of good engineering ... This linear model became ascendant in U.S. science policy after 1945 when Vannevar Bush submitted his famous report, “Science—the Endless Frontier”, which enhanced the prestige (and funding) of basic research at the expense of applied work."

I wrote in one of my previous posts about linearity and nonlinearity in biology, engineering, and financial systems, and how linear models (such as blood vessels in biology, waterfall model in engineering) have a negative impact on the systems where they are applied. The review of the book has the same underlying message, namely how moving away from the linear model of basic research towards the more practical approach of applied research (or development projects) has a greater outcome in terms of engineering advances. 

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