Monday, 12 March 2012

there ought to be Experiments of Light, as well as of Fruit

"It is strange that we are not able to inculate into the minds of many men the necessity of that distinction of Lord Bacon's, that there ought to be Experiments of Light, as well as of Fruit. It is their usual word, what solid good will come from thence? They are indeed to be commended for being so severe enactors of goodness. And it were to be wished, that they would not only excercise this vigour about Experiments but on their own lives and actions: that they would still question with themselves in all that they do: what solid good will come from thence? But they are to know that in so large and so various an Art as this of Experiments, there are many degrees of usefulness: some may serve for real and plain benefit, without much delight: some for teaching, without apparant profit: some for light now and for use hereafter: some only for ornament and curiosity. If they persist in condeming all experiments, except those which bring with them immediate gain and a present harvest, they may as well cavil at the Providence of God, that he has not made all the seasons of the year to be times of mowing, reaping and vintage".

Thomas Spratt, 1667,
History of the Royal Society of London, for the improving of natural knowledge.

I might copy and paste this in the impact section of funding applications. Actually, I do agree that researchers should be made to think more about why they are doing what they are doing, and what the benefit is to the wider academic community as well as the wider world, though I do not think the benefit has to be in economic terms (as Spratt said, such research is surely "without much delight"!).

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