Science - June 15, 2011

'Protect fundamental research'

The Young Academy is making a stand for fundamental research, as 350 million euros for liberal research are in danger of being withdrawn. Don't just look at money and innovation, they warn.

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Three scientists, all of whom are from the youth section of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), expressed their concern before the cameras of NOS television on Monday.
Fundamental research, they say, is being jeopardized now that the cabinet wants to increase the economic returns from science by channelling more money to the 'top sectors'. These include sections of the knowledge economy from which the cabinet expects much in return, such as chemistry, high technology and life sciences. All other research areas will be excluded, such as law studies and minority languages. Research fund providers NWO and KNAW have to invest 350 million euros of their resources in research which is 'derived from the agendas of the top sectors', adds the cabinet. Consultation with the private sector would determine which kinds of research are most useful. It is not known how these will be carried out.
'It is important to establish top sectors', says Peter-Paul Verbeek, professor of philosophy at the University of Twente and one of the authors of an opinion piece published by the Young Academy yesterday in NRC Handelsblad. 'But you should also uphold the entire range of fundamental research.'
Verbeek questions how much fundamental research can be carried out within the top sectors. 'There may be a need to put aside a portion of the money for fundamental research. Perhaps, we should ensure that the energy sector can also research into the concept of energy in the late Middle Ages, just to name one issue.'
Verbeek says that fundamental research is the little fire under the kettle of science and innovation. Without that fire, nothing can sizzle, he says.
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