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Pasteur’s Quadrant

A book translated by Unicamp examines a pact between the scientific community and the government

The pact between science and the government signed at the end of the Second World War and founded on the idea of the dichotomy between basic and applied research has lapsed. A new model of the relationship between science and technology must be conceived in order to reestablish the dialogue between the communities of the scientists and the politicians. This new model must reserve a “critically important” role for basic research inspired by the use that brings together the promises of scientific investigation and the needs of society.

These three proposals – intriguing within themselves – form the central axis of the book Pasteur’s Quadrant – basic science and technological innovation, by Donald E. Stokes, published in1996 by The Brooking Institution Press and re-launched by Editora Unicamp as part of the collection Innovation Classics. The book’s major merit, nevertheless, lies in the Olympic-like incursion of Stokes into the history of science, by way of intellectual history and by the classifications of research activities, since the time of classical antiquity, in order to understand the relationship between science and technology.

For Stokes, the dichotomy between basic science and applied science consolidated itself in the post war period, when, in the United States, there was a search for maintaining federal support for basic science at a time of peace and, at the same time, a restricted control by the government concerning the research itself. This strategy inspired the document entitled Science, the endless frontier, put together by Vannevar Bush in 1945, at the request of president Franklin Roosevelt, who proposed the establishing of the National Research Foundation (NRF). Indeed, this organizational concept also served as the model for FAPESP, founded in 1960. Bush defended the organizational autonomy of the NRF in relation to the government with two basic arguments: one, that basic research must not to tied into practical ends and the other was that it is the forerunner of technological development.

The idea of the creation of an autonomous agency was vetoed by the then president Harry Truman, but the paradigmatic and linear vision of the relationship between basic research and innovation fought for by Bush triumphed and was endorsed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), established five years later.

Over decades the linear model, with some variations, was a reference point for research and development. However, in author Stokes’ evaluation the promise of the technological return of investments in pure research no longer has sufficient force to open up the federal coffers, and the pact between science and the government must therefore be revised.

Stokes proposes a new classification of the activities of research and innovation, inserting the activities of research between two coordinates: the first that gives dimension to the advance of knowledge and the second to its application. Projected in a graphic form, basic research without any immediate application – which has as its best example the investigations by the physicist Niels Bohr about the structure of the atom – occupies the upper left hand quadrant; applied research looking towards technological development – such as the electrical lighting system of Thomas Edison – inserts itself in the lower left hand quadrant.

In the upper right hand quadrant there is the place for research that could contribute to the advance of knowledge – an inherent quality of basic research – and at the same time that there are major prospects of practical applications. The investigation by Pasteur in the area of microbiology – that made advances in knowledge and benefited the producers of alcohol from sugar beet – is the best-known example. And in this region of the confluence of the principles of basic and applied research –Pasteur’s Quadrant  – that  Stokes inscribes basic research inspired by the use that, in order to put in motion the acquired knowledge and to attend to the demands of society, could serve as the basis of the new pact between the scientific and political communities.

Stokes reserves the lower left hand quadrant for research that is boosted by the investigator’s curiosity about facts that he qualifies as “private”, as, for example, is done by those who observe birds. For Stokes, the way out of this impasse to which the relationship between science and government has reached, lies in strengthening pure research in the scientific fields that take into consideration society’s needs such as is the case, for example, of investigations into the environment.

Support for research inspired by social objectives does not distract the attention – nor the public resources – of pure research, underlines Stokes. On the contrary: it strengthens the “cause” of public investments, since it increases the capacity of this area of investigation as a whole. Nevertheless, it demands an institutionalized effort on the part of the government, by way of the construction of agendas of research funded  by agencies that have to consider the needs of the nation.

Part of FAPESP’s investments can be interpreted in the light of the Stokes’ classification within the Pasteur Quadrant, as is the case, for example, of the Genome Programs and the Biota Program. Author Stokes’ model takes as its reference the North American scientific and technological policy. However, it could well serve as the inspiration for countries that attempt to trace out a sustainable path in the direction of innovation.

Technology and Development
Within the Innovation Classics collection, published by Editora Unicamp, a further two books concerning the analysis of technological development have been launched this year. In Paths of Innovation: Technological Change in 20th – Century America, David C. Mowery and Nathan Rosenberg analyze the institutionalization of the inventive process, which brought close together organized innovative research and the contribution of some technological changes – such as, for example, the internal combustion engine – towards economic growth.

In Technology, Learning and Innovation: Experiences of Newly Industrializing Economies, the organizers Linsu Kim and Richard R. Nelson bring together ten essays and four author commentaries that analyze the progress of technologically backward Asiatic countries. The book even paints a comparative picture between the economies of the recently industrialized Eastern Asia to that of Latin America.