Curiouser and curiouser: managing discovery making
On a recent official visit to southeast Asia, a prime minister asked me: "What does it take to get a Nobel prize?" I answered immediately: "Invest in basic research and recruit the best minds." This curiosity-driven approach seems increasingly oldfashioned and underappreciated in our modern age of science. Some believe that more can be achieved through tightly managed research — as if we can predict the future. I believe this is an unfortunate misconception that affects and infects research funding. I hear repeatedly, particularly in developing countries: "Applied research is what we need." There is nothing wrong with a nation having mission-oriented research and development to solve specific problems or to dedicate to an outreach programme, such as space exploration or alternative energy. During my visits as a US science envoy, I have emphasized that without solid investment in science education and a fundamental science base, nations will not acquire the ground-breaking knowledge required to make discoveries and innovations that will shape their future.