In his continuing discussion of basic, applied and “Jeffersonian” science, Praj Kulkarni says:
“… scientists push a narrative that the people in power clearly, and thankfully, don’t believe.” [discussion about the value of basic vs. applied science] “are not really about changing funding patterns. They’re more about changing scientists’ priorities and the culture of academia.“
I largely agree with that. A key issue here is that “science” is often understood differently by those who pay for it and those who do it.
From the point of view of those who pay for it, the primary aim of funding basic scientific research in academia is to provide education and training. Scientific research in academic settings is mainly a way of training the next generation of researchers needed by industry. Replenishing the supply of academics will use up only a small proportion of academically trained researchers. Using universities to train researchers for industry is effectively an outsourcing of researcher training and is a good solution only so long as it’s more cost effective than each individual business running its own researcher training programs. Focusing the research on ‘basic’ science keeps the training neutral, not biased to the specific needs of one employer over another.
In academia itself, the view persists that the primary aim of academia is to provide a protected environment in which academic scientists can carry out research in basic science (or, more accurately, oversee low-paid postgrads and post-docs carrying out research). Scientific education, as I know it anyway (UK; biomedical), does little to dispel that and some private sector grant funding organizations (e.g. HHMI in the US, Wellcome Trust in UK) positively encourage it by providing funding for specific scientists rather than projects. In fact, it may be surprising how much this attitude survives even among scientists employed in industry.
The process of becoming a scientist involves not only the accumulation of specialist knowledge and technical skills, but also induction into a scientistic culture to which the PhD is a rite of initiation. Scientists are encouraged to see themselves as a professional elite, by which I mean that the cultural codes around someone being identified as a “scientist” direct people to evaluate that person on that scientistic basis rather than on the basis of that individual’s personal characteristics as evident right there and then.