Assure basic scientific research its due supply of oxygen

News: Investment in basic science has helped the USA. Similarly, National Research Foundation (NRF) can help India in basic scientific research.

How investment in science helped the USA?

In 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). It was given unlimited access to funds with a broad mandate to supervise the conduct of scientific research for military purposes. Its director reported directly to the president.

What was the significance of OSRD?

OSRD had spent over $450 million during the war and developed technologies, antibiotics, blood substitutes, radar, and explosives.

The OSRD contributed to the Allied victory. Also, Bush’s influence on the post-war conduct of science remains his lasting legacy.

How Bush influenced Science?

He favoured government investment in basic scientific research that could not be carried out in its laboratories. It was because basic research was performed without thinking about the practical ends.

Bush’s report ultimately led to the establishment of the National Science Foundation (NSF). It has led to the most remarkable advances of recent times. For example, magnetic resonance imaging, 3D printing, liquid crystal displays, and CRISPR for gene editing.

What is the status of scientific research in India?

One, India has many scientific accomplishments, but it has not adopted the NSF approach to encourage basic scientific research.

Two, India has delivered far less than potential and nearly all scientific achievements have either come from government institutions or through the investment of private capital.

Three, in the 2021 budget announcement, India’s National Research Foundation (NRF) was allocated a budget of ₹50,000 crores over five years. Now, for the first time, a dedicated fund for investment in scientific research will be established.

How NRF can boost basic science?

First, ensure that all projects taken up by the NRF are assured of the stability of funding. It gives scientists the confidence to undertake long-term research.

Second, projects funded by the NRF should be protected against changes in government and shifting political priorities. NRF funds once granted should not be vulnerable to being revoked at the whims of the political class.

Third, NRF funded projects should have the operational autonomy, needed to be able to determine the methods and scope of their research.

Fourth, basic research should be free to proceed, unlike other government projects where funds are provided against quantified targets.

Fifth, NRF funds should not make their way to government laboratories as they are subjected to the pressure of achieving specific targets.

What is the way forward?

First, NRF has just a fraction of the funding compared to NSF. But if it is deployed strategically, it could go a long way towards improving basic scientific research in the country.

Second, India has a long history of excellence in basic research and now there is a need to nourish that expertise.

Third, the government should make it a priority to move its research projects to research institutions where they can receive the attention they deserve.

Source: This post is based on the article “Assure basic scientific research its due supply of oxygen” published in Livemint on 19th Jan 2022.

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