The Curious Value of Research

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  • EDITORIAL

    The prevailing attitude of researchers in chemistry, indeed almost a basic tenet, is that research-the pursuit of knowl- edge-is an intrinsically good profes- sion. Seeking new knowledge and under- standing, a clearer vision of fact, and the invention of new modes of thought about chemical phenomena, is viewed as a de- sirable thing. New knowledge should not be refused or eschewed; ignorance is not bliss; and the innate curiosity of the hu- man species requires scratching.

    A great segment of modern society tends to take a more practical view of research. What good does this curiosity - scratching do? What are the motivations of those who pursue it? Who decides how the results are to be used? And how are they used? Should society consume re- sources to support research activities? These and other questions have been raised repeatedly over the years. They seem loudest and most persistent in times of greatest worldwide stress.

    These are all reasonable questions that deserve attention and response, not silence or evasion, from the academic, government, and industrial research communities-including their analytical chemists. There are many forms of an- swers. Certainly the most important in- dividual and personal motivation for re- search is intellectual curiosity. What are the chemical phenomena around us that affect our lives? How can we control chemical phenomena in useful ways? These are perhaps the clearest and easi- est questions for society to answer be- cause most segments of society have their own very basic brands of intellectu- al curiosity. How does my lawnmower work? What makes the weather? What are the best spice ingredients for a par- ticular dinner? How do you judge where the fish lie? These questions begin to il- lustrate the diversity of curiosities. Nur- turing our children's curiosity, and con- veying to them in home, school, college,

    and university a sense of the excitement of scientific thought, experiment, and deduction, are important parts of an ed- ucation that prepares them to live and work successfully in our technological age. The research community serves as a resource and role model to society when we convey the reasons, rewards, and pervasiveness of intellectual curiosity that we know so well.

    There are of course many other moti- vations for intellectual curiosity, both individual and collective. The corporate curiosity is a collective one, with a moti- vation of seeking originality and innova- tion in products and processes with an end goal of economic success. Individuals participating in the corporate curiosity derive added satisfaction from seeing their research efforts leading to products valued and used by society. In colleges and universities, researchers are teach- ing young chemists about the use of cu- riosity a t a very sophisticated level, to seek new chemical knowledge. Profes- sors derive a different satisfaction, that of seeing their products-these young chemists-become useful parts of the world of chemistry. Whether or not the motivations of particular individuals are to serve society, their products-the ma- terials and goods of a technological age and the trained young minds to help ad- vance it-offer clear societal benefits.

    History also teaches us that a regret- table but major motivation for national collective chemical research is to acquire the offensive and defensive parapherna- lia of armed conflict. It is hoped that the changes occurring on the world scene do not waste the intellectual energies that have been consumed in this area but in- stead redirect those energies to the needs of peaceful societies.

    ANALYTICAL CHEMISTRY, VOL. 63, NO. 21, NOVEMBER 1, 1991 1021 A

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