The business of science…

This blog is going to begin with a premise that I know will raise some eyebrows.  It is quite simply this:

Science is not a business…

To a scientist, this is obvious, but to business people I would expect howls of protest.  On the surface the  statement is counter-intuitive.   After all, entire industries are based on what science has discovered.  We have massive numbers of industrial laboratories that would indicate otherwise.  According to the WHO, the pharmaceutical industry is a $300 billion/year industry and growing rapidly.  So what do I mean by such a provocative  statement?

Of course I agree that the  products of scientific research and the problems solved by engineers are a big part of our industrial base.  These are businesses.   But the bit about the basic scientific research and engineering design?  THAT is not a business, and God help us all if it becomes one.

What science is not…

  • Science is not a product…
  • Science is not a profit margin…
  • Science is not quick or easy…
  • Science is not a  bottom line…
  • Science is not a profit target on a spreadsheet.

What science is…

Science is above all else a process.  It is a process by which our body of is increased and refined.  This body of knowledge is generated using the scientific method.  The scientific method  unites all disciplines of science and is similar to the engineering design process. The two flow charts provided by sciencebuddies.org describe the bare bones of the process.

ScienceBuddies_method-comparison_poster_500px

 

Note that these are not business models.  In the case of science, it is a process by which we increase our collective knowledge.  There are no products, no profits, no spreadsheets or timelines.  The same holds for the engineering process.

Scientific method vs snake oil…

The models are dispassionate and rational. A hypothesis is either discarded or developed and refined into a theory.  Well established scientific theory is the seed corn for future products.  But those products must be based on carefully constructed science that has no room for anything other than simple analysis.

Think Mr. Spock, not the passionate Dr. McCoy or even the pragmatic Captain Kirk.   You need clean concise data.  If you don’t have that, if your judgement is colored by the need to get a product to market, then you might as well just sell snake oil.

Taking the back roads and blind alleys…

The results drive the research and determine what (if any) products can be reasonably obtained.  But be warned, when data drives the bus, it tends to take the back roads.  Nothing is ever as simple as it seems (particularly in the life sciences). So the data can take on a life of its own, pushing researchers  in directions that they never thought of.  In the complex world of biomedical science it is often necessary to walk down 1000 blind alleys just to open one door.

In science, these blind alleys have great value.  They add to our collective knowledge and help to determine the direction of future studies.  What they don’t usually do is lead to a marketable product.

Although we all have 20/20 hindsight, it doesn’t work the other way around.  Outcomes will always be uncertain when you are dealing with unknowns.

Scientists as “slackers”…

Sadly, this looks to the businessperson as a limitless excuse for repeated failures.  An excuse perhaps for endless slackers to just do anything that pops into their addled heads out of sheer curiosity.

In 90% of cases this is wrong-headed nonsense.  Science and discovery (as well as the products they lead to)  are based more on failure than success. There is no way to get your arms around a black box without daring to be wrong more than you are right.

And that’s why science is NOT a business…

© 2014 – RGHicks – http://ReinnovatingAmerica.com – All rights reserved.

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