Science Impact: Rethinking the Impact of Basic Research on Society and the Economy

An international conference on science impact, Vienna, May 10 and 11, 2007

bridges vol. 14, July 2007 / Feature Article
by Roland Schneider

science_impact_small.jpgCourtesy of EFS

The Austrian Research Fund and the European Science Foundation (ESF) organized an international conference on "Science Impact" held May 10-11, 2007 in Vienna. The conference was attended by 270 participants who, with outstanding scholars in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies from both sides of the Atlantic and senior officials from major research organizations, engaged in lively discussions concerning the changing conceptual models of how research evolves into innovation, and the methods for evaluating the impact of basic research on science and society.

Although little doubt exists, among scientists and politicians alike, about the positive impact of basic research on the economy, the exact link between those two is often hard to prove. Overall, science funding has increased considerably over recent years: for example, Austria increased from a meager research quota of 1.4% in 1993 to over 2.5% of the GDP in 2007 - and the trend is still upward. Yet the funding of basic research is being challenged more than ever. This challenge arises from various sides, from narrow budget constraints, to growing skepticism in public opinion about the prospects of science, to the general perception that funding of applied research is much more output efficient. "The discussion about the relevance of basic research is pandemic and anything but trivial," as Christoph Kratky, president of the Austrian Science Fund, summed up this development. It is in this context that the conference is "very timely, because there is more and more need to justify further spending for basic research," said Wolfgang Polt, head of the Institute of Regional and Technology Policy at Joanneum Research.

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