The Roots of Progress

Pasteur's Quadrant

Basic Science and Technological Innovation

Donald E. Stokes

A book arguing that “basic” and “applied” research are not opposed, but orthogonal. “Pasteur’s quadrant” refers to research that is both “inspired by the quest for fundamental understanding” and simultaneously “inspired by considerations of use”.

Stokes traces the history of this idea from ancient Greece through Enlightenment Germany to present-day America, and shows how the basic-applied dichotomy was established by Vannevar Bush, especially in his famous report “Science, the Endless Frontier”. He argues that this false dichotomy has harmed the conversation about science funding in America and worldwide, and that we need to embrace Pasteur’s quadrant in order to restore the “compact” between science and government.

I found this book interesting for its central thesis, but too long for its substance, too repetitive and verbose. In addition, while the first few chapters are timeless, the last couple seem fairly specific to the government research funding landscape of the late 1990s. Unless you are particularly motivated, I recommend skipping the book and reading my summary and commentary.

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Pasteur's quadrant

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