The value of science

What role does money play in pure, uncorrupted science?

The love of discovery is, of course, what drives most scientists. But money, especially £10m (Dh62m), helps. That is the amount offered by the UK government to whoever can solve one of six challenges currently facing humanity, from access to clean water to reversing paralysis.

Monetary awards for science have a long history, whether via governments, patrons or institutions. It is an open question, however, exactly how useful such large prizes are for individuals. Certainly they focus the mind and can make scientific institutions and university research departments – always starved for cash – work in a particular direction.

But, for individuals, they are unlikely to be achievable, except as inspiration. So many of the big scientific challenges of today – in medicine, in genetic research, in nuclear technology – require extensive training and the support of other scientists and institutions. The days of scientists working alone, whether that be Al Jahiz outlining the evolution of animals in 8th century Iraq or Albert Einstein contemplating relativity in 20th century Switzerland, are sadly gone.

But don’t despair. There is a great deal to be invented, even without scientific training, and even today a multi-billion dollar company can still begin life in a garage.

Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM