Discovery and Innovation: The Pipeline Is a Pipe Dream

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Acapulco (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Jason S. Robert , Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
What assumptions underlie the pairing of discovery with innovation in contemporary discourse about science?  It appears that everyone is excited about translational research. And yet translational research is not easily defined, and the relationship between idea and application, or bench and bedside, or discovery and innovation is poorly understood. What is clear is that we all want ‘results’ from investments in research and development. But what results? We all want translational research to generate ‘impacts’. But which impacts? Scholars of science and science policy have noted that a new social contract is emerging for how science – especially biomedical science – works in the contemporary world. Biomedical scientists, whether they like it or not, must promise specific results early in the research process, must produce results sooner and not later, and must promote their results so as to assist in the ‘translation’ of basic research into outcomes. But which outcomes matter, or should matter? Of course, the very idea of translating research into results is not a new one; indeed, it may be coextensive with the history of biomedical research. But it is increasingly recognized that translation is neither easy nor inevitable, that the tangible results of biomedical research are difficult to discern, and yet that results are critically important in order to justify continued investment in research. The supposed pipeline from discovery to innovation is a pipedream. This presentation provides a historical and philosophical perspective on various assumptions underlying the connection between discovery and innovation, and on how these assumptions enable (and constrain) science progress.