Researching The Basics

Responding to the above tweet, Carl Zimmer, who wrote an article about duck genitalia in 2007, defends government funding of “basic research”

Scientists use the word “basic” to distinguish scientific research that’s not directed at some specific practical problem. Developing a vaccine for the latest strain of the flu is applied research. Learning how the body generates antibodies to flu viruses is basic research. Basic research can lead to applications, but we don’t know in advance what particular studies will or won’t. That’s because we have much left to understand about how the world works.

He uses the the fruit fly research criticized by Sarah Palin during the 2008 election as an example:

Animals affect us directly in lots of ways. We eat them, they eat our food, they harbor diseases, and they produce interesting compounds that may lead to useful drugs. Scientists do a lot of applied research on animals to address these issues, and they also do basic research on animals, which sometimes leads to applications. If you actually take a look at the animal research Palin was mocking, she could not have picked a worse example to make her point. The research involved looking for parasitic wasps that can kill a fly that is devastating California’s olive orchards.