4. Planning Research

Pages12-19
Publication Date01 May 1986
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb054888
AuthorJudith Palmer
SubjectLibrary & information science
4.
Planning Research
by Judith Palmer*
The
objective,
sustenance and reward of research is information. But information does not
yet grow on trees nor through the agency of monoclonal antibodies. It requires careful
harvesting, winnowing and dissemination, albeit with electronic tools.
The most effective information practitioners will be those with professional expertise and
the desire continually to expand their professional knowledge
base;
and inside knowledge.
By inside knowledge
I
mean an appreciation and understanding of
all
the intellectual, social
and political factors that constitute and influence the organisation in which they work.
Any organisation conducting research, no matter how grandiose or modest the
programme might be, is part of, and is affected by the way in which science is funded and
directed nationally.
Science has changed from what was essentially a private enterprise conducted by
amateurs up until the late nineteenth century to
an
activity today involving millions of people
and billions of pounds. It has been estimated[1] that in 1896 there were, perhaps, in the
whole world only 15,000 people responsible for advancing scientific research. Up to the
1930s there was more
R
than D and what research was done consumed modest resources.
Nearly all government-funded research was carried out in the universities and the state of
most sciences was
such
that significant advances in understanding could be made at
a
cost
that would be considered humble by today's standards. Development took place slowly in
industry and
in
just a few government laboratories. As war loomed a deliberate effort was
made
to harness the nation's scientific effort to
its
defence
and
this brought the government
irretrievably into the R & D business on a scale hitherto not seen. By the end of the war
nearly all R & D was financed through large and powerful government laboratories and a
comparable network of installations in industry. The exponential growth in numbers of
scientists and publications has been well described by Price[2] who has shown that this
trend has always existed, with every doubling of the population producing at least three
doublings of the number of scientists until about the mid-1950s when there is some
indication of saturation point having been reached and the exponential increase flattening
out to a logistic curve. What has changed radically, however, has been the pattern and
distribution of research activity. The post-war
era
has given way, in the last
20
years,
to the
era of state-funded "Big Science", exemplified by CERN, where the equipment and
resources that are needed may be too great to be provided by any one country. This
increasing cost and sophistication of equipment is likely to continue to encourage
international collaboration especially in the new inter-disciplinary fields which have no
tradition of national endeavour either to build on or to overcome, e.g., information
technology (Alvey) and biotechnology (EMBO).
* Many of
the ideas in this article have come from a discussion with Ben Martin and John Irvine at the
Science
Policy Research Unit, Sussex, and from their book,
Foresight
in
Science.
12

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