benefits of basic research


A report in The Guardian highlights the top 100 discoveries from UK universities in the past 50 years. Below the social science-related entries that made it onto the list:

Literal truths
Richard Hoggart’s 1957 work of literary sociology, The Uses of Literacy, stands as a pioneering study of what had been achieved, since the Universal Education Act of 1870, and the Butler Education Act of 1944, for the working classes of Britain. 

Shaping politics and debunking science
One of the great philosophers of the 20th century, Karl Popper helped to shape British politics in the 1980s and also changed our views of how science develops.  

Improving the effectiveness of schools
In 1979 Michael Rutter and fellow researchers at the Institute of Education, University of London showed that schools in poverty-ridden areas could be successful and revealed the secrets of their success. 

The third way
Anthony Giddens, former director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, argued that new political solutions were needed to respond to the modern globalised and constantly changing world we now inhabit. 

Sage of the ages
Eric Hobsbawm, now professor emeritus at Birkbeck College, London, has charted the complex patterns and mechanisms that transformed the world during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Voting trends and election swings
The idea of election swing is an academic concept – created by David Butler of the University of Oxford and other researchers. Using the notion of swing it is much easier to understand why elections turn out the way they do.

See for some musings related to the natural sciences.

Written by teppo

July 10, 2006 at 6:33 am

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  1. (The following text is also published in

    Teppo Felin refers in orgtheory, one of my favourite blogs, to a list of the 100 world-changing discoveries and ideas that resulted from research projects developed at UK universities in the past 50 years. The list is published in a report produced by Universities UK and subsequently summarised in an article published in The Guardian last week. One of the objectives of the report is showing how basic research is linked to the improvement of society and well being and it comes at a time when the UK government plans to change the current system of funding university research, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and replace it with a metrics system which is currently under consultation.

    Sadly, the report’s list does not include any discoveries found at business schools. Nevertheless it lists contributions originated at schools of social and political sciences: for example LSE, the London School of Economics of the University in London is credited with a significant number of new ideas that transformed society. The absence of b-schools in the list of research innovators is not a consequence of their relative youth as compared to other academic institutions, since many b-schools were founded more than 50 years ago, the lifespan surveyed in the study. Is there any other reason justifying the lack of creativity at business schools?

    Some months ago, a prestigious colleague from Europe told me that he believed there were very few ideas –if any- generated at business schools that have contributed to the transformation of real management practices. He sustained that the process of innovation in business knowledge works the other way round, that it starts with the analysis of real world practices and not in an academic vacuum. Management knowledge is made of human experiences, an amalgamation of “human devices”. Since the only management facts to be discovered exist in the real world –and not in some other ideal, platonic, sphere- the development of management knowledge is distinctively clinical. A similar solid line of reasoning can be found in a popular article by Bennis and O’Toole published in Harvard Business Review.

    I agree with Teppo that “Knowledge-building and research is about a systematic effort to explain, understand, and predict – driven by careful theory-building and data collection” but I am a little puzzled when he adds “that inherently choices need to be made as to which type of knowledge should be privileged, particularly in a b-school and university environment. Do we value scholarship (and teaching) that is theory-driven, or teaching (scholarship?) by executives that is experience-driven?”

    For a long time academia has strongly emphasized the excellence of “basic research”, and the lesser value of the so called “applied research”. It is probably time to reconcile the two and it seems that the “attached view of business schools” defended in a previous post works in this direction.

    I am happy to find Herbert H.L.A Hart´s contribution to Jurisprudence among the “ideas for ideals” selected among the 100 world-changing discoveries mentioned above. Hart was an exponent of how academia and practice could be combined almost perfectly and I was lucky to be tutored by him at Oxford in his later years as member of the University College. Interestingly, my understanding is that most of the ideas elaborated in his “The Concept of Law”, a work that transformed the way Law is taught at most western schools, were generated in his practice as a barrister, before he joined the academia. Indeed, Jurisprudence and the theoretical analysis of Law has been a typical area of clinical research. Business schools and law schools could exchange best practices on research and producing inventions that transform the world.


    Santiago Iniguez

    July 11, 2006 at 9:43 am

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