The Importance of Research and Development (I)

Current situation about research and development in some countries.

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We are currently facing a society in which changes are implemented rapidly and that are difficult to assimilate at the same pace. Changes at a political, economical and most of all, at a social level, in terms of structure and code values that govern human interdependence.

This phenomena strongly affects the area of research and development, more concretely to its social importance, economics and management.

The term R+D+i (Research, Development and Innovation) appears frequently in the news and gives a very good impression when a politician speaks about it although the context is not generally understood by the public.

Scientific research (R) can be defined as a set of studies and diverse activities directed to knowledge generation in any branch of, or out of, experimental science. Development (D) are those studies which will allow us to implement those products or processes in the industrial field which have been previously piloted in a lab. Innovation (I) refers to the effective implementation of the outcome coming from the development of productive processes, resulting on a real improvement or an increment of the added value for the products being studied.

Technology is the science applied to the implementation of processes and activities which impact on the satisfaction of the consumers and creating a better way of life (theoretically). It is perfectly known from the consumers side that the technological developments coming from medicine, pharmaceutical, chemistry, electronics or others, allowed us to be able to acquire products or services that improve our way of life and health, between other aspects.

Research can also be classified as basic or fundamental and applied. Basic research is of capital importance and needed in order to be able to generate new products and processes that satisfy our needs. Before technology and innovation we need basic research. The aforementioned is the knowledge source generated by thousands of researchers throughout the years which is used by all researchers and technologists nowadays.

Science development is based on small contributions which everyone of the thousand of researchers contribute every year. We cannot abandon this scientific approach for political reasons and believe only that we need an applied research. Applied research is mandatory but is needed t be complemented by fundamental research and that is what research financial managers need to see and create long term plans to achieve it.  Basic research is not only about philosophy but it is the knowledge basics from where future technical applications are born. Therefore, we need to clarify that both types of research are complementary.

On the other hand, we need to discriminate between public and private research (research undertaken within universities from research in private companies). This differentiation is crucial to analyse who has to be the research propellant and why.

A private company has the objective of obtaining benefits by selling a product or service satisfying consumers’ needs. Thus, the objective of private research is to develop new products or add value to the current ones. As an example, pharmaceutical companies are not NGOs as they exist as long as they have benefits. This type of industry makes a great effort researching and investing huge sums of money (sometimes up to a 15 % of their turnover) in developing new product with the objective of improving health. However, these companies research on those areas which are cost-effective and when the population target is high, on the contrary, those rare diseases (those diseases that affect 5 or less people out of 10,000) are forgotten from the point of view of research strategy. Rare diseases treatments are researched by using public funding in universities and hospitals. Public funding must aim here, where the private initiative ends.

Moreover, there are very few companies which dedicate its core process to basic research, with the exception of big multinationals in particular areas in which they develop it. From the previous explanation we can deduct where public research must be focused (basic and applied): the development of scientific and technical knowledge in all areas of knowledge, giving emphasis in those areas that affect directly over human wellbeing and economics. This does not mean that public research should set aside private one and that public funding should not be given to private entities. Furthermore, public governments have to liaise, facilitate and encourage private research, establishing bonds and collaboration with public entities (Universities, CSIC, Research Institutes).