So often I end up writing statements in grants such as "My research will cure (insert favorite cause here)." And I always feel a little weird about it. Because it certainly could be true, however much more likely is that my research will have little immediate effect. This is because I do basic research.
This article in Infection and Immunity really said it well. It is by Fang and Casadevall, accepted ahead of print. I know not everyone will be able to download this directly, but find it if you can, it is an amazing read.
In short, basic research is necessary in and of itself. We cannot predict the effect of a discovery. How would we have known that studying telomeres could lead to an understanding of aging, for example? So, when you hear politicians talk about "pork barrel spending" and "ridiculous research" that they get from a title of a grant, think about my favorite quote from their paper:
"We didn’t know at the time that there were any particular disease implications. We were just interested in the fundamental questions. . . (this) is really a tribute to curiosity-driven basic science"
--Nobel Laureate Carol Greider
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