more am I pleading for the abolition of
the word "use," and for the freeing of the
human spirit. To be sure, we shall thus
free some harmless cranks. To be sure,
we shall thus waste some precious dollars.
But what is infinitely more important
is that we shall be striking the
shackles off the human mind and setting
But despite his essay being 70 years old, the points are as timely today as they were then, and they have only grown more pressing: Without basic research, progress is not sustainable and applications will eventually run dry. Believing that applied research produces technological advances is like saying electricity comes from the holes in your outlet.
Flexner was also ahead of his time in clearly realizing that science is a community enterprise, driven by social dynamics and the interaction of experts, and not by single individuals working on their own:
- “[O]ne must
be wary in attributing scientific discovery
wholly to anyone person. Almost every
discovery has a long and precarious history.
Someone finds a bit here, another
a bit there. A third step succeeds later
and thus onward till a genius pieces the
bits together and makes the decisive contribution.
Science, like the Mississippi,
begins in a tiny rivulet in the distant
forest. Gradually other streams swell
its volume. And the roaring river that
bursts the dikes is formed from countless