August 05, 2022
Promote Basic Science
- Roger Kornberg, Nobel laureate, WLA Chairman

I will speak about basic science, the hope of human progress. The World Laureates Association is devoted to the support of science worldwide.

It is science that separates us from a primitive condition. And it is science that may in the future be the salvation of mankind. More specifically, the World Laureates Association advocates for basic science and it supports the next generation of scientists.

I will explain what is meant by basic science and about the importance of young scientists. I'll give the example of medical science relevant today in the age of COVID, though what I have to say is applicable to all areas of science. If I were to ask any one of you, what were the major advances in medical science of the past century, most would make a similar list. X-rays for both diagnosis and treatment, antibiotics which have largely eradicated bacterial disease, noninvasive imaging for early detection of cancer and other conditions. Genetic engineering, the basis of most new medicines.

The list could go on. These medical advances have one thing in common. They were all discoveries made in the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake with no notion of any application, no idea of curing disease. The lesson of the past of medical science is therefore counterintuitive.

To solve a difficult problem in medical science, don't study it directly but rather pursue a curiosity about nature and the rest will follow. Do basic research. Another lesson from the past relates to the support of basic research. This has come from government rather than from industry, and for a good reason, because the timeline is very long. Fundamental problems take decades to solve. Only the public, only government with a long range interest in improving the human condition will support such an undertaking, industry with a short term interest in the bottom line can hardly be expected to do so.

The return on investment by government in basic research has been huge. The eradication of polio, the cure of childhood leukemia and many other diseases have saved vast amounts of money in treatment and productivity as well as human suffering.

There is a further overarching purpose to basic research. An urge to explore is part of our human nature. It was a major factor in the evolution of our species. It has motivated us to go to the moon and to outer space. The exploration of inner human space is no less grand. It is also an expression of the human spirit.