Science-Based Innovation is Essential to Solving the World’s Problems

science-based innovation

There is a small but unified minority within the scientific community that wants to leverage science-based innovation to solve practical problems. The ideology of this group represents an optimistic vision, where science is a vehicle for economic development in the areas of greatest need. For members of this group, science is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

Science means opportunity. Science means a better quality of life. Science is the collective fortitude of intellectual satisfaction being launched in a way that helps those cannot help themselves.

Indeed, for this group, to do science for its own sake and not distil its findings into concepts and solutions is a disservice to society.

The Innovation Radar Publication is the home for ideas such as these.

We encourage wanting to carry out wild ideas and philosophies about how to improve our world. These ideas are easily and freely exchanged. Here’s why science-based innovation holds the key fixing the world’s problems:

Science is the original “disruptive technology”

Creating a disruptive technology is the new ideal for entrepreneurship. People spend countless hours thinking about how to innovate or use technology to replace the mundane tasks that populate people’s lives.

Uber has been a fantastic story but outsourcing tasks to another is not that disruptive to the human experience. When autonomous vehicles replace all the Uber drivers, disruption in its truest form will emerge. Case in point, self-driving cars are started to enter the marketplace in select cities. As a result, new ideas about the shape of cities and the need for traffic lights have evolved. Research on autonomous intersection management suggests that without human drivers, there will no longer be a need for devices like traffic signals to aid human drivers in crossing an intersection. The phenomena will change the way we organize our cities and the employment prospects of professional truck drivers.

It seems that in today’s Silicon Valley worshiping culture, people often forget that the original disruptive technologies are based in science. The inventions that fundamentally changed the way people lived and improved their living standards, had nothing to do with democratizing access to social luxuries. They raised the mass consciousness of how to live a better life.

The light bulb (link, link).

The telephone (link, link).

The vaccine (link, link, link).

Targeted cancer therapy (link, link).

Solar generated electricity (link, link).

These are a core examples that changed the course of human existence.

Science is fundamentally the search for solutions

In scientific research, the premise of an experiment is to refine a method to solve a problem. This is not necessarily the case in the business world. The Lean Startup received lots of acclaim for telling hopeful entrepreneurs that if they were not solving a real problem, they did not have a sustainable business model.

As obvious as the premise of the book seems, there were a number of would-be business owners that did not understand the concept. Much like business, science is the search for answers to unanswered questions and solutions to persistent problems.

The current economic, geopolitical and environmental issues facing society are persistent problems and a collection of unanswered questions. The American economy faces a shortage of affordable housing and a shrinking pool of well-paying jobs for those in the labor force. Global relations are extremely tense and the markets are not sure how to react to modern day uprisings like Brexit and Italy’s referendum. We need solutions to clean energy and a plan to mitigate the real risk of sea level rise.

These are big problems. Science-based innovation and help, if directed appropriately.

The issue is not that traditional science cannot benefit society. The issue lies in the kind of questions science chooses to answer. Here’s the harsh reality: Academia can be a waste of time when real results and data-driven solutions are needed.

The disconnect occurs because society values doing. Academics aren’t doers. They can be, but aren’t necessarily incentivized to do so. They theorize about what might be and how something could be. But when it comes right down to it, academics do not enter the world’s stage to implement or test the theory.

With the proper incentives in place, academics could engage in community-based participatory research. The mindset of problem-solving already thrives in the scientific community, it only needs to be directed towards practical outcomes.

Keep it in perspective, science is only one piece of the pie

As we draw attention to the untapped potential in academia, we can also outline methods for private sector to address societal needs. Scientific research is only one piece of a pie that makes the economy vibrant. Indeed, there are many examples of public-private partnerships between universities and industry making significant strides to improve our world (link, link, link, link). 

Academia is excellent at solving big problems and serving up technology that is truly disruptive with the ability to transform our daily lives. Where industry shines is in its ability to commercialize an idea and bring it to market. Both sides are needed to work towards the common goal. Paired together, science-based innovation really does have the ability to fix the world’s problems while mobilizing the private sector to commercialize the best ideas.

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Richelle Thomas, PhD

Dr. Thomas is a science communicator at the intersection of materials science research, ideation and innovation. As a Fulbright scholar, she is constantly in search of ways to leverage scientific innovation for business and entrepreneurship applications. She has had roles in process development for building materials, corporate sustainability and government affairs.

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