Stephen Shapin at Seed Magazine traces the development of the scientist over the last century or so, and presents some interesting facts along the way. His analysis concentrates on American science, and it would be useful to know how India fares. For examples, it appears only 9% of Americans feel that their tax dollars should be spent of science research which has no immediate technological or social benefits. Today almost two-thirds of all American science and engineering degree-holders are working either in the for-profit sector or are self-employed; only 9 percent work for colleges or universities. (There seems to be something special about this 9%).
Even pure science has long had a significant presence outside academia. At the origins of corporate research in the early 20th century, big companies such as General Electric, AT&T, Eastman Kodak, and DuPont were the dominant sponsors of industrial science, and although the great majority of their money went to applied research and development, government and academia then supplied so little funding for basic research that most of that too was done in industry. It is now widely said that the research laboratories of big industrial firms are on their way out: The decline and fall of Bell Labs and the so-called “crisis in innovation” in global Big Pharma have both made recent headlines. Yet, if anything, the place of science in the for-profit sector has become more secure due to the past four decades of growth by small, entrepreneurial high-tech and biotech firms, where the boundary between making things and making knowledge is increasingly unclear and even irrelevant, and by the burgeoning commitment to all sorts of scientific research by such companies as Microsoft, Intel, and, most visibly, Google. The commercial sector now does about 70 percent of all American R&D in dollar terms. And while the overwhelming majority of corporate R&D remains biased toward development and applied research, about a fifth of US basic research is still done in industry.I have no numbers for India, but I think it is obvious that the extent of 'pure science' supported by industrial or other commercial enterprises is negligible. This is clearly the result of our many years of socialism, and, of course has its good side -- scientists have a certain degree of autonomy which might not exist if they worked for commercial labs. (I do not see any industry in India with the kind of vision for unfettered research that the erstwhile Bell Labs had). On the other hand, there are always questions about how far the Indian Government can go to support basic science (this is even more true in my field of High Energy where applications to industry or to society do not exist, at least any time in the near future). And even with generous funding, its nature is highly skewed in the Indian context. Research Labs, IITs, IISERs are generously funded, whereas universities are starved of funds for even the most basic needs. Is the solution to look for at least partial funding (this can happen and is happening in condensed matter and in biology) from private sources and perhaps put up with some kind of partial loss of autonomy? Whatever it is, the article provides some useful talking points about the changing nature of the scientific profession.