Scientific research has never been entirely insulated from the incentives provided by the profit motive and the need to secure financial support. Scientists have always required funding, whether it be from personal funds, patrons, universities, or industry. Similarly, opportunities for scientific entrepreneurship have always existed. Since the early 1800s, however, scientific research has both required increasing amounts of capital investment and promised progressively greater financial returns. Consequently, scientists have been forced to rely on a broader range of funding sources and have become more willing to involve themselves in the financial implications of their work. This incremental "commercialization" of science has increased markedly since the early 1980s and poses challenges for both society and the research community.
Well into the early nineteenth century most scientists were indifferent to the commercial potential of their work and typically did not pursue large-scale or external financial support. Research then did not require huge expenditures, and many researchers believed that scientific research was the work of disinterested amateurs devoted to the pursuit of truth. In the mid- to late nineteenth century the development of the large-scale laboratory in Europe and ultimately in the United States increased the costs of research and foreshadowed the decline of the solitary, amateur researcher. At the same time, a variety of connections between industry and science developed. Many businesses employed their own scientists, but an increasing number established relationships with universities and employed academic scientists as consultants and researchers. While this trend continued in the early twentieth century, industry-sponsored research typically focused on applied-science projects. Basic research areas had yet to be viewed as fruitful areas of investment (Etzkowitz).
In the last half of the twentieth century, several developments enhanced the commercial aspects of science. The cost of basic science research continued to soar, requiring sophisticated equipment and resources, larger laboratories, and more staff. Basic research therefore has become increasingly dependent on financial support from either the government or the private sector. Scientific research, especially in the biomedical fields, promises to generate tremendous profits for those who control new discoveries. Moreover, the gap between basic and applied science has narrowed, so that discoveries can be translated into usable and profitable products with less energy and over a shorter span of time (Etzkowitz).
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