Hierarchy of Research

  • Author: ChemViews
  • Published Date: 05 April 2014
  • Source / Publisher: Angewandte Chemie International Edition/Wiley-VCH
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA
thumbnail image: Hierarchy of Research

Adam Heller, The University of Texas, Austin, TX, USA, ranks research according to its value for mankind and how critical and independent it is. First in his hierarchy comes research aimed at uncovering a truth of nature, like the existence of the fullerenes. Besides sheer beauty and elegance, such research enables most of the people-serving and lifeextending products, processes, and services.
Second is applied research aimed at people-serving products, processes, and services, like stereoregular polymerization of α-olefins by Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta. Characteristic for creators of important processes and products is their ability to switch tools, methods, processes, materials, and components whenever they learn of a superior one.

Third is research for the purpose of teaching, as this trains future researchers who might uncover truths and create products or processes. Equally important is data-, method-, and tool-providing fundamental research, as it provides the necessary means to those who uncover truths and to those who innovate. An example of an important methode is Kary Mullis’ DNA amplification by the polymerase chain reaction.

At the bottom of Heller’s hierarchy is taxpayer-funded, chronically unsuccessful applied research. Such research is often pursued by large groups of laborers, headed by a fundraising leader, who manages to have their projects judged only by publications. The number of the resulting publications is massive and their co-authors are many.

To overcome the problem that such research is funded, Heller suggests that publications and citations should be by-products of successful applied research and not its essence, and that public-funded applied research should be managed by directors appointed for their proven ability to distinguish between innovative applied research and chronically nonproductive applied research.

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