HKS Library Virtual Book Tour

About Authors:

Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Research Professor of Technology and Public Policy at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Harvard Kennedy School.

Toluwalogo Odumosu, Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society and Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia.

Book Description:

Separating Science into ‘Basic’ and ‘Applied’ Categories Limits Research and Hinders Policy. Narayanamurti and Odumosu Explain the False Distinction and Provide a Blueprint for Change in U.S. Science and Technology.

Cycles of Invention and Discovery: Rethinking the Endless Frontier offers an in-depth look at the real-world practice of science and engineering. It shows how the standard categories of “basic” and “applied” have become a hindrance to the organization of the U.S. science and technology enterprise. Tracing the history of these problematic categories, Venkatesh Narayanamurti and Toluwalogo Odumosu document how historical views of policy makers and scientists have led to the construction of science as a pure ideal on the one hand and of engineering as a practical (and inherently less prestigious) activity on the other. Even today, this erroneous but still widespread distinction forces these two endeavors into separate silos, misdirects billions of dollars, and thwarts progress in science and engineering research.

The authors contrast this outmoded perspective with the lived experiences of researchers at major research laboratories. Using such Nobel Prize–winning examples as magnetic resonance imaging, the transistor, and the laser, they explore the daily micro-practices of research, showing how distinctions between the search for knowledge and creative problem solving break down when one pays attention to the ways in which pathbreaking research actually happens. By studying key contemporary research institutions, the authors highlight the importance of integrated research practices, contrasting these with models of research in the classic but still-influential report Science the Endless Frontier. Narayanamurti and Odumosu’s new model of the research ecosystem underscores that discovery and invention are often two sides of the same coin that moves innovation forward.


“The authors make a substantial contribution to both research policy as practiced by our federal government and the operations of research laboratories in many institutions in our country. This book should be required reading for government officials who fund research and to all who lead large research efforts.”—Thomas E. Everhart, California Institute of Technology

“Anyone interested in technology and innovation will want to learn the three lessons of Cycles of Invention and Discovery. First, the distinction between basic and applied research is false. Second, there is harmony not dissonance in making the transition from new ideas to practical application. Third, the advance of knowledge has entirely blurred the distinction between science and engineering. Only an individual with Venky Narayanamurti’s unique career could explain these matters in such captivating detail.”—John M. Deutch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“In this convincingly argued book, Narayanamurti and Odumosu—one of them with decades of experience in research management and the other with a deep understanding of science and technology studies—explain why the false distinction between basic and applied science has led to profoundly wasteful policy decisions. Their insights also lead to excellent, practical suggestions for change. Cycles of Invention and Discovery is a must-read for research managers, science policymakers, and everyone concerned with the future of innovation.”—Ruth Schwartz Cowan, author of A Social History of American Technology

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Cycles of Invention and Discovery

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