Because research never leads to anything...

Fri 29 August 2008 | tags: Rants

Slashdot | Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research

One of the things in our society that really pisses me off is the tendency of companies to make short-sighted, long reaching decisions to their companies. One of the decisions that I generally don't agree with is the cutting of research budgets in companies. Research is often looked at by the companies that sponsor it as a cost-center (places that cost a lot of money, and offer little benefit). I would submit that some companies have benefited from research, and none more than Ma Bell (whatever her guise of the month may be). Bell Labs brought us goodies like the humble transistor (which makes modern life possible), and UNIX (of which I have a personal fondness).

Scotch (3M) and Google have both invested in research and innovation (and arguably make it part of their company goals). We owe the humble Post-It note to research, and items like Google Mail, Google Calendar and Google Reader are the results of interested employees at Google taking a stab at making something interesting.

Without research, a company becomes nothing more than an echo-chamber of other people's ideas. Without research, companies lose a competitive advantage over their competitors who do research. Research brings about ideas, and ideas are like water for a plant; water the plant well, and it will bear fruit. Starve the plant of water, and it will become dulled, and dry up into a shrivelled husk of itself.

I hope the senior staff at Alcatel / Lucent learn the error of their ways before it's too late, but I fear closing the physics lab is merely a formality. It's a shame that more emphasis isn't placed on research facilities in Corporate America, but when the bottom line becomes your primary focus, making sure the long-term viability of your company is the last thing on your mind.