OOS 74-10
Beyond basic vs. applied: Practical criteria for assessing the usability of science

Thursday, August 13, 2015: 4:40 PM
317, Baltimore Convention Center
Dan Sarewitz, Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Elizabeth McNie, Western Water Assessment, Boulder, CO
Adam Parris, Jamaica Bay Science and Resilience Institute, New York, NY

Scientific research is increasingly understood as a social activity, one that often involves interactions between scientists and those broadly defined as "users" of scientific information.  The relations between scientists and users is often complex and multidimensional, and are manifested (1) in knowledge production activities, (2) in processes of learning and engagement, and (3) in aspects of institutional structure.  Yet the language and mental models for discussing research, and for formally assessing it, are still straightjacketed by the basic versus applied dichotomy.  Even Stokes' useful concept of use-inspired research gets its identity as a hybrid of basic and applied.  To allow for more realistic and useful conceptualization, design, management, and assessment of complex research activities and settings, we developed a new typology that portrays research in terms of the three broad activities listed above, which are further divided into 15 distinctive attributes, each of which in turn can be characterized by anyone familiar with a given science activity along a spectrum from highly science-focused to highly research-focused.


The typology provides the conceptual foundations, precise language, and analytical specificity that allows anyone involved in science policy to get beyond basic versus applied and actually encounter the complex richness of science as carried out in the real world. It allows resesarch activities to be understood in terms of the many ways that users may or may not be involved.  It provides a framework for assessing, designing, or simply understanding the range of activities of a science project or several projects across a program or institution at a given time and over a period of years.  Science managers can use the typology to help bring their expert judgment to bear on understanding the relations among (a) the complex attributes of research activities, (b) the expectations for and promises about the goals of science, and (c) the extent to which research activities are appropriately structured to advance desired societal outcomes. Applying the typology, or other rigorous methods of science policy assessment, across broad portfolios of science can support responsible decision making about science that supports public value.