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The empty cell in the quadrant model of scientific research in Stokes (1997).

Today, I am going to introduce a little old but still inspiring book written by Stokes (1997). The title of the book is the Pasteur's Quadrant.

Basic and applied research

In this book, the author explained differences between basic and applied research and the relationship between the two.

  • Basic research is conducted to improve our understanding of the world. It is purely theory-driven. The results of this type of study do not lead any practical use.
  • Applied research is conducted to use the technology for solving practical issues.

This idea is very natural and seems to be necessary to define "science". However, the author addressed conflict in this concept: If the research is useful for both understanding of the world and the practical use, it is wrongly regarded as unsatisfactory for both basic and applied research.

The quadrant model of science

To resolve the conflict in the mere distinction of basic and applied research, the author proposed the quadrant model (i.e., two dimensional model) of scientific research.

One dimension is whether the research is aimed for expanding knowledge of our world. The other dimension is whether the research is aimed for practical use.

expand knowledge?
practical use? no yes
yes Pure applied(Edison) Use-inspired basic(Pasteur)
no Pure basic(Bohr)

In the figure, three of the four cells are filled with the names of well-known scientists: Bohr, Edison, and Pasteur.
A comprehensive introduction of the model is seen in wikipedia.
Pasteur's quadrant - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
So, please see the linked page for descriptions in each cell.

The empty cell in the model

When I saw the figure of the quadrant model, my primary concern was why one of the cells was blank. This might mean that there are no studies in this category or scientists should not conduct such studies. Does it mean so? Actually, NO. The author explicitly mentioned that this cell is important to characterize the whole quadrant model. According to the author, the research in this category is thinking of a specific phenomenon (e.g., replications) and reviewing the previous studies. Since such studies have wide ranges, the author could not give the specific name for this quadrant.

The importance of conducting "no-name" research

I think the research of the lower left cell (I call "no-name" quadrant) is as important as or more important than those in the other cells, especially for students and young post-docs. This is because the scientist should have the state-of-the-art technology by their own hand. Currently, many scientific fields are getting more and more advanced and complex. Thus, if you want to make a great step in the "named" cells, you had better have good training with the replication of previous scientific findings. To achieve this, you have to learn and practice a lot about the techniques which is used to get the previous findings. Once you replicate the finding using some high techniques, you will have some confidence about your new finding in your future research. Otherwise, you will be worrying the new finding as the failure of replicating the previous studies. In addition, a good review of a field is useful to draw the line between "no-name" and "named" cells. Once you can find the edge of "no-name" research, you are ready to go out of it. Thus, we, including me, should spent enough time for "no-name" research.