The difference between applied and basic research is the amount of scientific rigor needed to publish. Just good enough is fine for something that is saving lives today and is the the way that medical science works. But, if the foundation research took that approach we would not end up saving any lives in the future.
Basic research (aka: science) sets foundations for applied research, which is not really science at all. Unfortunately, you cannot do both at the same time as they are based on completely different paradigms. Either you are testing fundamental theories (a deductive-driven process), or you are building something with that knowledge (an inductive-driven process).
Most science labs spend years studying something just to be able to ask the fundamental questions that are needed to test theories in science. The reality is, those labs are not tooled-up or skilled-up to then invent some new commercial product.
And, commercial products are what these folks who are pushing the Third Way are really after. The same people who lament the lack of “cooperation” between the pure sciences and the applied engineering or technical trades are those who think that the future capitalist economy can only be driven by “innovation” of new marketable products. Thus, they say, any dollar going to basic research puts our economy in a short term disadvantage compared to those who just focus on applied sciences. The push for a Third Way, or explicit (that is funding is tied to it) cooperation between pure and applied research is a further undermining of basic research funding. The folks who have pushed these programs in Canada date back to the 1996 Expert Panel on Commercialization of Research. They do not understand how the economy actually works, are undermining academic programs every where with this failing commercialization policy, and almost all not from the pure research realm.
Editorials like the recent one in the Times Higher Education (linked below) are starting to pop-up from apologists for the commercialization of research and corporatization of universities. Their program has failed to provide the boost to the economy that it promised – likely because it is not itself based on any pure research. In the same way as commercialization program was sold to Canadians as the necessary future of the academy – even though it was a recipe for privatization of our universities and research – this too is nothing but more of the same failed program.
As our government research programs and our academic programs are aligned directly with short-term interests of big business and we demand our researchers explain how their research benefits industry to get funding, we further deny future generations the true innovation that comes from the pure sciences. In the end, it all amounts to a giant subsidy to private industry and an outsourcing of what they should be doing to our low-waged and increasingly precarious academic researchers.
Surely by now we have learned that anyone offering a Third Way between two fundamentally different things is selling nothing but nonsense.