Knowledge Is a Kind of Infrastructure

We need better roads, bridges and airports—but pure, curiosity-driven science is no less vital

When we think of infrastructure, we tend to think of the physical facilities and systems required for a country and its economy to function and thrive—roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways as President Donald Trump specified in his February 28 speech to Congress.

Maintaining our national infrastructure is crucial. Potholes and crumbling edifices clearly indicate that something needs fixing. But knowledge is infrastructure too. Science and technology are the basis of the modern economy and key to solving many serious environmental, social, and security challenges. Basic research, driven by curiosity, freedom, and imagination, provides the groundwork for all applied research and technology. And just as we have to break the endless cycle of temporary fixes to our transportation, long-term investments in knowledge are vital, especially nowadays when short-term objectives and results seem to capture the most attention and dollars.

Read more as Robbert Dijkgraaf, Institute Director and Leon Levy Professor, argues the importance of budgeting for basic research, an investment in knowledge, which is a truly public good.

This article was published under the title "Curiosity-Driven Knowledge Is a Vital Form of Infrastructure" in the June 2017 issue of Scientific American.