Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization

Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization

by Donald W. Braben
Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization

Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization

by Donald W. Braben


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A radical and timely proposal for reinvigorating transformative scientific discovery.

So rich was the scientific harvest of the early 20th century that it transformed entire industries and economies. Max Planck laid the foundation for quantum physics, Barbara McClintock for modern genetics, Linus Pauling for chemistry—the list goes on.

In the 1970s, the nature of scientific work started to change. Increases in public funding for scientific research brought demands that spending be justified, a system of peer review that selected only the research proposals promising the greatest returns, and a push for endless short-term miracles instead of in-depth, boundary-pushing research. A vicious spiral of decline began.

In Scientific Freedom, Donald W. Braben presents a framework to find and support cutting-edge, much-needed scientific innovation. Braben—who led British Petroleum’s Venture Research initiative, which aimed to identify and aid researchers challenging current scientific thinking—explains:

  • The conditions that catalyzed scientific research in the early 20th century
  • The costs to society of our current research model
  • The changing role of the university as a research institution
  • How BP’s Venture Research initiative succeeded by minimizing bureaucracy and peer review, and the program’s impact
  • The selection, budget, and organizational criteria for implementing a Venture Research program today.
Even in the earliest stages, transformative and groundbreaking research can look unrecognizable to those who are accustomed to the patterns established by the past. Support for this research can, in fact, be low risk and offer rich rewards, but it requires rethinking the processes used to discover and sponsor scientists with groundbreaking ideas—and then giving those innovators the freedom to explore.

First published in 2008, this new edition of Scientific Freedom includes over 30 redesigned charts and figures and a new foreword by Donald Braben.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780578675916
Publisher: Stripe Press
Publication date: 10/20/2020
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Donald W. Braben is a scientist and author. From 1980 to 1990, he led British Petroleum’s Venture Research program, for which he developed a radical, low-cost approach to finding and funding researchers whose work might redefine their fields. Of the dozens of projects supported by the program, many led to transformative discoveries. He has held positions at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, the Science Research Council in London, and the Bank of England. He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the Universityof Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the First Trust Bank Chair of Innovation at Queen’s UniversityBelfast. He currently holds an honorary position at UniversityCollege London. He lives in the United Kingdom.

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Table of Contents

List of Posters
Introduction to New Edition

— Introduction
1 The Damocles Zone
2 Scientific Freedom and Transformative Research
3 Mismanagement by Objectives: The Need for Fresh Approaches
4 Searching for Planck’s Successors
5 Universityies for the Twenty-First Century: The Case for a Fifth Revolution
6 Venture (or Transformative) Research: How It Works in Practice
7 The Venture Research Harvest


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The real value of the book is that it shows that unconstrained funding can really work and it tells us how." (ChemBioChem, November 2008)

"Braben does an excellent job of highlighting the need to reassess the selection criteria used to decide what scientific projects receive funding. The arguments provided throughout the volume's seven chapters are compelling, and although the book discusses issues in various scientific disciplines in some detail, it is accessible even to those who lack expertise in a given field. This volume is highly recommended for anyone with a general interest in the history of science or the current state of scientific research." (Quarterly Review of Biology, December 2008)

"Braben’s bold thinking examines a problem that for too long has been largely ignored and gives a timely warning." (Chemistry World, September 2008)

"Scientific Freedom is a timely, eye-opening book on the current state of scientific research." (, February 22, 2008

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