Letter: A long-term view for scientific research

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Sir: Martin Evans is surely correct when he says in his letter that the neglect of scientific research will result in a dearth of new ways to improve the nation's wealth (4 June).

Consider the history of the development of the laser. The first milestone in the development of the laser is regarded as Einstein's theoretical paper of 1917, in which he predicted that there should be two kinds of light emissions by matter, spontaneous and stimulated.

The first laser was built by the American scientist Theodore Maiman in 1960. It was at first regarded as a 'solution looking for a problem'. Communicating by sending laser light impulses down hair-thin optical fibres was first proposed in 1966. It took 10 years before British Telecom had Europe's first optical fibre system carrying public calls. By 1987 105,000 miles of optical fibre had been installed in the British telecommunications network.

The implications of this example for government science policy is clear. A longer-term view of costs and benefits of basic scientific research is essential.

Yours sincerely,