On science, innovations and tremendous difference between them

доктор фізико-математичних наук, провідний науковий співробітник відділу фізики біологічних систем Інституту фізики НАН України
On science

“Science and Innovation” – this phrase is used so often that we frequently put the equality sign between two words in it. But is it really so? Are innovations the objective and the result of scientific activity? I would say no.

Let’s start with the fact that there is no clear and unambiguous definition of innovation. There are over 40 (!) definitions of this term, which differ from each other in different contexts and fields. According to English Wikipedia innovation is defined as: “New idea, device or method, that meets new requirements and market needs. This is accomplished through more-effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models that are readily available to markets, governments and society. Innovation – is something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that breaks into the market and society”. Please note that science is nowhere to be mentioned here. It is not the coincidence – most English-language sources do not define innovations in the context of scientific achievements.

Let’s try to find out what is the difference between fundamental science, applied science, engineering and invention. Let’s assume that you have to create some device. If it may be composed of units and materials, available on the market, based on the existing technologies – this is engineering. If there are no certain technologies, then their development is the applied science. If it is unknown at all on what principles and under what laws of nature your device will work and whether it is possible at all, then clarification of this is the fundamental science. Inventing and innovating are another story – roughly speaking, this is the smart use of well-known technologies and engineering solutions, which has never been occurred to someone before.

This vulgarized explanation makes it apparent that the engineering and invention are the natural sources of innovation. Engineers and inventors are the only persons creating new market products, which have the direct impact on the economy and society. Shall such innovations be based on new scientific achievements? It doesn’t follow that. New version of mobile phone is innovation without any doubt, but it may have no new technology or material at all. New business-processes (such as new conveyor lines at Ford factories at that time) are of great importance, but bear no relation to science. Numerous software startups are innovations, but the overwhelming majority of them do not use any new scientific achievements.

Unfortunately, there is completely distorted idea of innovations in Ukraine. Let’s open Ukrainian Wikipedia: “Innovation – is the idea in the field of technique, technology, organization of labor, management, as well as in other fields of scientific and social activity, based on the use of scientific achievements and advanced experience, is the eventual result of innovative activity”. Moreover, one can often come across even more emphasized definition – innovation is a product, or even objective, of scientific activity.

This confusion is a consequence of decreasing educational level of our society. The overwhelming majority of people in Ukraine have no basic knowledge of the natural sciences, therefore they mix together everything that is “complicated and unclear with some kind of formulas” – science, technologies, engineering, invention and high-tech business. They call such mess a “science” in a vulgar common sense. The same dangerous misunderstanding is demonstrated by our government. This is the point from where appear odious statements like “science shall feed itself on its own” (this is business and industry who shall feed themselves on their own, and science has always been subsidized, as the education or army are), “science shall meet the market needs” (this is engineers and investors, who shall meet the needs, and science shall generate new knowledge), “children’s robotics clubs train future scientists” (the maximum they may train is the engineers), etc.

Science is really the foundation for innovations, but this thesis is interpreted around here in a completely wrong way. For some reason, there is a belief that the scientific result shall instantly turn into market innovation – right here, right now (mentality of our business aimed at quick super-profits declares itself). When this does not happen, Ukrainian scientists are started to be habitually called “useless eaters” and accused of economic problems. In fact, it may take decades to move from obtaining fundamental scientific result to its practical application (as it was with radioactivity or the theory of relativity). Most of fundamental knowledge never had direct practical usage. Instead it is used as the bricks in scientific picture of the world, without which no knowledge eventually becoming market products may ever emerge.

Innovation-driven development and productive cooperation between science, business and state are only possible when all stakeholders finally stop being confused in terms. Let’s finally teach ourselves to distinguish between fundamental science, applied science, engineering and entrepreneurship. The state and businessmen shall understand that the objective of existence of pure science is not “serving the business” or “producing innovations”. There shall be engineers, managers, inventors, rationalizers, businessmen-startupers and investors – it is their duty to transform the awareness of universe gained by the science into market innovations. These people – are not scientists, they have completely different professional skills. Scientists are not able to take their place and demanding this from them is a nonsense. The high-tech economy sector will only prosper when such chain is built and each chain link minds its own affairs.