Well, doing research is a multi-dimensional skill. Doing successful research must exceed the bounds of printed paper, and leap out to influence opinions and opinion shapers. That seems enough of a good reason for me.
My motivation is very selfish: I like to understand why and how. I worked for some time in consulting which allowed me to find the how but not the why because it was always time to move on to another project... academic research allows me that freedom. Indeed, I consider it a privilege to be allowed time to think, rather than just do.