There is a reasonably settled consensus within the innovation community that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research is more ‘useful’ to societies than other types of research, notably social sciences and humanities (SSH) research. Our paper questions this assumption, and seeks to empirically test whether STEM researchers’ practices make their research more useful than that of SSH researchers. A critical reading of the discussion around SSH research supports developing a taxonomy of differences. This is tested using a database of 1,583 researchers from the Spanish Council for Scientific Research. Results do not support the view that SSH research is less useful than STEM research, even if differences are found in the nature of both transfer practices and their research users. The assumption that STEM research is more useful than SSH research needs revision if research policy is to properly focus on research which is useful for society.