Michael Hennigan continues the debate on research funding in today’s Irish Times.
Research funding is good, but so are decent primary schools, a decent health service, and many other things. From what we read in the papers, it seems likely that the state is going to cut social welfare payments this winter. Against that background, vested interests seeking state money need to carefully justify their demands for public funding. If the argument people are making in favour of university research funding is economic, then we are entitled to expect rigourous cost-benefit analysis of some sort from them, rather than the faith-based appeals we generally get.
(My own view, for what it is worth, is that academics are very foolish if they allow the argument in favour of university research to become an economic one. If that argument becomes generally accepted, then the most important research funding which any of us receives — that is, the portion of our salaries not related to teaching, which allows us to study whatever we want, including such arcana as economic history — will presumably come under scrutiny, in which case it will be time to pack it in.)
More generally, Ireland is a small open economy, and we are only ever going to make a vanishingly small contribution to pushing back the world technological frontier. Does it not follow that the priority here should be on innovation policy — helping companies apply best-practice technology — rather than on invention policy — creating the best-practice technology ourselves? In order to evaluate such a proposition, I guess you would need empirical evidence on inter alia the extent to which new technologies are geographically mobile.
As a final note, I am pleased that Michael picks up on the utterly embarrassing references to Stanford we heard earlier in the summer.