From the Head of SFI: “Belief and Science Policy”

Read this post on Frank Gannon’s blog concerning science policy.

6 replies on “From the Head of SFI: “Belief and Science Policy””

It would be great if Gannon were to follow up and use a fraction of the SFI budget to (1) evaluate whether R&D investments indeed have a high return; and (2) recommend improvements in current investments (if appropriate).

indeed this debate needs an evaluative strategy – there are examples of randomised trials in this domain of work too. SFI run enough schemes with enough ripples that with clever design the key issues can be evaluated.

So what we are saying is that there is no proof of any payoff for money specifically targetted at innovation.
Does that also apply to all scientific research?
Funding in the USA is often from private foundations set up as tax free charities that enable a tax write off for contributions thereto. Aggrandisement of the family name may spur public good. But the results may not need to be made public, I do not know, and if this were so, it would be a tax subsidy of fair proportion, defraying the cost. Due to our low CT rates, the subsidy to this end would be very small if done through the company as a business expense. As individuals, the tax subsidy would be greater, but our definition of charities, policed by the Revenue, may not encompass blue sky research, but it is so long since I worked in that area, policing not policy, that I am not certain. It is the identical test by Lord Eldon? set out in standard chancery cases and applied by the courts. It could easily be changed by statute. But families also endow colleges, eg Iveagh building at TCD. Again an essential cost for research.

@ Richard,

Richard, a simple read of this (excellent) blog over the past few weeks tells me that there is no consensus on how to measure R&D impact, particularly around ‘basic’ research. Given that organisations (even countries!) with bottomless budgets funding huge studies cannot provide a black and white answer on this thorny subject, how would you propose doing this in Ireland?

I don’t think there is an easy answer. Technological progress is hard to measure, and therefore it is hard to determine what drives it and what its impacts are.

That said, we do know a number of things and there is actually quite a large literature that quantifies many of the pieces of the puzzle.

With regard to Ireland, I would focus on two things. First, basic research is a global public good. The relevant question is the appropriate contribution of Ireland, rather than the appropriate level of spending.

Second, most basic research is done at universities. The issue is the labour market for academics, who are paid a pittance in money and a lot in freedom.

If you reform some universities to become centres of excellence (and close the rest), you automatically create a body of basic research.

That then leaves the much smaller question whether you would want to put pure research institutes (like the Germans Max Plancks or the French CNRS) on top of that.

I seem to be ducking the question. However, I think that regulatory reform of current research funding can bring a lot of benefits. This will take a good while, which then also buys time to answer the volume-of-research-funding question.

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