Sunday, 25 October 2015

Inconvenient truths - public funding of science doesn't promote economic growth


I'm in favour of science. Mostly for the "cor, wow" factor and because what scientists do at the far boundaries of our knowledge is fantastic. I'm even in favour of some of our taxes being spent on that science. But not because it helps in any way towards the growth in our economy.

In 2003, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a paper on the “sources of economic growth in OECD countries” between 1971 and 1998 and found, to its surprise, that whereas privately funded research and development stimulated economic growth, publicly funded research had no economic impact whatsoever. None. This earthshaking result has never been challenged or debunked. It is so inconvenient to the argument that science needs public funding that it is ignored.

When I did my masters degree, I looked at this stuff and the evidence is pretty clear - investment in research and development by firms is very effective in drive economic growth whereas there's no link between said growth and investment in research and development by governments or government agencies. Rather than the preferred university-led approach to research we need to look at firm-led approaches. Here's what I found:

There is evidence to suggest that university-led innovation strategies focusing on collaboration and the spinning off of businesses from HEIs leads to a misplaced focus on scientific research rather than business growth (Jones 1995, Frenz & Oughton 2005). Perhaps the most effective way to generate effective innovation at the level of the firm (where it has a direct impact on economic performance) is to reduce the barriers to innovation. The biggest of these barriers is cost and econometric models suggest that reducing innovation costs is more effective that investing in R&D or building innovation networks and systems (Martin 1999).

It won't happen, of course, because the system is controlled by universities and the friends of universities.


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