Irish Innovation: While basic or curiosity research is important, Irish and European science lobbies are pressurising governments to give funding priority to it even though innovation does not necessarily follow from science. Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council (ERC) says: "Scientific curiosity, given sufficient space and autonomy, remains the most powerful driving force behind the completely unforeseeable transformations in how our societies develop. In order to understand what science can do for Europe, it is important to clarify what science - - that is, curiosity-driven frontier research -- cannot do for Europe: deliver results that can immediately be commercialised." True but Europe's more important problem is that it is poor at innovation, which mainly depends on utilising existing knowledge rather than new scientific discoveries. The scientists want to have control of budgets with no mission targets even though Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), one of Europe's greatest scientists, had the goal of improving public health and historically, the US government's spending on basic research, has always had some mission goal: the Manhattan Project; the Cold War, the Space Mission and Public Health.
The late Donald Stokes, who was dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, in a 1997 book on the relationship between science and technology, argued that while the basic research community likes to equate ‘basic’ with ‘blue skies’ or ‘curiosity-driven’ research, he highlights ‘Pasteur’s Quadrant’ (see chart above) - - use-inspired basic research - - which has huge economic and scientific importance and forms a large part ‘basic’ research that properly belong in this quadrant. Pasteur was driven simultaneously by both deep curiosity and a strong interest in improving human life.
In 1945, Vannevar Bush, a scientific adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had put forward a model for public support of peacetime research based on a linear model with two fundamental postulates: first, "basic research is performed without thought of practical ends," and second, "basic research is the pacemaker of technological progress."
Stokes' book 'Pasteur's Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation,' (Google Books), argued that Bush's model did not reflect the actual practice of science and technology and he provided several examples of research that does not conform to the distinction between basic and applied. He highlighted Pasteur, whose work in microbiology was both basic and applied at the same time.
A study, commissioned by EARTO (European Association of Research and Technology Organisations) and conducted by the Technopolis Group, a European technology and science consultancy, reviews the scientific literature on the links between research and innovation and examines how governments outside of Europe spend on R&D, and the implications for the European Commission's Horizon 2020 research and innovation plan.
The study published in December 2012, stresses the need to take a systemic view of innovation, with adequate space for both curiosity-driven research and mission-oriented work, where the role of government is not just to fund research but to ensure that the links between the different actors and functions within the innovation system operate effectively. The report concludes that Horizon 2020 should give greater weight to mission-driven, problem-solving research as well as to post-research development and innovation activities, and should also strengthen its governance so as to ensure a strong and enduring focus on innovation.
The study says that most innovation arises from the use of existing knowledge and the most successful commercial innovators are not the pioneers. Think of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Samsung and Facebook.
Advances in technology are not necessarily science-driven and the airplane and transistor are cited as technologies where the science followed. Historically, science does not breed technology. It's usually the reverse.
Science Foundation Ireland could meet its goal of Ireland being a big name in science by 2020 but the impact on innovation could be very limited.
In Europe, there is what is termed the "European Paradox" where good or excellent research does not result in innovation. However, the problem is that Europeans are poor at innovation in modern sectors. Most big European companies were born before 1950 and more research spending is not going to solve the problem (Nokia outspent Apple about 4:1 on research).
Ireland's commercial research base is small and areas such as biotech have a high degree of risk: most companies never make a profit and in 2012, only 12% of 286 US firms on public exchanges reported a profit. International research shows that university-industry links improve research performance but as we have seen recently, foreign multinationals in Ireland are not interested in funding Irish university research. That is a huge roadblock as without them, research that may have the potential of being commercialised, would likely have a very small local market or none.
Only about 20% of tech firms reach their tenth birthday and Ireland has traditionally had a low rate of firm formation.
Irish third level institutions are important in the education of science and technology graduates as is research funding but claims made by insiders that research is crucial to the recovery, are not credible.
For more detail see here:
Prof Nowotny said in 2011 that by 2013, the ERC "must have convinced the EU and its governing bodies to establish the ERC as a permanent and independent institution, dedicated solely to the funding of leading researcher with the scientifically most creative ideas."
However, the Technopolis Group study opposed such a move while supporting both basic and applied research funding.
In 2012 in Ireland, a government group recommended 14 research areas for Irish public funding but Irish university researchers have been warning of severe consequences.
Main points of study:
“Basic” (or “fundamental” or “pure” or “blue-skies” or “frontier” …) research is only one ingredient in a well-functioning innovation system
The “European paradox” is not about failing to extract value from basic research. Europe is simply not good enough at innovation
Horizon 2020 as an innovation programme, key watchwords must be: focus, balance, and governance
-stagnation in the level of research and innovation effort, especially in business
- EARTO has several times called for the creation of such over-arching Innovation Councils (cf. EARTO Position on the Next Generation of European Union Research and Innovation Programmes, January 2011). The European Parliament Horizon 2020 Rapporteurs Carvalho and Madurell have both made similar proposals for “Advisory Boards”, while ERAB goes a step further still in proposing arms-length agencies to manage large parts of Horizon 2020, acting not just as funding bodies but also as “change agents”, and involving stakeholder representatives in their governance.
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