Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: On Science

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  • Sacha, in reply to stever@cs.waikato.ac.nz,

    so a guess gets multiplied by a figure arising from a guess at a proportion of a ministry's rough figure, and that then becomes a "data point" that someone assesses me on

    'economic forecasting'

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • NBH, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Yup. Government funding of R&D is half OECD average

    Hmmm, not according to the most recent recent OECD figures, which I did finally manage to locate on the old MoRST site - in their scorecard here (table 2) and in the 'Igniting Potential' report here (p7). According to those we're clearly below average, but certainly not half of even our big spending comparators - around 0.5% of GDP vs an average of around 0.65% of GDP and around 0.8% in Finland. I'm pretty sure Gluckman's comments in that speech relate to overall expenditure rather than just government funding.

    I agree with you that it's pretty difficult to influence private sector R&D behaviour, and so difficult to hold the government to account for that, but there are things can be done around incentives. For example, the current government's removal of the R&D tax credits (which IIRC both Labour and the Greens have committed to restoring, but I may have that wrong) is hardly strong encouragement for companies to fund more research.

    Wellington • Since Oct 2008 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Sacha,

    ‘economic forecasting’

    = guesswork based on existing data without knowledge of future trends.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    had me at guesswork :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to NBH,

    it's pretty difficult to influence private sector R&D behaviour

    yet other nations manage it just fine.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Show me the guesswork!

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to NBH,

    NBH, you are right. I searched the OECD figures directly, man do they need Keith on their team. These are the figures for 2010 and seem to show OECD average at about 0.75% of GDP and NZ at about 0.55%, and Korea, Taiwan, Finland and the USA all over 1%, it’s a 2 page pdf.

    As pointed out in the text interpreting what is and isn’t funding isn’t easy. I seriously doubt that our general university funds in NZ are what most scientists would consider science funding but we kind of have to take the figures at face value.

    Ok so how about we just ask for one of the political parties to promise to get up to the OECD average – still close to a 50% increase in funding. Not even asking to be better than average.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Check the Powering Innovation report here

    Where there is no doubt is the fact that the rest of the OECD world spend a shit load more government money on R&D. New Zealand is the outlier - at the bottom end. New Zealand suffered from the New Right insisting that any contribution to industry was a subsidy, subsidies were the work of the devil and we have been the only ones to follow that path. The rest of the world thumbed their nose to it and carried on subsidising their businesses to the hilt.

    However, one big reason why the High Value Manufacturing report has taken an awful long time to emerge with the "Powering Innovation" title, is that the information presented to the panel - much to the disappointment of the science adminstration and funding bureaucrats - had the audacity to suggest that we really really were the outlier and here are the clear and present facts to back it up.

    IRL did have a large input and to their credit stuck to their guns presenting even more evidence throughout the ensuing process until the report emerged.

    In other words, it has nearly been an about face in terms of how government R&D should support business in NZ.

    Along the way there were some doubts expressed here. and then supported here.

    " What's your Problem New Zealand" (and here)was one of IRL's Big Ideas that considerably influenced the review. The big sticky bit over the years that IRL was always presented with - and had difficulty countering - was where was the proof that business DID want any R&D assistance?

    WYPNZ presented it in spades. Over 120 applications sent out the message loud and clear that NZ business needed access and assistance.

    I have a suspicion that in the interests of NZ Inc, the Powering Innovation report will stand to be the first genuine attempt to provide the future route for (mainly) the manufacturing industry's R&D assistance. So sadly missing since the demise of DSIR. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research may have been an apt name. Funny we have to reinvent the wheel so often.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Apologies to Peter Kerr and "Stick" but he has the links so i don't have to repeat them.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Edit: Link fixed.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Russell: I also meant to comment that National mentioned the Advanced Technology Institute in a number of the replies. I was surprised you did not note it.

    It is/will be a biggie.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Ross Mason,

    New Zealand suffered from the New Right insisting that any contribution to industry was a subsidy, subsidies were the work of the devil and we have been the only ones to follow that path.

    To be fair the 9 year Labour government had exactly the same attitude.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    I find it interesting that IRL is the current golden boy. They were the golden boys a few years back too, just after they laid off a bunch of their science staff. Then they almost went bankrupt and had to be bailed out and were seriously the tarnished boys. Now they are golden again, and they aren't even doing alchemy.

    Underneath all that I hear the folks on the bench do some good stuff.

    However, the problem I have with the IRL initiative is the same as any government led science initiative. Rather than being led by successful science groups and responding to areas we are actually good at, it is a direction imposed by bureaucrats. Picking predicted winners rather than funding actual winners. It's like they heard Paul Callahan speak but missed the point entirely.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Bart:
    Golden Boys maybe. But forced by the need to follow the systems sources of money.

    Rather than being led by successful science groups and responding to areas we are actually good at, it is a direction imposed by bureaucrats.

    But hopefully, I think, "turned" from the "dark side" by a bunch of bloody insistent science and R&D lobbyists. Plus the realisation that the resources IRL have are far and away well below the crtical mass required to support this sector. That is well established in the report.

    Ask Paul C. He has spouted for years that the only viable sector for "progress" is High Tech from within the manufacturing sector.

    To be fair the 9 year Labour government had exactly the same attitude.

    I wouldn't disagree at all. It has taken both parties a few years to begin to ween us off them. - Or should I say.....back onto them......? Hmmm.....

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Ross Mason,

    DSIRerrata...

    The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research may have been an apt name. Funny we have to reinvent the wheel so often.

    Yeah, when I heard National's R&D policy I thought 'great they are almost getting back to where they were before the DSIR was disestablished' - duh!

    Loving that Power-ring thingy - very Green Lantern
    In darkest night, no funding shall escape my sight...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Loving that Power-ring thingy – very Green LanternIn darkest night, no funding shall escape my sight…

    Goes nicely with the John Key power bangle.
    To muddle through where no muddler has muddled before, onwards and down.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Ross Mason,

    well below the crtical mass required to support this sector

    Yup true of most sectors. No worries about IRL deserving input.

    My only issue is still with the idea of predicting winners rather than simply (hah!) supporting those who can do great work regardless of what sector it happens to be in.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • stever@cs.waikato.ac.nz,

    Good words by rather a good scientist....

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2006 • 73 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to stever@cs.waikato.ac.nz,

    Nice link, I particularly liked

    Even the wizards of venture capital have a hard job assessing the commercial impact of a discovery.

    “To expect a researcher, or a research council committee, to make any worthwhile judgement - and make it before the work has even been done - is surely absurd.”

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    And to further depress those of us who wish NZ actually had a functional economy for profiting from local inventions, this artcle says that Qualcomm has bought a local JV firm that has created tech to do uncoupled vehicle charging over a distance of 450mm. That's got spectacular potential (thanks, I'll be here all week) with electric vehicles, and now all that NZ gets to keep is the patent licensing revenue.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Willmott,

    Bearing in mind I joined the DSIR and have been a scientist in a CRI throughout their existence, I respectfully disagree ...

    Fair points here Bart, relative to the setting up of CRIs. I guess my point was that CRIs (for whatever reason) have grown to have a value for society above and beyond the usual raw science outputs.

    As for IRL's 'golden boy' status, the key stat being bandied around by Shaun Coffey this year has been IRL's workforce relative to other CRIs ... something like 300 out of 3000 ... then you look at the current importance of the high-tech manufacturing sector in Sir PC's export earnings graphs (i.e. not even considering potential impact) and the disparity is ridiculous. The Powering Innovation report proposes doubling the size of IRL over the next few years, it's a reasonable area to focus.

    I don't think physical scientists in NZ could ever be accused of having preferred status. e.g. "Physics, Chemistry and Biochemistry" represents just one of the Marsden panels (albeit there are other bits and pieces for engineering, nanotech, mathematics)

    Having said all that, I'm sure (well, we all hope) that the lessons of the early noughties at IRL have been learned.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Geoff Willmott,

    I don’t think physical scientists in NZ could ever be accused of having preferred status.

    I do agree. Look it's great they are getting money. Basically there isn't a science sector in NZ that isn't starved of money.

    I just hope they give the money to the good science groups in IRL rather than targeting the money to perceived growth sectors.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Data book...

    Physical scientists in NZ...

    Could be a fund raising calendar in this...

    Marketing would be a field day:
    "Buff Boffins"
    "Merry Quantum Physiques"
    "Test Tube Babes"
    "Buyer Chemistry"
    "DeSIRe - A Lab of Love"
    "Recherché Researchers"
    "In their element..."
    Not so much a Calendar
    as a Periodic Table...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Not so much a Calendar
    as a Periodic Table...

    Or even teh blue tableau, if you will.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2450 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    Some thoughts in no particular order:

    I think the OECD spend is a bit misleading – from my (not so) ivory tower I see:

    Universities for example, having to spend increasing amounts of money to get research funds.

    Crown entities that used to fund primary research being starved of cash and therefore re-directing funds to projects that amount to evaluations of existing programmes they support.

    Labs being built that have to juggle services for sustainability and research for KPI’s.

    I guess my general point is that one might think that scarcity would bring about value, but (IMHO) there comes a point where the opposite becomes true.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

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