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Speaker: Seeking Better Science

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  • James Green,

    I'm not sure if many academics would be impressed if they were told that their application would be picked randomly to go on to the (much more extensive and hard work) second round. You might easily send the most brilliant and useful idea back because it never got looked at.

    That assumes that the first round is working well as a screening test. I wouldn't say that it is doing an appalling job, but I'm not sure it's doing a great job.
    Secondly, while the second round is much more extensive and hard work, you have to do quite a lot of the preparatory work for this for Round 1. Just because Round 1 is light on methodology and requires no budget, you still have to have quite a lot of this stuff sketched out. In this proposed scheme, you would simply put your name in the hat for the lottery, no proposal required. You win, you write a full proposal.
    Thirdly, I'd be inclined to weight it so the longer your name has been in the hat, the higher your chances are. Perhaps with a guaranteed entry to Round 2 after X years if your luck has been out.
    Finally, while it might lead to revolt, this was actually cooked up by a bunch of colleagues (I can't claim credit), so there is at least some appeal beyond me. Actually, HRC has just gone down the two-round path, and it may have been in relation to that that we were discussing it.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • richard,

    What I meant is that if they made the first round a random draw, it wouldn't produce discernably different outcomes with respect to quality, and there would be a great time-saving for researchers and panellists alike (ie non-monetary cost)

    I suspect this is not true. A lot of genuinely weak proposals are probably weeded out during the first screening, and it is hard to see how sending some of these through to the second round would help the writers of strong proposals (since this is a zero sum game).

    I have never applied for Marsden money, but I have written a fair number of grants, and reviewed proposals for funding agencies in several countries, and I rather like this approach. It is pretty much a law of nature that your specific enthusiasm will be grossly under-represented on the panel. Everyone who is not funded will be sure of this, but it is usually true even for people who are funded -- the Marsden is unusually open, but I have heard people applying for pots of money restricted to astrophysics say that the panelists are all the WRONG SORT of astrophysicist.

    It strikes me that what is really being asked for with this short pre-proposal is an "elevator pitch" -- the 30 second summary of your idea you can give to a bigshot you just happen to find yourself standing next to in an elevator (ok, lift, since this is New Zealand). And this is not an intrinsically unreasonable request.

    (But I do agree that many good Marsden projects must go unfunded -- whereas usually when I sit on grant panels in the US, I can see some people who are unlucky, but the fraction of deserving proposals that receive funding is typically much higher than in NZ)

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • richard,

    Sorry. Posted twice.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Thirdly, I'd be inclined to weight it so the longer your name has been in the hat, the higher your chances are. Perhaps with a guaranteed entry to Round 2 after X years if your luck has been out.

    But that just makes it easier for people who have been around longer.

    I doubt the current first round does a good job at a assessing potential of an application (which is incredibly hard to do), but at the least it prevents people wasting time where the panel knows they wouldn't fund any full application that came to them on this topic from these people. Otherwise you might have full applications from recent graduates who have yet to get published. That's a waste of everyone's time.

    I'm in favour of using a lottery to decide entry to medical school, but there the lottery works in reverse. You meet the reasonably stringent entry procedure, and then after that it's luck. You guarantee good doctors, but don't have all the stupid stuff that goes on at first year pre-med with students trying to get their average marks as high as possible, which doesn't necessarily make them better doctors.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    It strikes me that what is really being asked for with this short pre-proposal is an "elevator pitch" -- the 30 second summary of your idea you can give to a bigshot you just happen to find yourself standing next to in an elevator (ok, lift, since this is New Zealand) with. And this is not an intrinsically unreasonable request.

    Personally, I think that Round 1 requires too much to be pinned down for it to really be an elevator pitch. I appreciate that it would be possible for people to pitch a really catchy idea and then completely change it into Round 2, but at the moment, I think there isn't enough scope for an idea to grow from Round 1 (where it has to be pretty much fully fledged).

    An alternative idea I've heard kicked around is to keep the top few unfunded Round 2 proposals in the mix for next year. Whether this would actually work, or whether these people would want to modify them is open to debate.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    But at the least it prevents people wasting time where the panel knows they wouldn't fund any full application that came to them on this topic from these people.

    Except that the Round 1 mentality also leads people to put in less serious punts, so that they might get the opportunity of the second round, which is also a time-waster.

    Otherwise you might have full applications from recent graduates who have yet to get published. That's a waste of everyone's time.

    I disagree. Marsden's Fast Start is targeted toward these people. I also seem to recollect some research that many of the great ideas in science are actually from people earlier in their careers. Established scientists do fantastically in an accumulative fashion, but breakthroughs tend to come from younger scientists. Almost like a variation on functional fixedness.

    And finally, as I think I said at the outset, the best solution would actually be enough money to fund the high quality proposals!

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    James

    What I meant is that if they made the first round a random draw, it wouldn't produce discernably different outcomes with respect to quality

    Ah I see. Yeah kinda. The reason for making some kind of science quality cut in the first round is to stop people sending in absolute dross … and you know they would. As it is I know from seeing a couple of panellists at work that they do take that first round pretty seriously and there really is a significant chunk of applications that are rejected on quality. It is the top third that is difficult to select from.

    As for completely data free first round, I guess I wouldn’t favour it but hey try it and see what happens. However, I wouldn’t say that just because your name has been in the hat for a long time you should get a better chance.

    Personally I think the current system isn’t bad and would work a lot better if more proposals could be funded overall. It’s because the overall money pool is so small that you get good proposals rejected.

    like a two-phase wine judging

    I’m pretty sure wine is involved in some of the screening process :).

    Don
    Hell yeah! Patents are good but they are best at the late end stage of any R&D. At the discovery phase the more open you are the more collaboration you get. People at conferences don’t talk to people who keep secrets. The more brains (worldwide) you get on a project at the early stage the faster you get to the point where a product becomes possible.
    There are Biotech companies that are now shifting to "open source" because they can’t do all the basic discovery themselves and they make more progress towards products by allowing the wider scientific community to contribute.
    I did think it was funny to hear a bureaucrat say it was nice to be in a room with scientists :). Usually we don't get anywhere near people like him.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    Personally I think the current system isn’t bad and would work a lot better if more proposals could be funded overall. It’s because the overall money pool is so small that you get good proposals rejected.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. If there was more money, then I certainly wouldn't advocate a system with a random component, which is only there to reduce the time drag for those who write good but unfunded proposals.

    Also, the reason why I would increase the chances for time in the hat is if it were a properly random draw, some poor bastards would never get drawn, and some people would 'win' most years.

    I’m pretty sure wine is involved in some of the screening process

    Undoubtedly :)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    Oh, and finally, before I got side-tracked onto the mechanics of Uncle Marsden, I'd really like to endorse the conclusion of Bart's original post:
    The only funding that can lift that kind of novel work is based on pure science quality, like the Marsden Fund. Which also has a very good record of producing patents and new business ideas.

    There was a psychologist on NatRad a couple of weeks back talking about how cash incentives actually slowed people's ability to problem solve. He didn't say by increasing functional fixedness in some many words, but that's how I read it. Which neatly encapsulates why funding high quality pure science may be better than targeting money to specific ends.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Robeson,

    Russell you are attacking the Sprout for being partisan, but his blog is mostly a link to Gordon Campbell's analysis here

    According to Gordon, Gluckman is presenting two public faces about this- one that is positive about government's science program with its lack of oversight, and another which suggests that there is woeful underfunding for science in critical areas, by both public and private sectors. The two are stuggling to present a coherent public whole, he says.

    It would be nice to see someone directly addressing both the arguments of Gordon and Sean Plunket that The Sprout was highlighting- well to take the quote in regards to R & D directly:

    Plunket : So why should the government subsidise a private sector that isn’t pulling its own weight?
    Gluckman : Lets call it market failure….
    Plunket : Is subsidizing the market …and giving them the easy option the answer to that?
    Gluckman : It’s helping our business to realise that they need to use knowledge better, if they aim to export products to the world, to make New Zealand richer.
    Plunket : But they don’t need to spend money on it, because they can apply to the government for a grant, and the government will give it to them…

    I realise most of the posters in this thread seem to be involved closely in this industry. I'm not, but I still think these are fair enough questions, despite the rhetoric that brought them to your attention.

    Since Feb 2008 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Robeson,

    Unless there is something I'm not seeing here? In any case Craig has got some main-splaining to do.

    And didn't we have this with the Knowledge wave? What was the result of all those increased science busaries and etc?

    Since Feb 2008 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Bart: the issue around biotech and patents seems to be heading towards where the tech area is going now - the problem with patents is that they take a long time to be granted - often longer than your product cycle, worse is that someone else may have a sleeper (a patent in progress) that pops up after you've committed lots of money and effort to something. In a lot of cases you're better off showing your hand as prior art than depending on a patent that way you can move fast to market.

    In the tech world patent have largely become something for defense (you sue us with that and we'll come down on you like a ton of bricks with these ....), or something to trot out for the investors when the time comes to go public.

    Patent pools and the open source patent compacts seem to be a great way to go for people who want to innovate fast, standing on each others shoulders

    I'm generally against software patents (and that includes genes which after all are just software, with millions of years of prior art) - even hardware patents are usually a bit hokey - too much patenting little tiny things rather than big ideas - I've always thought you should only patent things about which you would feel proud explaining to Mr Edison why they're such neat ideas - sadly I've worked for companies that are hot on filling up that patent portfolio - I have maybe 20 of the things but only 2-3 of them come even vaguely close to being Edison-worthy

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Humble outsiders saw The Knowledge Wave as a selfcongratulatory slitherfest between (by & large) politicians & bureaucrats...

    the results were just what we expected.

    Buggerall.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Paul
    Trying to bait the Science advisor to the PM into criticising a National Budget is kind of dumb.
    Attacking Professor Gluckman personally because he is talking to a National party PM (which is my reading of Spout’s post) is pretty low.
    Professor Gluckman can’t criticize the Budget because if he does then he stops having any influence with the PM.

    I may not like the way this money has been handed out but I’m damn glad there is any money at all. And having a scientist, even if he isn’t a perfect one (sheesh who is) have the ear of the PM is freaking amazing.

    As for the reason the government is giving money to businesses to use for R&D my hope is that the intention is to get them addicted to doing research. Think of it as the free trial your local dealer gives you. With any luck you will start to pay for it yourself.

    I personally would have done something different, but I’m not going to attack someone who does seem to be trying to improve science in New Zealand (Professor Gluckman) just because I think this budget isn’t focussed where I’d like it to be focussed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    My experience of R&D (given it's about half of what I do) is that the really neat game changing stuff happens in small companies, not so much in big ones - it's hard to innovate in a company that has mature products, they are where the time and money go - in fact some of those small places are refugees from big companies - probably the same can be said in a way for Universities where the main product is students, not research.

    I think there's a big fear of failure here - most startups crash and burn - it's the nature of the beast - people lose money on most of them - but then make a killing on the ones that do fly high - in Silicon Valley failure isn't such a big deal - it's often more about how well you rode the beast than where it ended up - if you were a good manager or engineer and now have more experience then it's time to move on to the next big idea.

    I'm glad they're funding science - I do think it's really important for lots of reasons - eventually that stuff trickles down into my world - but it worries me that Key et al are conflating "Science" and "R&D", which aren't always the same thing, and thinking their job is done - if they want medium to long term growth in the economy (past the next election or two) they need to create a better environment where new little companies can start up (and fail) and grow to make more new middle sized companies

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Robeson,

    Bart my reading of the Sprout's post (which is more of a link to Gordon's work) is that because of his standing in the scientific community what he says needs scrutiny. I did admittedly read Gordon's post prior to reading the standard link(!), but I think the point is still valid.

    It isn't that he has the ear of the Prime Minister, but that what he says carries so much more weight because of his esteemed position.

    As I said I'm not in any way familiar with the industry processes, but at a time when there are so many cutbacks for so many useful and necessary public services it would be nice to know any R & D money we were giving to the private sector was being put to productive use.

    I share your hope about R & D, but feel that with the results of a lack of financial regulation and our history of private investment in the housing market ahead of production, well, I used to be an optimist.

    Since Feb 2008 • 87 posts Report Reply

  • Bruce Hamilton,

    The change in funding is because the existing system has not delivered for NZ. About $2.1 billion is spent annually in NZ on R&D, of which the government spends about $1.2 billion.

    Taxpayers need to obtain good value from that investment, preferably in their lifetime. Funding scientists to keep them off the street to stop them being mugged by, or mugging, little old ladies, is no longer a national imperative, as NZ imports scientists on an "as required" basis.

    Many of the top scientists I've met have come to NZ for lifestyle + career, often decades ago, but some even in the last few years. We don't have to pay million dollar salaries.

    The govt is aware that converting fundamental to commercial industry is usually on timescales of decades ( eg IRL's Superconductivity and Supercritical programmes ). Hence the focus on firms that already perform R&D. The government hopes that such experienced companies will generate commercial revenues/jobs quicker than new players.

    Given that most NZ industries regard R&D as a distress purchase, rather than strategic, then offering "free lollies" may appeal to corporate bean counters. Also, companies tend to bring innovation to the market ASAP to maximise returns from the sunk investment.

    As a patent is limited life, it should generate some returns to the owner ASAP. A patent represents a sunk cost, and should be generating revenue ASAP ( even if only by excluding competitors ), if not, why not?. Last time I looked, Auckland Uniservices and IRL had more granted and sealed patents than Fonterra.

    The companies that innovate, F&P, Fonterra, Gallagher Group, F&P, etc. have clear expectations of the timelines for returns, whereas Universities and CRIs hoped to license their IP to NZ companies, but often it's been to offshore entities.

    If CRI researchers are costed at $250,000+ pa, it's little wonder NZ industries aren't rushing to them - especially as most CRI researchers don't understand industrial R&D imperatives. The proposal is to help the NZ companies overcome the cost barrier, rather than wait until it's a distress purchase. Hopefully the managers and bean counters will learn that strategic planning can be very rewarding to the business.

    The recent IRL competition " What's Your Problem NZ?", discovered many NZ businesses ( large, medium, and small ) could usefully use $1 million of "free" access to CRI scientists, as their bean counters saw shared risks for sole benefit.

    Shaun Hendy's "A measure of science" blog at sciblogs has been discussing options to improve our research productivity.

    The Marsden fund serves a totally different function, and if the government doesn't want to fund more of such research currently because of the national finances, that may be a rational political decision.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    Taxpayers need to obtain good value from that investment, preferably in their lifetime. Funding scientists to keep them off the street to stop them being mugged by, or mugging, little old ladies, is no longer a national imperative, as NZ imports scientists on an "as required" basis.

    You're going to get very little return on investment from all the scientists going through universities if they're then told that they can be "imported on an "as required" basis". Because they're all going to bugger off overseas to some sort of security of work.

    Furthermore, when Bart talks about millions of dollars (or even $250,000), he's sure as hell not talking about salaries; he's talking about what it costs to *do the science*, including a reasonably modest salary for the scientist(s) involved. Science is not cheap. Good science is not cheap. Pretending we can do good science and come up with profitable business applications by investing a minimal amount and targeting it at almost-ready ideas rather than coming up with new ones, is going to leave us with poor science and a much poorer economy.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Damian Moran,

    I worked as a researcher at NIWA for a few years. Commercialisation of ideas was a mantra. All research was seen through the prism of commercialisation. The sort of people employed weren't particularly good scientists (as alluded to in the article) , but they had tended to have CV's with commercial science backgrounds. We ended up with a lot of chiefs and very few researchers capable of formulating experiments, or having innovative ideas.

    Peer reviewed publication was viewed as quaint or an inconvenience.
    Many experiments were done without the basic scientific requirements of replication or control because the data weren't intended for publication. The results were often inconclusive due to poor experimental design. There is a reason for peer review - it is a key element of the self-correcting process of science.

    I am happy to hear people such as Bart Janssen and Peter Gluckman saying that the current CRI model isn't particularly productive, because that is my experience. I can't see more funding to CRI's increasing productivity, just more project managers.

    Since May 2010 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Bruce Hamilton,

    I never said CRIs were paying million dollar salaries, I said we don't have too, because we have been able to attract good quality scientists.

    The old recruitment system targeted fresh, bright graduates, hired them for a year or two, and then funded their PhD or post-Doc at a overseas univeristy that excelled in a discipline that would be useful to NZ. They were bonded for a few years on their return, which enabled the IP to be transferred before they moved on. Some are still leading major CRI programmes.

    The CRIs decided to abandon that system because a few candidates didn't honour their bond, and they believed NZ universities could deliver similar people. They didn't, hence the current problem, and the solution of overseas recruitment - note that NZ graduates do apply, but don't make the cut - whose problem is that?. It's not the CRI's.

    One small research firm that exports all products had approx. 300 applications ( mainly from overseas ) for a PhD researcher with relevant experience. The salary offered to the final candidate was probably a little more than the equivalent CRI salary.

    With applicants' permission, several CVs were forwarded to a CRI with similar positions available, and I think two were hired. Last time I talked to senior managers, they are both regarded as invaluable acquistions.

    I can't comment on NIWA, but the departure of people like Lowe and Manning in their climate science programme implies a corrosive environment, possibly management belief in lowest salary for each inflated-value FTE charged to customers ( whether crown or commercial ) generates maximum management bonuses.

    I do some work with IRL, and they have imported and/or recruited locally some of the most capable and dedicated scientists I've ever worked with.

    If you believe the $250,000+ is "what it costs to do the science", you clearly believe a factor of 3 - 5 is a valid research cost, it's not. That's why many NZ firms have moved away from CRIs for research.

    Most firms I've worked for, or have been associated with, have factors of 1.5 - 3, even when expensive equipment is used. Factors of 3 - 5+ are more typical of high-thoughput QC and production laboratories, who usually also pay technician wages.

    CRIs have duplicated expensive management and commercialisation departments, and created expensive corporate infrastructures because that was the expectation of their owners and boards.

    Most importantly, the bidding system has failed to address NZ industry and government strategic research requirements, hence the change.

    Will it work?. I doubt it, but that's partly attributable to factors such as company managers who see research as a distress purchase, and Ministry staff who refuse to define and long term fund national strategy.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Bruce
    You make good arguments. The problem I have is that those are the same arguments that were made 20 years ago when we shifted from a model of “keeping scientists off the streets” to a model of funding projects that bean counters believed would result in “benefit to New Zealand” ie almost always measured as money.

    At that time it was a novel model for New Zealand even though it wasn’t that novel worldwide. Over the last 20 years we’ve demonstrated in New Zealand that such a model reduces scientific productivity. The biggest products coming out in that period derived from research done by scientists “kept off the streets” in the 70s and 80s.

    Your implication that scientists kept off the streets are unproductive is not supported by fact and really is simply an insult to the people and work that led to those same products lauded in the government’s latest paper on science.

    Taxpayers need good value from their investment, but if you get bad value by demanding a product in 10 years and you get good value by accepting that many projects reveal their value in 20-50 years then, as many many countries have proven, it is much better value to the taxpayers to fund long term science. It is of course no value to the politicians who need to be elected next year or the bureaucrats who want to justify a pay rise next year.

    CRI researchers cost the same as university researchers and industry researchers. the number sits between $300k and $400k per researcher. I hate that fact but I can’t change the accounting that turns my salary plus bench costs into that number. Pretending it shouldn’t be that high doesn’t help anyone.

    I agree when companies invest in R&D they have very clear timelines. I appreciate the imperatives and understand their position. It is appropriate for business investment. My point is that government investment must fill the gap left by business investment. Government investment must fund long term (decades) research based on quality simply because business will never do that.

    I think I can see what the government is trying to do with this money and believe me I hope it will work. My point is that this is simply more of what has been done over the last 20-30 years. yet more transfer of government investment from discovery and idea generating science into product development. Both are important but after the FRST era we simply are not doing enough discovery science to sustain research productivity.

    It is of course the politician’s decision. I personally don’t believe it is the right one.

    One comment I want to highlight

    Many of the top scientists I've met have come to NZ for lifestyle + career, often decades ago, but some even in the last few years. We don't have to pay million dollar salaries.

    Yes it’s true we do get very good scientists coming to New Zealand, I know quite a few of them and I respect their talents and appreciate their choice, however, they all could do better science elsewhere in the world. But would you make the same argument about CEOs ie we should just pay them $150k and expect good CEOs to come to NZ because of the lifestyle? Or good bureaucrats? That we have such good scientists working in New Zealand is a tremendous credit to their dedication to our country. But it does not mean we get the best and it does not mean we get the best in the fields we want the most. No scientist expects a million dollar salary, the complaint is that we don’t have enough money to properly fund teams for those really great people we want and need. Yes their salary will be good but nothing like the CEOs, it is the team and equipment and those other costs that we fail on in New Zealand and that is why it is much harder to recruit top talent.

    Argh Lucy said that bit better :)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Most firms I've worked for, or have been associated with, have factors of 1.5 - 3, even when expensive equipment is used. Factors of 3 - 5+ are more typical of high-thoughput QC and production laboratories, who usually also pay technician wages.

    Most firms don’t factor in the cost of their administrative and senior management teams. For CRIs, research funding pays for everyone from the person answering the phones to the person collecting data. You don’t see that in business because it is expected that admin and management etc are paid for by the product sales. In many overseas institutes staff salaries are assumed to be paid for by the institute and not included in the number. New Zealand is a little different in the way we full cost every researcher.

    Again it isn’t that we need millions to pay a salary for top talent it is that you need that much to sustain the research programme they want to establish.

    As an aside I think we are describing top talent slightly differently. from listening to Professor Gluckman and my own experience the top talent referred to are the really exceptional people. In any field there may be a dozen worldwide. Professor Gluckman’s comment is we might currently have 5 in New Zealand and we need more.

    What you are describing, I think, are the good scientists we know. We can do great work if we team up and have the funding but we know in our hearts that there is another level of quality above us who do work that is special. Like it or not we need those people involved in New Zealand science.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Except that the Round 1 mentality also leads people to put in less serious punts, so that they might get the opportunity of the second round, which is also a time-waster.

    But a lottery first round would lead to even more of that. So you would have applications that are silly completing the full proposal, and I've had to work on helping an academic with a full proposal, they're a significant piece of work.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Any good scientist should be aware that money is only a catalyst. To claim that we can't afford to "spend" money on R&D is total bollocks.
    The problem is that money is only real to bankers and accountants. To the rest of the country it is merely a means to an end, we use it by passing it on to those that have what we need who, in turn, pass it on to others (and every time it changes hands the Govt. grabs a bit back).
    Problem is, we have a banker for a PM and he sees only the "bottom line" and that socialising the cost is seen as waste for those that would rather see "their" money spent on overseas holidays, a second home or a flashier car.
    What we need is a concerted effort to see the intellectual property of this country expanded, rather than just a growth in GDP, our treasury deficit should be seen as an investment rather than a debt. Internally, the value of our dollar compared to overseas currencies has little or no effect on the cost of doing things within our economy and as such, a little inflation would go a long way in solving our so called debt crisis. So, treasury, print some more cash for our future.
    The budget will, inevitably, be geared to satisfying Nationals voter base, rather than growing the overall wealth of the country, by giving more tax breaks to the "haves' and blaming any downturn on those wasteful bludgers, the sick, the elderly, the poor and those greedy scientists.
    I, for one, would rather see a scientist running the country than a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube-Man.

    I did think it was funny to hear a bureaucrat say it was nice to be in a room with scientists :).

    I know what you mean, all the scientists I know are either cute or cuddly or both.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Bruce Hamilton,

    "You make good arguments. The problem I have is that those are the same arguments that were made 20 years ago when we shifted from a model of “keeping scientists off the streets” to a model of funding projects that bean counters believed would result in “benefit to New Zealand” ie almost always measured as money."

    The CRI implementation was because major clients told the govt that expenditure was not responsive to their needs. The more vociferous included other govt depts, ( such as Police and Energy ), and the agricultural industry. The competitive funding model was trialled internally in parts of the DSIR before CRI formation.

    The purpose was to make science relevant to customer needs, the failure is because the customer doesn't prescribe the needs ( the provider converts their needs to chargeable use of uncommitted research capability ), and the whole bureaucracy became large and parasitic.

    "Your implication that scientists kept off the streets are unproductive is not supported by fact and really is simply an insult to the people and work that led to those same products lauded in the government’s latest paper on science.."

    Your misinterpretation isn't my problem.. What part of " I do some work with IRL, and they have imported and/or recruited locally some of the most capable and dedicated scientists I've ever worked with." aligns with your interpretation?

    On FTE costs...
    " Most firms don’t factor in the cost of their administrative and senior management teams. "

    Of course they do, both government and commercial research providers do not cross-subsidise internally unless they have a special relationship with the client, and research is offered as a subsidised support service. Some firms may put internal R&D as part of the overhead, but that's clearly not what I was discussing.

    On definitions...
    "As an aside I think we are describing top talent slightly differently. from listening to Professor Gluckman and my own experience the top talent referred to are the really exceptional people. In any field there may be a dozen worldwide."

    This funding is to help NZ industry, not build world-leading science, such as the CoRE programme. That's a different part of the $1.2 billion of hard-earned taxpayer bikkies.

    However, I'd suggest that CRIs have plenty of people who can help invigorate NZ industry, as well as tackle the critical national strategic priorities - if only a govt bureaucrat would clearly specify and fund the programme and assign competent principal contractors.

    On timelines...
    " Taxpayers need good value from their investment, but if you get bad value by demanding a product in 10 years and you get good value by accepting that many projects reveal their value in 20-50 years then, as many many countries have proven, it is much better value to the taxpayers to fund long term science."

    Really?. Which countries, which projects?. BRIC seem to have grown by using tariff barriers and appropriation of others' IP. I don't think that I expected NZ taxpayers to all die at 10 years when I suggested rewards within their lifetime. A decade is a good progress review time, as the world changes and 80% are going to under-perform or fail anyway.

    On CRI charging rates..
    "I hate that fact but I can’t change the accounting that turns my salary plus bench costs into that number. Pretending it shouldn’t be that high doesn’t help anyone."

    CRIs are now a distress purchase for many commercial entities, because it's easier, cheaper, and quicker to purchase relevant overseas research. The use of over-qualified scientists as technicians in some CRIs doesn't help. If they aren't competitive globally, why should industry use them?.

    My employer is a company with several relatively expensive ($100K+) toys and expensive consumables. We are also bench researchers. Our total overhead costs ( excluding salary ) are ~$70K per FTE. I'd be surprised if the overheads of similar-sized private research providers were much higher.

    On the allocation of the money...
    " yet more transfer of government investment from discovery and idea generating science into product development."

    NZ can not afford to wait decades, this funding is intended to kickstart introduction of R&D back into companies to help them compete and grow. It probably won't work, but that will be because the merged MoRST/FoRST entity will pervert the intent and process, not because NZ research entities can not assist.

    Perhaps this is offensive, but the message I got from your post was that only certain classes of scientists can lead a major recovery, and money should go to them. I disagree.

    Somebody once said, " When being chased by a lion, it's not necessary to be the fastest runner, just quicker than the slowest". That's the case here - NZ needs to compete on the world stage, not lead the world.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

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