ECON: Private Research Dollars

Geoff Smith (
Wed, 28 Jan 1998 11:40:05 -0800

Could someone please give me some good examples of how private scientific
research is "better"(interpret that as you will) than public research. I
am presently involved in a debate with my university peers and professors,
and I need some more ammunition.

The following e-mail is an example a response against my argument. I am
arguing in particular that private research is better, and that only
private universities should have tenure, since researchers at public
universities should be held accountable to the public.

Thanks a lot,


(ps. feel free to aim your arguments specifically at the e-mail below...)
> From: Prof. David C. Walker, UBC, Chem/Triumf <>
> To:
> Cc:
> Subject: More on Industry and Academia
> Date: Wednesday, January 28, 1998 8:00 AM
> Dear Sci-Oners, SOSers, et al,
> Let me `wet my oars' this Science Week with four brief comments in
> support of unfettered pure research in the continuing debate about
> Point 1. The laser was not `invented' from the need for new surgical
> instruments, nor the nanotube from the need of new fibres, nor radar
> from the need to detect enemy aircraft, nor the chip for the purpose
> of miniaturization, nor, nor, .....
> Most fundamental advances have emerged from `pure' curiosity-driven
> research, not from goal-directed pursuits. The rapid publication of
> unfettered research in the open literature leads to its free use for
> technological development by business, industry, government or
> individual entrepreneurs.
> Point 2. The Private Sector is inefficient at producing basic advances
> because of the proprietary secrecy and patenting which accompanies
> it. This secrecy leads to considerable duplication of research effort
> across an industry, such as pharmaceuticals. It is because such research
> is not openly published for all to take advantage of, that I think such
> research has no place at a university. [Suppose the laser had been
> invented by Laser Corporation: they would have kept silent about it
> until all THEIR ideas were patented, and we would have missed-out on
> most of the developments of the laser these past 38 years.]
> 3. Industry tends to be short on altruism: the CEO of a major
> automobile manufacturer said recently, "we are not here to make cars
> or employ people, but simply to make money for our shareholders,
> whatever it takes". And just this week, MacBlo closed its R & D
> centre in Burnaby because of short-term bottom-line myopia.
> 4. We, the public, pay for Government operations through `tax'
> dollars and for the Private Sector with `after-tax' dollars (as
> consumers). Why do we seem to get so hot under the collar about a few
> dollars spent by governments on pure research at universities, while
> shrugging our shoulders at the excesses and extravagances of major
> businesses and industries -- whose costs we absorb on the ticket of
> items such as food, housing, travel, hair-dying and E-mailing.
> Gung hay fat choy.
> --- David