Re: ECON: Private Research Dollars

Warrl kyree Tale'sedrin (
Wed, 28 Jan 1998 12:33:14 +0000

> From: "Geoff Smith" <>

> 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.

Private research is inherently better in that it is not funded by
wealth taken by force from people who think the research is
undesirable, unnecessary, or even just not the best use of the wealth
at that time.

> 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,
> Geoff.
> (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.

And this relates how to any claim that coercively-funded research is
better, or even as good?

> > Point 2. The Private Sector is inefficient at producing basic advances
> > because of the proprietary secrecy and patenting which accompanies
> > it.

The public sector is inefficient at producing basic advances because
it will tend to become clogged by scientific bureaucrats (some of
whom might originally have been scientists) more interested in
drawing out a project (job security) than in delivering results.

> > This secrecy leads to considerable duplication of research effort
> > across an industry, such as pharmaceuticals.

Duplication in research is essential to science. It is, among other
things, how you check the validity of results. And just how much
secrecy is there, really? I seem to see a *lot* of medical-journal
articles, many of them from privately-funded researchers -- and this
is somewhat surprising because I don't read medical journals.

> > 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.

Stupidity certainly occurs in private enterprise. Fortunately, we
all know that government is immune to stupidity.

> > 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.

Why precisely would you object to the burglar who steals your $500
TV, while not trying to make a criminal case out of your mortgage
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