A cock-eyed idea in search of a policy

Basing grants to university researchers on the number of patents registered is the latest cock-eyed idea to emerge from the Abbott Government, the Shadow Research, Innovation and Industry Minister, Senator Kim Carr, said today.

“This is another ill-considered proposal which was flagged in The Australian today from a Government with no science minister, no innovation strategy, and no grasp of science or research policy,” Senator Carr said.

“Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane misunderstands the fundamental nature of research. As Einstein said, ’If I knew what I was doing, it wouldn't be called research’.

“Curiosity-driven research, supported by peer review, goes beyond mere instrumentalism – the best ideas are often generated by the search for new knowledge in a totally unrelated area.

“For instance, the oft-cited case of Wi-Fi – a new technology that drives much of our ICT industry – was a result of CSIRO’s research in radio astronomy and unrelated to its ultimate application.

“Research doesn’t necessarily end in a patent, and genuinely useful patents can take years – often decades – to come out of research.

“At the same time, patent applications can be submitted for all kinds of things which may or may not have practical application, making the number of patents a totally unreliable proxy for the industrial or commercial impact of research.

“We already have a problem-solving research program called the R&D Tax Incentive, which increasing numbers of companies are using – but the Government has cut this program, and axed a number of other research and industry programs.

“If the Abbott Government wants to encourage greater collaboration between researchers and business, it should look at Labor’s $500m Innovation Precincts initiative, part of the Plan for Australian Jobs, and the other highly successful innovation programs that it has scrapped.

“Thought-bubbles are no substitute for doing the policy hard yards, but this Government doesn’t seem to have any understanding of that either.”


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