Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Scientific conferences as the equivalent of trading floors

The economics of evolution
Richard Davenport-Hines reviews Sex, Science and Profits by Terence Kealey 22/01/2008
He notes that the Industrial Revolution began in England at a time when the country's universities were sunk in reactionary stupor. Academic science was irrelevant to technological innovation. It is a hinge of his argument that laissez-faire Britain, where laboratories and formal scientific education were pathetic, fostered the Industrial Revolution, while France, with its fiendishly expensive Académies and Ecoles, lagged economically. The punitive French taxes that paid for these laboratories might not have been so disabling if the money had been well spent, but as Kealey says, 'the trouble with dirigisme [is that] a centrally planned economy can work only as well as the plans.'
Kealey is an implacable, unforgiving critic of the state funding of pure science. He holds Francis Bacon's linear model of progress (Government money -> 2192 academic science -> technology -> wealth) responsible for immeasurable squandering of money, intellectual effort and technical ingenuity.
Government funding of science does not stimulate economic growth, he insists - not in America, the Soviet Union, Japan or under the 'white heat' of Harold Wilson's technological revolution.
He delivers a pitiless indictment of government-funded science in America, where $137 billion was spent on research by federal government in 2005, and explodes the myth that the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in Japan was a brilliant industrial facilitator.
MITI opposed development in the areas where Japan has best succeeded (cars, electronics, cameras) and sunk huge funds into wasteful schemes. It created a vast over-capacity in steel plants, even though Japanese had to import iron ore, coal and gas to make its unwanted steel, and invested in giant loss-making fifth-generation super-computers just as the market opened for the small personal computer. MITI made harmful interventions in pharmaceuticals and telecommunications, and is (he argues) responsible for Japanese space technology and nuclear plants being notoriously incompetent and dangerous.
In his later chapters Kealey argues vigorously, with abundant evidence, that 'wealth is created when scientists commercialise their own discoveries', whereas governments are 'dreadful judges of commercial opportunities.' He regards scientific conferences as the equivalent of trading floors in which the commodities exchanged are nuggets of expert knowledge, and gives an intriguing insider's analysis of the current techniques and benefits of scientific information exchange.
As part of his campaign for a free exchange of technical expertise, he includes a stirring chapter challenging current notions of intellectual property and calling for the abolition of patents. They are neither an incentive to research nor do they promote disclosure. Few have any commercial value (90 per cent, he says, are 'merely vanity publishing'), and the valuable ones inhibit competitors. Only in the pharmaceutical sector are patents justifiable.

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