Cheerleading for Science

This article by Dick Ahlstrom in the Irish Times is typical of the sort of stuff you read in the papers and it’s basically little more than propaganda. I’m as pro-science as the next guy and I think that scientific research is an important cultural activity. Furthermore, no university is worthy of the name unless it has a strong research ethos. But take this paragraph from the article:

“Long hauls are not a good place for politicians, but this Government and previous governments have all agreed that pursuit of research excellence offers a way out of the economic quagmire. Building an economy that relies on research and knowledge-driven enterprises is the only alternative if we want to see it develop and generate wealth.”

Where is the evidence for any of this? If anyone can convince me that ploughing hundreds of millions (if not billions) of euro into university-based research will play a significant role in returning the country to economic prosperity, I will shut up.

And on that note, educationandstuff is going to take a short summer break to focus on some other projects for a while. See you later in the summer!

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About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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6 Responses to Cheerleading for Science

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Cheerleading for Science

  2. Al says:

    Well said.

  3. bealoideas says:

    I am the first to stress that correlation does not equal causation but the stable economies which are so desirable for Ireland to emulate tend to be much better at research then Ireland. Secondly the Irish economy might not suffer in the short term from our decision to stop funding fundelmental science but if every country did that in the long term it would be reckless.

    • foleyg says:

      I think Ireland is like a football club that has been relegated from the Premiership into the Championship. We need to play some ‘Sheffield Utd.’ science to help us get back into the Premiership., i.e., back to a place where the economy is back on track. Then we can afford to think more strategically about longer term issues. I’m no economist but I suspect that countries that have very strong basic research (like the US) do so because they are economically prosperous – it’s not the other way around. But I would love to hear from economists who have actually done some proper research on this because most commentary comes from scientists who, let’s face it, are not experts in economic development.

  4. cormac says:

    Hundreds of millions? Are you sure about that? I can’t get funding for one mSc student. That said, I think you’re right to be distrustful of a simple relation between short term economic gain and investment in scientific research, and scientists should be wary of making false promises. The real output of research is a highly educated workforce and there is little point of targetin certain areas only for funding..

    • foleyg says:

      From what I’ve read, SFI have put more than a billion into research in the last decade but if you’re outside the strategic areas, you’ve very little chance of getting funding. To be fair, though, there are an awful lot of good scientists around who are full time researchers unlike those of us who have loads of teaching to do as well.

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