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Funding for scientific research holding – Forfás – The Irish Times – Tue, Aug 16, 2011

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Funding for scientific research holding – Forfás – The Irish Times – Tue, Aug 16, 2011.

Funding for scientific research holding – Forfás

DICK AHLSTROM, Science Editor

STATE FUNDING for scientific research has held up well in spite of the recession, the head of Forfás has said.

Forfás, the policy advisory board for enterprise and science, has released the latest figures for State sector research funding, with detailed returns for 2009 and estimated figures for 2010.

Report available here.

Why investing in basic research pays – an interactive presentation from the Association of American Universities (AAU)

Association of American Universities.

The story of how the Digital Library Initiative created the context from which Google evolved.

UPDATE: much, much, much more here:

Societal Benefits of Research Illustrated—An AAU Project
03/24/2011

On Facebook, the Employment Control Framework and root gardening | An eye on science and what makes it going

On Facebook, the Employment Control Framework and root gardening | An eye on science and what makes it going.

 

In 2003 Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, an idea now worth 65 billions dollars that has changed the way people communicate. This is probably the most successful venture in the history of capitalism, hence in the history of modern economy.

 

Science and Innovation Policy in the ‘Towards Recovery: Programme for a National Government 2011-2016’

The Programme is available here.

The major section dealing with science and innovation policy reads as follows (pp 9 – 10):

Innovation and Commercialisation
We will implement innovation and commercialisation policies as outlined below subject to cost benefit analysis.
• We will progressively implement the recommendations in the Trading and Investing in the Smart Economy Report
• We will support our indigenous digital game industry by reforming R&D supports available to the industry, setting aside funding from Innovation Fund Ireland for a seed capital scheme for Irish digital gaming start-ups, introduce a digital media component to Transition Year programmes and promote Ireland as digital gaming hub.
• We will develop Ireland as a ‘digital island’ and first-mover when it comes to information technology by ensuring more progress on e-Government and moving Government services online, investing in ICT in schools, and investing in information technology in the healthcare sector.
• We will make Ireland a leader in the emerging I.T. market of cloud computing by promoting greater use of cloud computing in the public sector, organising existing State supports for cloud computing into a package to promote Ireland as a progressive place for I.T. investment, establishing an expert group to address new security and
privacy issues arising from the use of cloud computing and reviewing the adequacy of current legislation and identify what steps need to be taken to ensure a supportive regulatory environment.
• We will develop a National Intellectual Property (IP) protocol to give predictability about the terms on which business can access IP created in Higher Education Institutions and the wider digital sector.

• We will promote and support investment in technology research, development and commercialisation beyond basic research supported by Science Foundation Ireland, as well as removing barriers to innovation and accelerate exploitation of new technologies.
• We will target key technology areas and sectors where innovation can be applied including but not limited to high value manufacturing, advanced materials, nanotechnology, bioscience, electronics, photonics and electrical systems and information and communication technology. We will also focus on the application of technological innovation in established sectors of the economy like energy generation and supply, transport, creative industries, high-value services and architecture and construction by identifying challenges, establishing priorities and developing strategies which specify necessary actions to transition to more innovative approach.
• We will promote Ireland’s full engagement with the ‘Innovative Union’ proposals issued by the European Commission in October 2010 as one of the seven flagship initiatives under EU2020 Strategy, with the specific aim of refocusing R&D and innovation policy on major challenges and at turning inventions into products.
• The critical gap between basic research promoted and funded by Science Foundation Ireland and third level institutions and its subsequent development into commercial opportunity for investors can only be closed by making new technologies ‘investment ready’. We will establish a network of Technology Research Centres focused on
applied technological research in specific areas, to be linked to appropriate highereducation institutions. The centres will accelerate exploitation of new technologies by providing infrastructure that bridges gap between research and technology commercialisation. We will initially establish 3 additional centres foccussing on
biotechnology, nanotechnology and high value manufacturing. Further centres from a number of other areas will be selected at a later time.
• We will support the development of an International Content Services Centre to make Ireland world leader in managing intellectual property.
• We will pioneer within the EU a model of ‘fair use’ in European Copyright Law, like in the USA, which effectively permits the use of portions of a copyrighted work so long as the normal economic exploitation of the originating work is not undermined. This will allow internet companies and other digital innovators to bring their services
to market.

Subject to a cost benefit analysis, we will amend the R&D tax credit regime to make it more attractive and accessible to smaller businesses, in the following ways:
• Companies with R&D expenditures of under €100,000 will be entitled to full tax credit on those entire expenditures as opposed to just the increment over the base year, with marginal relief for companies with expenditure just over €100,000.
• We will allow companies to offset the R&D credit against employers. PRSI as an alternative to corporation tax.
• To cut down on red tape in the applications process, companies in receipt of a Research, Technology and Innovation (RTI) grant from one of the development agencies will be automatically deemed as entitled to the R&D tax credit.

Other relevant pieces:

Investment priorities will include education, health and science and technology (p. 16)

Undertake a full review of the Hunt and OECD reports into third level funding before end of 2011. Our goal is to introduce a funding system that will provide third level institutions with reliable funding but does not impact access for students (p 17)

Maths and science teaching at second level will be reformed, including making science a compulsory Junior Cert subject by 2014. Professional development for maths and science teachers will be prioritised. (p 40)

Third Level Reform (p 43)
We will review the recommendations of Hunt report on higher education. A reform of third level will be driven by the need to improve learning outcomes of undergraduate degree students, as well as providing high quality research.
We will initiate a time-limited audit of level 8 qualifications on offer and learning outcomes for graduates of these courses.
We will introduce radical reform in third level institutions to maximise existing funding, in particular reform of academic contracts and will encourage greater specialisation by educational institutions.
We support the relocation of DIT to Grangegorman as resources permit.
We will explore the establishment of a multi campus Technical University in the South East.
We will extend the remit of Ombudsman to third level institutions.
We will merge the existing accreditation authorities; National Qualifications Authority, FETAC and HETAC to increase transparency.

Battle looms over US science funding – science-in-society – 04 January 2011 – New Scientist

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Battle looms over US science funding – science-in-society – 04 January 2011 – New Scientist.

A quote:

As Republicans take control of the US House of Representatives, science could take a hit – despite a new Congressional measure to boost funding.

“There’s going to be a big fight,” says Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society in Washington DC. “The question is who blinks first.”

In one of its last votes before the holidays, Congress passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. Contained in the act is a resolution to boost science funding over the next three years.

But with budget-minded Republicans now a majority in the House of Representatives, even maintaining science funding at existing levels could be a struggle.

Further on the (over)production of PhDs

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

PhD production as a process of self-discovery by Chris Blattman (post reproduced in full). See also this post. A different and less-depressing view of PhD (over)production.

There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings.

Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.

From The Economist.

Many of the arguments are valid. But make two plausible assumptions and you get a different answer.

Assumption 1: Innovation, including academic research, is the fundamental driver of long term health, wealth and happiness for the human race. (The “including academic research” bit is the biggest leap.)

Assumption 2: Unfortunately it’s very difficult to say beforehand who will and who will not produce great, or even good, research. (Even after five years departments have trouble predicting which of their crop will excel.)

In this world, each extra PhD raises the chances of one more brilliant, world-changing idea. While hardly comforting to the thousands who toil without job prospects, the collective benefits just might outweigh all the individual misery.

The decision might be individually rational as well, especially if students are no better at predicting their success than their advisors (they probably aren’t).

(A similar analogy comes from Lant Pritchett, who points out that you need a system that produces an enormous number of terrible dance recitals to get the handful of sublime performers. The same logic applies, he argues, to development projects and policies.)

One counterpoint: Here is where I would expect to see overconfidence bias lead to oversupply (and few of the collective benefits thereof). So maybe we need a system that gives the least promising an easier out that saves face.

From the latest Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Newsletter – an article from PNAS on ‘The Boon and Bane of the Impact Factor’ (and abuse of the drug ‘Sciagra’)

December 23, 2010 1 comment

A very hard-hitting piece on the abuses of impact factors and their pernicious effects on how science is done. Sten Grillner is a Kavli Prize winner who recently gave a lecture at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. It is worth musing on whether or not the widespread use and abuse of impact factors is science’s very own special version of grade inflation.

From FENS: The editorial “Impacting our Young” by Eve Marder (Past President of the American Society for Neuroscience), Helmut Kettenmann (Past President of FENS) and Sten Grillner (President of FENS) has been published in the most recent issue of PNAS (PNAS 2010 107 (50) 21233).

A quote:

It is our contention that overreliance on the impact factor is a corrupting force on our young scientists (and also on more senior scientists) and that we would be well-served to divest ourselves of its influence.

And another:

The hypocrisy inherent in choosing a journal because of its impact factor, rather than the science it publishes,undermines the ideals by which science should be done.

And their advice:

Minimally, we must forego using impact factors as a proxy for excellence and replace them with indepth analyses of the science produced by candidates for positions and grants. This requires more time and effort from senior scientists and cooperation from international communities, because not every country has the necessary expertise in all areas of science.

It reminds me off a piece lampooning impact factors by Uinseonn O’Breathnach (me too) in Current Biology a few years ago, entitled ‘Sciagra‘:

What is it? Sciagra™ is a psychologically self-administered drug that acts on grammar and vocabulary in scientific papers with the aim of improving performance, or at least convincing the user that it does.

How widespread is its use? It’s almost impossible to avoid in impact factor zones above 8. Some disciplines even have their own compounds. Psyagra™ and Genagra™ are particularly dangerous new ‘society’ versions, especially potent and unfortunately accessible to journalists who have to write “It’s the Brain wot does it!” or “Scientists produce creature that is half human, half grant reviewer” stories to tight deadlines.

How do I recognise its use by others? The symptoms are easy to spot. A user will always tell you the impact factor of the journal rather than what the paper is about. They will display an intensity unrelated to the importance of the finding and an inability to cite anything published before 1999. They frequently meet rejection of a paper with a complaint to the editor, and seasoned users may even make unsolicited phone calls to editors to make their complaint.

It seems to be available on open access.

From The Economist: The disposable academic – Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time

December 22, 2010 1 comment

http://www.economist.com/node/17723223?story_id=17723223.

A very disturbing story from The Economist regarding the past, present and especially the future of PhDs.

A quote:

‘… the production of PhDs has far outstripped demand for university lecturers. In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors. Only a few fast-developing countries, such as Brazil and China, now seem short of PhDs.’

The year in nonsense – Bad Science

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The year in nonsense – Bad Science.

The marvellous Ben Goldacre:

It’s been a marvellous year for bullshit. We saw quantitative evidence showing that drug adverts aimed at doctors are routinely factually inaccurate, while pharmaceutical company ghostwriters were the secret hands behind letters to the Times, and a whole series of academic papers. We saw more drug companies and even regulators withholding evidence from doctors and patients that a drug was dangerous – the most important and neglected ethical issue in modern medicine — and that whistleblowers have a rubbish life.

More via the link above.

The World Of Big Data – The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Great post on ‘The World Of Big Data’ by Andrew Sullivan -reproduced in full below.

In passing, a Government truly interested in developing the smart economy would engage in massive data dumps with the presumption that just about every piece of data it holds (excluding the most sensitive pieces of information) from ministerial diaries to fuel consumption records for Garda cars to activity logs for mobile phones to numbers of toilet rolls used in Government Departments would be dumped in realtime on to externally-interrrogable databases. This would be geek-heaven and would generate new technological applications beyond prediction and application. And the activity would be local – could an analyst sitting in Taiwan really make sense of local nuances? The applications would be universal, portable and saleable, however. They would seed a local high-tech industry – maybe even a local Irish Google. Can’t see the Civil Service going for it, though…

Elizabeth Pisani explains (pdf) why large amounts of data collected by organizations like Google and Facebook could change science for the better, and how it already has. Here she recounts the work of John Graunt from the 17th century:

Graunt collected mortality rolls and other parish records and, in effect, threw them at the wall, looking for patterns in births, deaths, weather and commerce. … He scraped parish rolls for insights in the same way as today’s data miners transmute the dross of our Twitter feeds into gold for marketing departments. Graunt made observations on everything from polygamy to traffic congestion in London, concluding: “That the old Streets are unfit for the present frequency of Coaches… That the opinions of Plagues accompanying the Entrance of Kings, is false and seditious; That London, the Metropolis of England, is perhaps a Head too big for the Body, and possibly too strong.”She concludes:

A big advantage of Big Data research is that algorithms, scraping, mining and mashing are usually low cost, once you’ve paid the nerds’ salaries. And the data itself is often droppings produced by an existing activity. “You may as well just let the boffins go at it. They’re not going to hurt anyone, and they may just come up with something useful,” said [Joe] Cain.

We still measure impact and dole out funding on the basis of papers published in peerreviewed journals. It’s a system which works well for thought-bubble experiments but is ill-suited to the Big Data world. We need new ways of sorting the wheat from the chaff, and of rewarding collaborative, speculative science.

[UPDATE] Something I noticed in The Irish Times:

PUBLIC SECTOR: It’s ‘plus ca change’ in the public service sector, as senior civil servants cling to cronyism and outdated attitudes, writes GERALD FLYNN:

…it seems now that it was just more empty promises – repeating similar pledges given in 2008. As we come to the end of yet another year, there is still no new senior public service structure; no chief information officer for e-government has been appointed; no reconstitution of top-level appointments has taken place; and no new public service board has been appointed [emphasis added].

So nothing will happen.