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Posts Tagged ‘research ecosystem’

From The Economist: The best universities now have worldwide reach (More Hunt Report thoughts)

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The Economist has a fascinating article on where the World’s leading universities are headed.

The best American universities are nothing like the stereotype of isolated ivory towers. Take the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), founded in 1861 to accelerate the industrialisation of America. Its ties with business are now intimate and global. Companies fund much of its research. Staff and students collaborate with established firms and set up a prodigious number of their own. A study in 2009 by the Kauffman Foundation, a think-tank in Missouri, estimated that MIT alumni had founded 25,800 companies that were still active, employing 3.3m people and generating annual sales of $2 trillion. “It’s a very entrepreneurial culture,” says Susan Hockfield, MIT’s president.

Will the Hunt Report deliver institutions of this type here in Ireland? (Me too).

Three Views of Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist – tagline ‘ideas having sex’!

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Three Views of Matt Ridley.

Posted by David Boaz

Matt Ridley’s new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, is garnering rave reviews. Ridley, science writer and popularizer of evolutionary psychology, shows how it was trade and specialization of labor–and the resulting massive growth in technological sophistication–that hauled humanity from its impoverished past to its comparatively rich present. These trends will continue, he argues, and will solve many of today’s most pressing problems, from the spread of disease to the threat of climate change.

The Cato Institute has now presented three different looks at the book, with a review in the Cato Journal, another in Regulation, and an event at Cato with Matt Ridley himself.

FWIW, it is one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year, and a great counter to the pervasive misery-mongering rife. The tagline ‘ideas having sex’ is a great metaphor for the advancement of knowledge. Here is his TED talk – well worth watching.

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 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.

Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience Strategic Plan 2010-2016

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Blogging has been light recently because of the usual term-time stuff. However, we have launched our Institute of Neuroscience Strategic Plan (also available via google docs).

See here for the Trinity press release and TCIN Strategic Plan Nov 2010 Final for the summary presentation pdf.

The graphics are fantastic, and the plan itself is short and sweet.

A quote:

Our animating ethos rests on the belief that major and fundamental research problems are best solved by combining research strengths across disciplines and levels of analysis.

Combining our strengths in this way will allow us to deliver major scientific discoveries of great consequence for human health, welfare and knowledge.

Table of Contents:

  1. Why Explore the Brain? [Our short, simple answer: ‘Understanding the structure and functions of our brains brings us a good way along the path of understanding ourselves as humans. Progress in understanding the nervous system materially benefits human health, welfare and knowledge.‘]
  2. Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience Mission
  3. Transformative Neuroscience
  4. Context
  5. Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience Today
  6. Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience Tomorrow
  7. Research Focus 1: Synapses, Cognition and Behaviour
  8. Research Focus 2: Neuropsychiatry and Neurodevelopmental Disorders
  9. Research Focus 3: Neurodegeneration, Neuroprotection and Neuroplasticity
  10. Platform Technologies: Imaging and Neural Engineering
  11. Innovation
  12. Education
  13. Contribution to Society and Outreach
  14. Future Opportunities
  15. Measuring Impact: Hard and Soft Metrics
  16. Final Thoughts

Read it!

Industry-academic interactions

October 8, 2010 1 comment

Here’s disturbing story from the UK (reg req):

IS INDUSTRY WALKING AWAY FROM ACADEMIA?

Recession-hit companies scale back university liaison offices

Universities could find it more difficult to find industry research partners as hi-tech companies look to scale back or close their academic liaison departments in the wake of the financial crisis.

And a quote:

The defence technology company QinetiQ, spun out of the government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency in 2001, has closed its central academic liaison department. And within the past few months, the mobile telecoms company Vodaphone has moved its academic cooperation work into a single office in Germany. Previously, academic liaison was handled by a team scattered across different countries including Germany, the UK and Spain.

This has to be a concern if it is generally true: the idea that industry-academic partnerships are a good thing is reasonable on the face of it, but if industry decides it’s not interested, then what…?

A previous post here gives a very different perspective on how such interactions might actually evolve.

 

Irish science blogs – from science.ie

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Irish science blogs.

From science.ie

Irish Science Blogs
Published 29 September 2010

There are lots of Irish science blogs nowadays where you can keep up with what’s happening in the world of science and find out what issues people are discussing.

These  bloggers range from scientists and science teachers to members of the public who have an interest in science.

To give you a flavour of what’s out there, have a look at these ones we’ve come across…

Antimatter, by physics lecturer and Science Ambassador Cormac O’Raifeartaigh
http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress.com

Chris Horn, leading Irish electronics engineer, entrepreneur and STEM policy expert
http://chrisjhorn.wordpress.com

Communicate Science, by our Science Ambassador Eoin Lettice
http://www.communicatescience.eu

The Frog Blog – St Columba’s College Science blog
http://blog.sccscience.com

Irish Science – this is by a group of contributors
https://irishscience.wordpress.com

James McInerney, evolutionary biologist
http://jamesmcinerney.ie

Karlin Lillington, technology journalist
http://www.techno-culture.com/

Mary Mulvihill, science journalist
http://marymulvihill.net

Michael Seery, lecturer in physical chemistry (his blog is called “Is This Going To Be On The Exam?”)
http://www.michaelseery.com/home

Science Communication Review by Diarmaid Mac Mathúna
http://www.sciencecommunicationreview.com

The Science Gallery blog
http://sciencegallery.com/blog

Science Line by science journalist Cormac Sheridan
http://science-line.blogspot.com

Science Spinning, by Seán Duke
http://seanduke.wordpress.com

The Strange Quark by Marie Boran
http://www.thestrangequark.com

TeachNet Learning Blog
http://blog.teachnet.ie

Think For Yourself by physics teacher Noel Cunningham
http://thinkforyourself.ie

Using ICT in Further Education by Patricia Donaghy, ICT teacher
http://pdonaghy.edublogs.org

Last but not least, don’t forget to check out our own blog at MyScience.ie
http://www.myscience.ie

Science is Vital: The economic return argument in favour of investment in research

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Science is Vital (a new UK organisation opposed to cuts in the science budget there) offer a very interesting economic rationale for investing in research on their site [post reproduced in full]. Many of these points are just as important here in Ireland. There are lots of links below to actual evidence on the importance of investment in R&D.

Point 1. Investment in science and engineering skills and research yields broad and historically proven economic returns. Such investment, if made now, could drive the growth needed to secure a strong economic recovery:

  • By showing a strong and sustained commitment to science and engineering, the UK can attract and retain excellent and internationally mobile scientists and engineers and the industries that seek to employ them, which will give immediate gains through tax revenues and employment.
  • The UK’s economic climate, funding, and the reputations of its universities, all help to attract more and more overseas students – 250,000 in 2008/09, who contributed about £5bn to the UK economy. (BIS SET statistics)
  • 180,000 people gain from working in R&D. (BIS SET statistics)

Longer-term:

  • Finland and Korea responded to their economic crises in the 1990s by investing heavily in R&D while severely constraining public spending; these investments helped their strong regrowth in knowledge-based economies. The UK has not yet seized the opportunity, still available, to invest in science and engineering to accelerate the recovery
  • Multifactor productivity (MFP) reflects the extent to which an economy can derive GDP growth from a certain level of labour and capital.  A 2004 OECD analysis estimated that a 1% increase in business R&D increases MFP by 0.13% and a 1% increase in public R&D increases MFP by 0.17%.
  • A 2008 medical research report estimated that every £1 spent on public or charitably funded research gave a return of 30p a year in perpetuity from direct or indirect GDP gains, on top of the direct gains of the research.
  • Corporate investment in R&D brings a return of around 50% to the public. This compares to a private return of around 20% captured by investors themselves.

Point 2. The Government is keen to boost confidence in the UK by making decisive cuts. But cuts in the science and engineering sectors would have the opposite effect, damaging investor confidence, reducing levels of investment and impacting the quality of higher education:

  • Science in the UK already operates as a ‘Big Society’, with public investment and private enterprise strongly interacting. Cuts to academia  or innovation support could have unforseen and damaging consequences due to the links between them.
  • Investment in science cannot simply be turned off and then turned back on again a few years later. As former Science Minister Lord Waldegrave said, “If we cut science now, just as the benefits of nearly twenty years of consistent policy are really beginning to bear fruit, we will seriously damage our economic prospects.”
  • The total budget for R&D is an important signal to investors and researchers. If the UK is not perceived to support R&D then they move to more favourable countries, as UK business leaders have previously warned. The UK currently receives a very high proportion of its R&D funds from foreign owned firms (17%), which may be even more responsive to market conditions than UK-based companies.
  • If research projects are cut short, this wastes money that has already been spent and risks mothballing large-scale projects such as the Diamond Light Source or Isis.
  • Reducing investment in R&D would reduce the potential for economic growth. There will be fewer breakthroughs, and less development of them into beneficial products. The general public will notice falling productivity, given the level of media interest in and coverage of scientific and medical discoveries, as well as new (including green) technologies.
  • The UK’s reputation in science and engineering has already been damaged (e.g. physics funding crisis, and cuts already announced). We can recover with prompt action, but if not done soon, it will be hard to regain our previously enviable reputation.
  • Reduced funding for higher education teaching and research has already resulted in job losses. As the teaching of high-cost science and engineering courses is already under-resourced, and some universities have accepted unfunded places, further financial pressure is likely to lead to departmental closures.
  • Universities increasingly bolster their finances by recruiting overseas students, who bring with them high levels of fees. If the UK becomes less desirable, then this income will fall.

Longer-term dangers:

  • If the capacity and quality of the higher education system is reduced, a generation of less-skilled graduates is the result.  Without enough people trained in science, technology, engineering and maths, it will be difficult to retain industrial investment in the UK.
  • If university funding is lowered, universities will scale back on renewing and upgrading their teaching and research facilities, reducing the value of the skills of new graduates.

Point 3. UK science and engineering is already extremely efficient:

Nearly 30% of the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is produced by sectors intensive in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Yet the UK government spends a smaller proportion of its GDP on research than any other nation in the G7, bar Italy. We rank 14th in the OECD under the same metric – just behind Belgium and Canada, and on par with the EU27 average. Despite this, the UK:

  • Leads the world in a huge range of scientific disciplines.
  • Produces 12% of global citations with around 1% of the population.
  • Is home to 29 of the world’s top 200 universities, including three of the top ten (THE rankings).

This is possible through UK science being very efficient:

  • The UK is 3rd in the world in terms of citations per researcher
  • The UK is ranked first in the G8 for scientific papers produced as a proportion of GDP
  • We overwhelmingly focus on world-class research. About 90% of research funds (£980m out of £1095m) from HEFCE go to 3* or 4* research (defined as ‘internationally excellent’ and ‘world-leading’, respectively).
  • Research council grants are extremely competitive. For instance, success rates of 19% at the MRC (down from 21% in 2008-9) and 22% at the BBSRC mean that thousands of proposals are rejected. In 2003, the overall grant success rate across research councils was around 40% – it has now fallen to around 20% (in 2008).

While efficiency savings in R&D still need to be made, these savings must be reinvested in science and engineering.

Point 4. The Government needs to develop a long-term and stable policy framework to make the UK a country where people and companies want to do science and engineering, enabling researchers to innovate, and encouraging private investment:

  • Analysis of over 100 UK case studies by the Russell Group found that it took an average of 9 years from an initial discovery to produce a license or other measurable impact (e.g., significant commercial investment in a spin-out company). Given that the research cycle can have a decades-long timeframe, the public environment in which research plans are made needs to be of the same order.
  • Private investments, research programmes and careers are reliant on a long-term, coherent, and credible policy framework. Instability will reduce the ability of these individuals to do their most high-impact and valuable work.
  • A lack of long-term investment framework will compound
  • In spring 2010, the most important organisations in UK science urged the government to develop long-term plans. The Royal Society’s Scientific Century report urged the government to outline spending plans over a 15-year period to provide “a clear, long-term framework within which to plan, build, and compete globally”.
  • The House of Lords Science & Technology Committee recommended that the government adopt and articulate a long-term vision for UK Research, and the Council for Science and Technology talked of a vision for the future in which the UK research base is successful and globally competitive 20 years out. They urged that, “the Government needs to develop consistent, focused long-term industrial strategies”.

Point 5. Investment in science must be increased, or at the very least maintained,  it order for the UK to remain internationally competitive

  • The UK invested 1.8% of its GDP in R&D in 2007. This is short of the UK’s own target of 2.5%, and further behind the EU target of 3%.8. The new Government needs to commit to the challenging goal of at least 2.5% of GDP to be spent on R&D from all sources by 2014.
  • The UK has an excellent track record, with four of the world’s top 30 research universities. But this excellence is threatened by rapidly increasing investment overseas, particularly in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, that could grow into research giants. Indeed, the UK’s share of scientific publications fell over the last decade, while China’s quadrupled.
  • Other world leaders have set out the case for investing in science and engineering.
  • The advantages that the UK built upon – including an early scientific and industrial base, the English language, and openness to international investors and workers – will not sustain our excellence without a strong new commitment to the future.
  • A rather odd thing for Vince Cable to say – gimpyblog’s posterous

    September 12, 2010 Leave a comment

    A rather odd thing for Vince Cable to say – gimpyblog’s posterous.

    Another nice follow-up to the post below from Chris Dillow on the forthcoming cuts to the UK science budget.

    [blogpost reproduced in full]

    A rather odd thing for Vince Cable to say

    Forget for one moment the fall out of Vince Cable’s speech on science funding.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/08/vincent-cable-science-budget-cutsForget the fact the government has ignored the recommendations of last parliaments Science & Technology committee.
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmsctech/335/33504…

    Forget the fact that a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State with a remit for science has utterly reneged on Liberal Democrat commitments to science that were made to the electorate.
    http://blog.sciencecampaign.org.uk/?page_id=1094

    Forget even the fact that the Secretary of State does not appear to understand the criteria used for assessing the research that his department is responsible for.
    http://telescoper.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/unravelling-cable/

    Forget all this.  For it is not the most weird thing about the speech.
    http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/Detail.aspx?ReleaseID=415357&NewsAreaID=2

    This is:

    Superstition and irrational prejudice about the natural world are rarely far from the surface and scientists help inoculate society against them – a far from risk-free task as Simon Singh and others have discovered.

    Is Cable saying scientists are inherently more rational and less prejudiced than other members of society? This would be contentious.  Or does he mean that science can provide rational reasons for events and occurrences once attributed to supernatural forces and that evidence undermines prejudice.  This would be true, but you only have too look at the public’s understanding of genetic modification, climate change or immigration to see that in practice throwing facts in somebody’s face is not always the most efficacious way of changing their mind.

    And what has Simon Singh got to do with anything?  He was sued by a bunch of quacks whose reputation now lies in tatters.  This was a terrible abuse of libel law and it needs to be reformed, but this is not the remit of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills.  Perhaps Cable was worried that libel law can stifle science based criticisms?  It can, but I suspect that focussing science on fields that generate short term profit against all the evidence may in fact represent a far greater threat.

    Did Cable really think that a poorly conceived nod to skeptical activism and libel reform would sweeten the bitter taste this renunciation of his party’s purported principles has left in the mouths of most scientists?

    Genesis 2.0? (via Matters of Life and Tech)

    Another take on the whole artificial/synthetic life story.

    Genesis 2.0? A paper published last week by a hotshot (and media-savvy) researcher got me thinking about genesis – the biological, not the biblical kind. The paper, by biotech’s enfant terrible Craig Venter, is titled “Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome.” Much of the popular media, which seems to now be primed to explode into hyperbole every time it sights a Venter paper on the horizon, translated this piece of news to … Read More

    via Matters of Life and Tech