Tuesday, May 14, 2013

An international conspiracy against pure research?

Conspiracy theory aside, here are  three similar stories  - from Canada, the U.K., and Australia

The Conservative love affair with targeted research | McLeans | May 8, 2013
Gary Goodyear’s quest for commercialization continues. The minister of state for science and technology joined John McDougall, the president of the National Research Council of Canada, to tell the country that its premier research institution would, from now on, focus on “commercial value”—not basic research. The idea is that Canadian companies could use more help with research and development, and the NRC is best placed to provide that support.
Each time the government announces such a shift, opposition critics and their allies lash out. They argue basic research produces innovation no one ever saw coming. Indeed, The Globe and Mail points to several such inventions produced by NRC researchers: the most accurate and stable atomic clock of its era, built in 1975; a “portable bomb sniffer,” built in the 1980s; and sophisticated computer animation, first developed in the 1960s. Yesterday, Kennedy Stewart took his turn pointing these things out to the government. The NDP’s science and technology critic wondered aloud during Question Period why Conservatives would “turn their back on important research.”
Across the world, Australia's budget confirmed many previously announced cuts to higher education/universities

Universities and students hit hard despite modest new spending | Universities Australia | May 14

 The positive new higher education initiatives announced by the Government tonight have been welcomed by the university sector but are insufficient to offset the impact of the $3.8 billion worth of cuts to higher education expenditure announced by the Government over the past 6 months, according to the peak body representing Australian universities, Universities Australia."The Government has reaffirmed that it intends to go ahead with the cuts, making the university sector one of the hardest hit in this budget. These reductions will challenge the ability of universities to maintain the quality of education and research. And by compromising the role that universities play in lifting national productivity and securing long-term economic prosperity, they will also make it more difficult to put the nation's budget back in black," said Universities Australia Chief Executive, Belinda Robinson.
"Every dollar that is lost to university investment represents a reduction in the long-term dividend to the nation" said Ms Robinson.
"Highly skilled graduates to meet future labour market needs, world-class research, advanced technology, new knowledge frontiers, high technology industries and medical breakthroughs are the essential ingredients of successful nations - something that the countries in our region well understand and is the reason why they are investing heavily in their own higher education systems."
La Nouvelle Trahison des Clercs: When scholars sell out, the consequences are grave | George Monbiot | May 14
...I castigated the new chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, for
misinforming the public about risk, making unscientific and emotionally manipulative claims and indulging in scaremongering and wild exaggeration in defence of the government’s position(3). Since then I have seen his first speech in his new role, and realised that the problem runs deeper than I thought.
Speaking at the Centre for Science and Policy at Cambridge University, Walport maintained that scientific advisors had five main functions, and the first of these was “ensuring that scientific knowledge translates to economic growth”(4). No statement could more clearly reveal what Benda called the “assimilation” of the intellectual. As if to drive the point home, the press release summarising his speech revealed that the centre is sponsored, among others, by BAE Systems, BP and Lloyd’s(5).
Last week, two days before CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, Oxford University opened a new geoscience laboratory, named after its sponsor, Shell. Among its roles is helping to find and develop new sources of fossil fuel(6).
This is one of many such collaborations. Last year, for example, BP announced that it will spend £60m on research at Manchester University, partly to help it drill deeper for oil(7). In the US and Canada universities go further: David Lynch, dean of engineering at the University of Alberta, appears in advertisements by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, whose purpose is to justify and normalise tar sands extraction(8).
As the campaign group People and Planet points out, universities help provide fossil fuel corporations not only with expertise but also with a “social licence to operate”.
The Monbiot column, in particular, deserves a full read (here)

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