Against The Grain: 'I didn't become a scientist to help companies profit'
Philip Moriarty is professor of physics at the University of Nottingham. He argues that research in science has become too commercialised.
Thursday 28 February 2008
Academic research should be done in the public interest, not driven by the aims of a company. But this traditional approach is being continually eroded by the Government's view that science is synonymous with technology, even though there's no strong evidence that pouring money into industrial partnerships does a better job of fostering innovation. Science is much more than just technology. Yet, the research councils expect universities to act like the research and development wing of a corporation.
I do basic research in nanoscience, which is an area that can be easily applied to the commercial world, but the reason I'm doing it is not to develop a product that Procter & Gamble or Toshiba can market in five years' time: it's to address fundamental questions about nature. If I wanted to work in industry, I'd be there – I wouldn't be at a university. I know many PhD students and postdoctoral researchers who want to pursue an academic career, addressing the bigger questions rather than working in industry, but they are increasingly realising that they'll just end up being paid less to do the same research.
Organisations such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have strategic partnerships involving an industrial partner. The research council supplies half the funding – using taxpayers' money – and the company supplies the other half, so effectively the taxpayer is subsidising the company. That's disturbing, especially when it comes to big multinationals that don't have the best ethical record. When academics are being asked to develop protocols to drive up a company's profits, you've got to worry.
I'm certainly not arguing that academics should stay in their ivory towers, and I'm not against applied research or interacting with companies per se. But I am against taxpayers' money being used for research which is neither for the public good nor in the public domain. What most concerns me is that the research councils have recently introduced changes to the grant review process where scientists are expected to justify their research in terms of its potential short term economic impact. The Science and Technology Facilities Council, which should have the greatest commitment to fundamental research, is sadly furthest down this road and has set up an Economic Impact Advisory Council. Like many academics, I have no interest in entrepreneurship – generating profits from public money is not why I became a scientist.
If this continues, the fundamental ethos of university will be eroded: we'll get to a point where research that isn't driven by a corporate aim will be squeezed out. And if universities won't do research that's free from commercial interest, who will?
Philip Moriarty, with Jack Stilgoe at Demos, is organising a public debate, 'University Research: A Public Good?', in London in May. See www.nottingham.ac.uk/physics/research/nano
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Exclusive: UK approved £7m Israeli arms sales in six months before Gaza conflict
- 1 Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?
- 4 Halle Berry takes ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry to court for allegedly trying to make daughter look less African-American
- 5 Isis propaganda image showing 'abuse of Muslim woman by soldiers' is actually taken from Hungarian porn film
£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...
£200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...
£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: We are currently recruiting f...
£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher -Full Time - ...