August 19, 2009

Big Science

There was an excellent article in the Listener last month about the role of science and technology companies growing the NZ economy. It features a number of comments from my employers at Endeavour Capital, and their portfolio companies, Veritide (who manufacture devices to detect anthrax spores) and Photonic Innovations Limited (who are developing gas detection equipment using lasers).

One of the comments by Dr. Andrew Wilson of PIL, was that his PBRF score had suffered because of time spent conducting commercially sensitive research for PIL, instead of publishing journal articles. For those that don't know, the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) is a way of allocating funding by ranking research performance (publishing) in the tertiary education sector. As pointed out in the Listener article, how can this be conducive to academics putting more time into research of commercial potential when they are more concerned with publishing their research in peer-reviewed journals in order to maintain their PBRF ranking?

While publishing and peer review are essential parts of academia and the scientific method (that will never, and should never change), perhaps more recognition in the PBRF system needs to be given to those that choose to patent their work instead of publish. As pointed out so eloquently by the Generation Y Scientist, universities are complicated beasts, and companies shy away from universities for a number of reasons. Perhaps the PBRF contributes to some of these reasons. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one.


  1. I found it interesting that Callaghan mentioned meat exports being able to pay for the pharmaceuticals sector 18 times over in the past, yet 'relentless decline' now sees it at 4 times over. Further then to this statement, surely it's common sense/recognising with hinsdight that this is due to us being ahead of our time back then with the ship exporting meat over the UK. Do we not want to continue being ahead of the mentioned rat race? Same concept, different gravy surely in this day and age? Disappointing that publishing is the prevailing factor in which who to fund is decided. It encourages 'social science climbing' somewhat, and that doesn't make sense. With IP being so much more valuable these days due to accessibility being easier (internet, telecommunications etc), surely the PBRF should focus on those who patent. A sensitive topic to those who are practical yet deserve recognition.

  2. Thanks for your post. The government is already heading in this direction. In fact just a couple of weeks ago there was a meeting between the University Commercialisation Offices of New Zealand (UCONZ), the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST). This meeting signalled the likely change in the PBRF system to value commercialisation just as much as it does with publications.



Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner