Wednesday, October 08, 2008

the role of university research (versus industry)

90% of science and technology research done in University should lead to a negative result - not necessarily no result, but a result that is essentially, to all intents and purposes, useless - i.e. non-exploitable

to this extent, then, universities are filters for bad ideas so that society/industry doesnt waste considerably more money pursuing bogus ends.

this does beg the question, though, how can industry decide which dead end research to fund? oh the joys of seeking funding in university:-)

of course, the arts and humanities don't have this problem at all, since they are 100% useless (in these terms:-)

2 comments:

Daniel said...

If one of the functions of research is to filter failed ideas/approaches, would it be useful for researchers to start publishing their list of failures? Almost all papers share some success story which in some ways is misleading because behind the success are many failures. Maybe each paper could be accompanied by a list of approaches/ideas that did not work out. Writing this reminds of an old paper: Medawar. P. B. (1963). Is the scientific paper a fraud? In P. B. Medawar. The Threat and the Glory. New York: Harper Collins. 228-233

clog said...

this is the tragedy and contradiction of the academic world - it is a fact that most projects don't really advance knowledge in the sense of finding a new idea that works, but rather advance our knowledge of what is either a confirmation of something we knew (add confidence) or establishes something that doesn't work, and yet we are so addicted to notions of "success" that publishing/reporting failures is very very rarely rewarded. There have been research agencies (notably DARPA in the US for a while, and some folks inside Intel when Tennenhouse started their lablets on disruptive research) who stated categorically that if more than 50% of funded work succedeed, then they were picking the wrong projects to fund. Alas, it should be 99%, and people should get tenure for admitting it!

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