Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Blaming others for your own policies

Back in the 90's, the then National government wanted to Revolutionise science. The old DSIR was to be split up, its scientists scattered among ten new Crown Research Institutes. These CRIs would be expected to behave like businesses, returning a profit to the Crown (from money given to them by the Crown in the first place), and seeking out opportunities for outside funding and the financial exploitation of their research.

The problem with this model (implemented in the Crown Research Institutes Act 1992) is that sometimes businesses fail. Particularly when they're working in inherantly risky areas such as the commercialisation of new technologies.

Fast-forward to 2005: one of those CRI's (Industrial Research Limited - which does most of the non-sheep-and-cows stuff) has indeed run into financial trouble, losing almost $6 million this year (the third loss in a row) after a commercialisation venture went bad. And leading the witch-hunt with a call for a Select Committee inquiry is... the National Party. I know political memories are short, but do they really think no-one will notice that they're now trying to embarass the government with a perfectly forseeable consequence of a policy they established in the first place?

There are perfectly legitimate questions to be asked about whether IRL's commercialisation venture was too risky for a CRI to engage in - but I think that the role of the commercial model of scientific research (and the resulting pressure to make a good "return on investment" for the Shareholding Minister) cannot be ignored.


Amusingly I saw IRL advertising for Chemical Engineers the other day - after their recent staff cutbacks they closed the deal on for funding on a couple of major projects...

IRL isn't the only one in trouble - another previously successful public/industry good company akin to a CRI, struggling to make the transition to fully corporate has just "refocused" including a round of redundancies (more to come, probably).

Can't mention names of course, since I'm still employed there until my notice expires at the end of January :-/


Posted by Marsden : 12/27/2005 12:10:00 PM

This is so annoying because of the drivel that Shipley et al spouted about the "Knowledge Economy". They have seriously eroded our scientific communities to such an extant that, as a science worker, I cannot truthfully encourage my children in science subjects for any purpose other than passing exams.
I grow evermore convinced that some Nuremburg-like trial of politicians from the 1980's is needed.

Posted by balach : 12/27/2005 01:33:00 PM