Jon Morgan: Measuring science hard work

Dominion Post writer Jon Morgan on the financial returns required of publicly-funded scientific institutions. Read in full here.

An excerpt:

“…how can you calculate a payback on animal welfare research? In a strictly financial sense, the research is valueless until an export market says, ‘We don’t like your animal welfare standards’, and then the economic issue becomes very pronounced.”

“I raised these concerns with Research, Science and Technology Minister Wayne Mapp. He responded with a brief statement, saying the reason for the 9 per cent return is to “ensure that CRIs concentrate on research of value to the New Zealand economy. It requires the CRIs to look carefully at the work they do and to look at effective partnerships with industry.”

“He holds up the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research and the Institute of Environmental Science & Research as exemplars. Their returns for the 2007-08 year were: Niwa 12.8 per cent, ESR 10.1 per cent.

“But as Dr Hickford points out, not all CRIs are alike. Niwa makes its money from a service such as providing weather information and forecasts to the media.

“Agricultural and horticultural CRIs AgResearch or Plant & Food do not have the ability to do that. “Their type of research is much more deep-reach,” he says. “It’s not about what the weather’s going to do in three days’ time, it’s about developing systems that are going to see us through the next 20 to 30 years.”

“AgResearch, which saved itself from a bad year in 2007-08 by selling its stake in an animal genetics company, had a return of 1.6 per cent. Plant & Food is a recent amalgam of Crop & Food (minus 5.6 per cent return in 2007-08) and HortResearch (3.3 per cent).”