Big Science

By Aaron Small 19/08/2009

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.