Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Science and Industry

On Friday the British Minister of Science, Paul Drayson, visited the science area of Oxford University to give a short speech and take questions.Drayson very confidently suggested that more scientists should just become entrepreneurs, or should at least go into industry.

Activist Nick Anthis comments: "I don't know what sort of market there is out there right now for scientific "entrepreneurs". At the very least, the demand for this niche endeavor is most certainly not more than the demand for career academic scientists, and I highly doubt that pushing more people into entrepreneurship would do anything to alleviate the overabundance of highly-trained scientists struggling to find academic jobs... especially not in the current economic climate. That's not even taking into account the fact that entrepreneurship is often something that stems from work done in conjunction with another more stable position and not something that someone can generally just go out and do on their own". And he says much more as well.

IMO: Drayson seems sincerely and legitimately interested in science and scientists. But all my life I have heard this tale, that scientists should go into industry, innovate etc. The system in the USA seems to work well for entrepreneurial scientists, perhaps not so well for pure scientists. But we have to remember that the USA is a highly directed and controlled economy. I can see hundreds of chances in USA that do not exist in the UK and never have or can or that one would wish for, and the UK cannot just say that they will do things like the USA because of the very different infrastucture. India has had the same sort of problems, again modified because of the essentially different nature of the economy, and the US approach very easily is much worse than what they had in the past. It has given us Singur and Nandigram for a start, in industry. One could go so far as to say that the blinkered view of the oligarchies in India towards the peasantry has led quite directly to problems for UK Jaguar cars, as an example.

In general terms, things actually seem worse for scientists in India than they were - e.g. greed isn't good, despite the notion given to young men that greed must be good, by the same purveyors of luxury goods that represent so much of world industry. And it is feeble and specious to mislead potentially great fundamental scientists that greed is good, as it wastes so much of their brilliant years in finding out that the modern equivalent of door to door sales more often leads to poverty than profit - unlike what the US popular literature likes to say.

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