Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Carnegie Mellon Chief: Industry Is Failing to Fund Basic Research

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Carnegie Mellon Chief: Industry Is Failing to Fund Basic Research

Article excerpt

Subra Suresh sounds alarm on funding that is now 'more D in R&D than R'. David Matthews reports

Companies are failing to invest in basic research, the president of Carnegie Mellon University has warned, meaning that it is more vital than ever to convince politicians and the public of the need for government support.

Subra Suresh (pictured), who from 2010 to 2013 served as the director of the National Science Foundation, told Times Higher Education that industry funding was now "more D in R&D than R".

As a young researcher, Professor Suresh recalled that it was common to hear researchers from private firms deliver a technical paper at a conference. Now, "there are very few companies that do this", he said.

Several trends explained this shift away from basic research in the US, including "increasing pressure to focus on the short term rather than long term" in the corporate world, he said. Much greater government investment in science - including from new economic powers such as China and India - also meant that it cost businesses far more to maintain a scientific lead than it had in previous decades.

"It's possible in some areas that the level of investment it takes to do this is so severe that the easy thing to do is invest in what you need for the next few years," he explained.

The increasing speed of technological change meant that expensive infrastructure had to be upgraded more often, he added, while fears over cybersecurity meant companies were worried about being able to hold on to the fruits of their research.

Another reason for industry disinvestment was that "increasingly in some subjects you have greater numbers of authors per paper and they are much more international", he said, meaning that companies feared that they would "lose control" of the research and be unable to profit from the results. …

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