Public vs. private funding in R&D

You have probably realised about the current trend of governments to rely more and more on private money to fund research. The USA are well known for going that way, and Europe is now trying to head in that direction too. The 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission is heavily geared towards “industry-driven research”. I have talked about this before, but yesterday, reading the Sunday supplement of El País, something stirred inside me. Again.

Pere-Joan Cardona, a Catalonian biomedical researcher of my own age, leads the Tuberculosis Experimental Unit at a small research foundation in Spain. They are about to start the clinical trials of a vaccine that may prove revolutionary. The interview that El País publishes is full of interesting and fun details, but one of Cardona’s remarks about the state of research in Spain and Europe is especially delightful:

In order to really innovate, public funding is necessary […] Only the public system is able to generate knowledge without the need of guaranteeing commercial profitability.

This reminds me of something that a Dutch academic said a few weeks ago in a meeting to which I was also attending:

Let’s leave industry to solve their own problems, without the governments having to take care of them.

Are you listening, EC?

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