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Are there issues when industry and academia team up for research?

As an academic palaeontologist within a university, I have almost no industry links or prospects in my present or future. However, Dr. Alice Bell, science-policy aficionado, has invited me to join several distinguished guests in sparking a discussion about the links between industry and academia. This was following a twitter discussion (a twebate?) we both had following her post on the genesis of a partnership of sorts between one of the government-funded Research Councils, NERC, and fossil fuel giant Shell. It’s on May 20th at 7pm, the Fairly Square in London, and it would be great to see some of y’all there. I have a request beforehand though, for you to share your personal experiences or any thoughts and comments with the blog about links between industry and academia. Alice has set a number of target questions on her site.

The questions which I hope to address in my few minutes are:

  • Does increasing industry involvement alleviate the responsibility of the government to fund research?
  • What the implications of ‘strategy alignment’ between Research Councils and industry mean for research
  • The types of research that industry (Shell, maybe others) actually fund
  • The lack of obligation for industry to be open/transparent about the outputs of research (e.g., no OA obligation)
  • Overall implications for the impartiality/independence of research
If anyone has thoughts on these points, or those Alice has asked on her page, please do share them here. It would be useful to gather as broad experience as possible before delving into something that, admittedly, I am only familiar with on a general level and within my own department at university.
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Jon began university life as a geologist, followed by a treacherous leap into the life sciences. He is now based at Imperial College London, investigating the extinction and biodiversity patterns of Mesozoic tetrapods – anything with four legs or flippers – to discover whether or not there is evidence for a ‘hidden’ mass extinction 145 million years ago. Alongside this, Jon researches the origins and evolution of ‘dwarf’ crocodiles called atoposaurids. Prior to this, there was a brief interlude were Jon was immersed in the world of science policy and communication, which has greatly shaped his view on the broader role that science can play, and in particular, the current ‘open’ debate. He tweets as @Protohedgehog.

5 Comments

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    https://www.facebook.com/jontennant.palaeo/posts/10101152744657875?stream_ref=10 – some really useful links about how the military has funded huge leaps in technology like GPS, as well as major scientific discoveries like sea-floor spreading stripes, one of the main pieces of evidence for plate tectonics. Additionally, it appears the fossil fuel giants like Shell and BP fund significant ventures in biofuels as part of a green energy future.

    More please!

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    Oil and gas companies earn high profits and it makes sense to them to spread some of that capital into research and public relations. I say both of these investment endeavors in the same line, because the energy companies have enough going for them, that they can find where these opportunities can go hand-in-hand.

    As you said, that’s not always bad. A previous post by Ms. Bell on the subject asks,’Should the Public be “enraged” or “shrug the matter off” as something that just happens?’ I suggest that people get engaged. Attend conferences and public meetings, ask how Shell is going to use the information and “stretch” them into applications that deal, open-handedly, with research implications. Then you can allow the “green tinge”.

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    Friend of mine is doing post-doctoral work called “knowledge exchange” with an environmental consultancy. They are working to develop a new water sensor such that it can be specifically used for a new project at my institution, but also if/when successful it is a new product the consultancy can sell/market. Technical journal papers will hopefully result. Nice example of using outsourced R&D basically, that is mutually beneficial.

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    A consideration that is not noted on your list but is important when academics mix with private companies is the ownership of any results.

    While a grad student in Victoria (BC, Canada) a grad student in our research group was doing his doctorate research in combination with a small technology firm (developing specialized sensors). Unfortunately three years into his project the firm got taken over (based on the promising research) and the proprietary component moved away. My colleague was left with three years of research gone and the lawyers for the new owners would not let him use “their” data to complete his project. He essentially had to start his research from scratch (going in a different direction to avoid patent issues). It added 18 months to his research and was a cautionary tale used by our University when future companies came calling.

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