Is business polluting R and D?

The Irish Times Science editor Dick Ahlstrom believes that the world may never see another scientific genius like Galeo, Einstein or Newton – people whose discoveries and theories created entirely new fields of learning. Rather, the technology of today and tomorrow will build on current knowledge.

It is true that most patents incrementally improve existing technology rather than teach a revolutionary deviation of a field of science, mathematics or engineering.

Where does new technology come from? A significant amount of innovation starts at university research centers. Government sponsored research and corporate (private) university partnerships add to the research conducted by professors and graduate students at universities.

One commentator pointed to the fundamental change in universities as centers of learning and scholarship. Universities have entrepreneurial objectives and interests these days, favoring the executive skillset over the independent free thinker. Career advancement happens for those who produce commercially useful technology rather than those that engage in research with no commercial objective or identifiable use.

With the push for universities to commercialize their technology with licensing and spin off ventures, are we incenting or moving away from the scholarly function of academic institutions? What are your thoughts?