In all the talk about commercializing science, there’s very little discussion about impact of the civil service bureaucrats who administer the programmes. The focus tends to be on the politicians who are in the position of being elected for one or more terms and may or may not achieve a position in the cabinet. No matter how you look at it, a politician’s impact is mitigated by the long term civil service employees who are tasked with implementing the government programmes or directives.
A bureucrat’s life compared to a politician’s tends to be rather stable. No matter how the elections went, the bureaucrat remains. The very top level, deputy ministers do trudge in and out according to the prevailing political winds but bureaucrats below that level, the ones who actually implement and administer the programmes, don’t move around that much.
Typically, these bureaucrats don’t have a lot of business experience (many have none) and as far as I’m aware business people are not on the panels that adjudicate grants. This seems problematic to me. How can someone who’s never been in business assess research that could lead to a commercial product?
And even if they (bureaucrats or panel members) do have business experience, consider the huge difference between working in a corporation, e.g. IBM, and starting up your own company/working in a startup company. The mentalities are quite different and their notions as to what constitutes a viable commercial application are similarly different. Let’s not forget that each industrial sector has its own particular culture and outlook. (I know from experience how very different telecommunications companies are from graphic arts [printers] companies. For example, information that is shared freely in one sector is a closely guarded secret in another sector.)
My point is that commercializing science is a lot more complex than just saying “research something that can be commercialized.”
Next week I will be summarizing this series of comments about commercializing science.