Saturday, May 18, 2013

ROI & The Economic Importance of Public Support of Scientific Research

Last month, academic advocate Zack Kopplin debated the importance of maintaining funding for scientific research, even in the face of other economic priorities. Kopplin argued that the Return on Investment reaped from the results of such research far outweigh both any costs associated with said research, and borrowing costs. 

Stephen Moore, a former fellow of both the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, two prominent Washington DC-based free-market think-tanks provided the counter-point to Kopplin's argument. While at first arguing that the debt takes precedent over scientific funding, Moore resorted to mocking Kopplin's views via anecdotal mention of publicly-funded research on snail mating habits. "You are not a scientist" responded Kopplin. The host then chimed in to say that anecdotal arguments really have no place in a serious policy debate. 

We can all bring up anecdotes which, while not scientific, representative, typical, underline one's point of vies in the argument. In response to Moore's mention of funding for snail mating habits, I can also submit seemingly questionable research: on Oyster Glue.

2013 Story About Research on Oyster Glue
2010 Story About Research on Oyster Glue

For the past 13 years, research has been ongoing at Indiana's Purdue University, on exactly how Oysters, Mussels, Barnacles and other mollusks glue themselves to underwater surfaces. If this research doesn't seem relevant to society overall, think again. 

Although oyster glue research seems unorthodox, this research may very well yield an organic non-toxic glue, which can be used as an underwater construction material, or even to glue broken bones still inside a patient's body. From the economic point of view, the potential returns are enormous. So, we all have our anecdotes.

All jokes and anecdotes aside, the link between support for scientific research, and future economic growth is enormous, and simply cannot be downplayed or overlooked. 
Max Berre is an economist at the EDHEC-Risk Institute (Ecole Des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord) who has worked as a sovereign debt expert at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington and has taught financial economics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

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