Irish Science Weak


Opening Science Week on Monday were from left: Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of  Science Foundation Ireland and Sean Sherlock.junior minister with responsibility for research and innovation.

By Dan Boyle

The decision of the government to get rid of the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser, and have that advice in the future come from Science Foundation Ireland, seems a decision that has little to do with logic.

It’s a decision born of the shiny bauble approach to science. In philosophical terms Science Foundation Ireland, in its structure and in its methods of working, is often more concerned with activities that acheieve a bigger buck than a bigger bang.

Of course economic impact of research is important but with Science Foundation Ireland it seems to be the near total focus of its being.

A well funded creature of the Celtic Tiger from the time it was believed that if you threw enough money at something it was bound to work, Science Foundation Ireland hasn’t exactly inspired confidence since, nor has it gained the right to have such confidence placed in it in the future.

Being committed to Mammon has created numerous conflicts of interests for the agency. It isn’t possible to fund and promote on largely economic grounds while simultaneously be responsible for putting place ethical standards while advising the policy making process.

This is also a decision that’s at odds with the need to have more cost effective State bodies. The existing structure of the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (ACSTI)  with Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser, instead of Science Foundation Ireland, would be a far better approach.

But then that might be too logical.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator

Previously: Government Abolishes Scientific Advisor Post (RTE)

Merging Of Science Roles Could Mean Conflict Of Interest (Dick Ahlstrom, Irish Times, October 31)

The Downside Of Austerity Hits Irish Scientists (John Farrell, Forbes)

The Business Of Science In Ireland (Broadsheet, July 10)

Science Week 2012

(Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)

20 thoughts on “Irish Science Weak

    1. JJ

      Some actual facts – to present a better balanced, more informed view.
      – Ireland ranked 3rd globally in Immunology, 6th in Nanotechnology, 8th in Materials Sciene. Plus v.strong in computer science, medical tech etc. ;
      – Increased CAO applications in 2013 for science at 3rd level so the kids obviously disagree with you Dan;
      – Ireland ranked 20th in the world overall for scientifc capacity – a rise from 36th in 2003;
      – Abolition of sep. office of the CSA saves at least €300k p.a;
      CSA duties move to Prof Ferguson as an individual not to SFI – If/when specific scientific advice needed then the DG will utilise a network of independent scientific experts in the relevant field;
      – Go talk to the long standing scientific experts in Ireland who worked in the system prior to the establishment of SFI in 2000. eg Prof Mike Coey.
      – Stop knocking Irish science – it is arguably THE shining example to survive AND be enhanced since the crisis – despite the shambles of pthe revious Govt’s failed fiscal policy/over reliance on construction & the banks – a Govt in which the Green Party played a shameful “hear no evil, see no evil…” role.

    1. Boba Fettucine

      Saw him speak at a conference. He is mini-Enda. Also he is utterly clueless on the areas he is supposed to demonstrate expertise in – e.g. changes in copyright legislation to benefit educational institutions.

  1. Funk

    Research and academia in this country are a shambles. This twat Ferguson does not understand research whatsoever. He believes that you must have a predetermined outcome and market for research otherwise it is not valuable.

    Basic research (research for the sake of research) and research to disprove something (also very valuable) are not considered relevant to this guy.

    I’m involved at the periphery of the research community in Ireland and is has been disheartening to see researchers scratching around for industry backing (and financial commitment) for their very valuable (scientifically) but very early stage (so perhaps far from commercial product) research.

    Very valuable scientific discoveries are being missed because of this clowns agenda. Nothing surer.

    1. Downtown Train


      But its so heartening to see Dan Boyle take up this case. Now where did I leave my passport?

      Sickening to see our universities being bought out by the likes of Roche et al.

    2. Dec

      +1 also

      having seen some of my friends and classmates fail to get SFI funding for projects after undergrad based on the potential outcomes of the projects they applied with over those who happen to mention “cure for cancer” a hundred times in a proposal is exactly why I’m taking my degree to a country that will.

      And before anyone has a go at me for doing that, science research costs way too much to undertake as an “entrepreneur”, there’s no such thing as a chemistry/biochemistry startup by recent graduates (unlike Computer Science for example)

  2. ILikeToRun

    “Sean Sherlock.junior minister with responsibility for research and innovation” – The very man who wanted to pass SOPA in Ireland. It seems a bit of a contradiction if you ask me.

  3. Skerries

    I don’t know what version of Scrabble they are playing but you can only make up 7 letters words in one go

  4. Dan Boyle

    JJ I wouldn’t attribute any of those stats to SFI. Most expertise in these areas exists because of foreign direct investment into Ireland. Far too much of research in this country depends on this funding. Similarly the increase in school places is welcome. It results from changes in education policies not because of SFI.
    Other than that cheers to those other posters who don’t want to engage in a debate because you don’t like the person making the argument.

  5. Dara O'Riordan

    All articles on damage caused by this decision can be found on twitter using #IrishCSA

    Irish Gov abolishing independent Science Adviser- Weakens science, weakens Gov policy, public trust, & creates conflict of interest.

  6. JJ

    Dan – agreed that SFI is not the only reason why Ireland’s research stats have risen dramatically in recent years – but SFI, the PRTLI + D/Education actions are the main contributory factors. You are completely mistaken in thinking such stats have been because of the FDI/MNC factor. It is primarily due to SFI funding to the likes of Professors Luke O’Neill, Kingston Mills, Mike Coey, JOhn Boland, Fergus Shanahan, Stefan Decker, Mike Hinchey and other world renowned scientitst AND complemented by HEAs building of top-class facilities> These are principal drivers of Ireland’s enhanced research standing since he late 1990s, This has led to the the domino effect of enhanced FDI /research capability of Irish industry. Plus more kids are choosing science now because of the consequences arising from a multitude of factors – incl changes in education system + maintaining research system + the excitement/quality of Irish science. Yes some issues need to be resolved quickly – particularly in terms of researcher careers but people need to stick to the facts. SFI funds circa 25% of our publicly funded research system but does not have policy responsibility for researcher careers.

  7. Dara O'Riordan

    The loss of an independent Chief Science Adviser is a big blow for openness and transparency in Ireland, a country that doesn’t value evidence based decision making as much as it should given its recent history.. It’s a power grab by Government, now Science Policy is decided beyond Government doors, beyond public criticism or expert correction. It is worrying that such an affront to academic freedom and public transparency was not strongly challenged by institutions such as RIA and IUA.
    Despite Nature and Forbes reporting this as a regressive step for the Nation, responsible Ministers deny there is a problem with the resultant conflict of interest and loss of transparency, or use oxymorons like we are better advised with no independent adviser. This is a very dangerous step.

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