What does the retreat of public research mean for welfare and innovation?

This article was written by Professor Daniele Archibugi and Dr  Andrea Filippetti, from Birkbeck’s Centre for Innovation Management Research

research-and-developmentAn increasing proportion of knowledge is generated in the private sector, rather than in public research institutions like universities.  For many, this is cause for concern; public research and private research differ economically in terms of public access, potential for future technological innovations and in the criteria of resource allocation. Does it matter whether research is conducted by  private business rather than in universities or government research centres? And will the retreat of public research have negative effects on welfare and innovation?

These are just two of the questions we considered in our recent research . While science and innovation policy in the last decades has focused on exploring the relevance of the interconnections between public and business players in enhancing knowledge-based societies, we argue that a major trend has been ignored: both the quota of public Research and Development (R&D) and its share over the total R&D investment has shrunk in most OECD countries.

The shift from public R&D to business R&D

The evidence for a shift in R&D is reflected in the most visible and measurable component of knowledge creation –  the resources allocated to R&D. In most OECD countries a significant shift in the effort to finance public R&D has occurred: as shown in the tables below, from 1981 to 2013 the share of public-financed R&D to GDP has been reduced from 0.82 per cent to 0.67 per cent. By contrast, the industry-financed R&D has increased from 0.96 per cent of GDP in 1981 to 1.44 per cent in 2013.

Gross R&D (GERD) expenditure as a percentage of GDP by source of funds (G-7 countries plus South Korea and OECD average), rate of change 1981-2013

Industry-financed GERD as a percentage of GDP Government-financed GERD as a percentage of GDP
rate of change 1981-2013 rate of change 1981-2013
Canada 53.06% -6.56%
France 63.16% -21.21%
Germany 38.81% -13.27%
Italy 33.33% 38.46%
Japan 85.82% 15.38%
South Korea* 86.90% 126.19%
United Kingdom -19.15% -59.26%
United States 48.21% -29.63%
OECD – Total 50.00% -18.29%

Source: OECD Main Science and Technology Indicators (MSTI).

*  Data for South Korea refer to 1995 instead of 1981.


Table 2 – Percentage of Gross R&D (GERD) expenditure by source of funds (G-7 countries plus South Korea countries and OECD average)


Percentage of GERD financed by industry Percentage of GERD financed by government
year 1981 2013 rate of change 1981 2013 rate of change
Canada 40.77 46.45 13.93% 50.61 34.86 -31.12%
France 40.92 55.38 35.34% 53.4 34.97 -34.51%
Germany 56.85 65.21 14.71% 41.79 29.78 -28.74%
Italy 50.08 44.29 -11.56% 47.21 42.55 -9.87%
Japan 67.71 75.48 11.48% 24.91 17.30 -30.55%
South Korea* 76.26 75.68 -0.76% 19.04 22.83 19.91%
United Kingdom 42.05 46.55 (70)** 10.70% 48.1 26.99 -43.89%
United States 49.41 60.85 23.15% 47.8 27.75 -41.95%
OECD – Total 51.64 60.76 17.66% 44.19 28.28 -36.00%

Source: OECD Main Science and Technology Indicators (MSTI). Data for South Korea refer to 1995 instead of 1981; the sum of the shares does not add up to 100% since there are other minor sources that are not considered, namely “other national sources” and “abroad”.

* Data for South Korea refer to 1995 instead of 1981.

** In the UK a significant higher proportion of R&D funding comes from overseas. When this is taken into account the share of private-funded R&D stands at 70% (Economic Insight, 2015, p. 7)


This data also indicates significant differences across countries. Japan and South Korea exhibit a virtuous trend where both  business and  government have increased their R&D expenditure; in South Korea, particularly, government expenditure increase has been spectacular. In the US, the UK, Canada, France and Germany, by contrast, we see simultaneously the growth of industry-financed R&D and  the decline of government-financed R&D.

Beyond the knowledge-as-a-public-good view

The current privatisation of research activity and knowledge (which is often praised) can have major consequences on innovation and, ultimately, on long-term economic growth and social welfare. But why is the threat to knowledge largely ignored or under-estimated?  We believe that it is due to an unclear understanding of the economic characteristics of knowledge. Historically, knowledge has been considered to be a public good; Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Kenneth Arrow, is cited arguing that knowledge is costly to produce but could be disseminated as information at zero or very low costs. While this view recurs frequently in literature, and is repeated by another authoritative Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz, a great body of research has demonstrated that knowledge has both public and private components.

Public-generated knowledge and private-generated knowledge have different economic characteristics, which will shape future knowledge-creation and innovation. The way in which knowledge production is funded – public or business – matters for subsequent application for innovation, particularly in:

  1. Resources allocation
  2. Excludability in consumption
  3. Excludability in production
  Private-generated knowledge Public-generated knowledge


Resources allocated through market mechanism.

The main purpose is to contribute to profits though knowledge-based products, services and processes.

Resources allocated through political process.

The main purpose is to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and social welfare.

B. Excludability in consumption pursued through active strategies such as industrial secrecy and proprietary forms of intellectual property. Non-excludability in consumption implemented through technology transfer policies and full disclosure (e.g. open science and non-proprietary forms of intellectual property).
C. Excludability in production associated to firm-specific technical knowledge and tacit knowledge. Non-excludability in production actively sought reducing tacit knowledge.

Our research suggests that, up until now, little attention has been given to the major shift from public to private consequences. We are calling for a change: while the long-term consequences of this shift have not yet been discussed at length, they have the potential to be extremely relevant to long-term technological opportunities, the role of major scientific breakthroughs, and vital knowledge exchange from basic research in the public sector.

Further reading:

  • Archibugi, D. and Filippetti, A. (2016) ‘The Retreat of Public Research and Its Adverse Consequences on Innovation’. CIMR Research Working Paper Series Working Paper No. 31.
  • Archibugi, D. and Filippetti, A. (2015) The Handbook of Global Science, Technology, and Innovation, John Wiley & Sons.
  • Mazzucato, M., 2013. The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths. Anthem Press, London.
  • I.T., 2015. The Future Postponed. Why Declining Investment in Basic Research Threatens a U.S. Innovation Deficit. M.I.T. Washington Office, Washington D.C.

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New film explores the link between Kew Gardens collections and the Amazon

This article was written by Dr Luciana Martins from Birkbeck’s Department of Cultures and Languages

boatKew Gardens holds fascinating artefacts collected by the botanist and explorer Richard Spruce, who travelled in South America in the nineteenth century. I am about to embark on a 10-day workshop with indigenous peoples in the Amazon based on this collection,  and so decided to seize this opportunity to take up the camera  and produce my first research-led film.

The purpose of filming was twofold. First I wanted to explore the potential of film to elicit memories and stories of the indigenous peoples participating in the workshop about specific artefacts of Kew’s collection. The second was to tell the story of one of these artefacts in a way that she could convey cinematically the contrasting environments of the object’s life.

Now, in collaboration with the Derek Jarman Lab (DJL), a research and film-making hub based at Birkbeck, I have released The Many Lives of a Shield, a short film that follows the story of one of these artefacts.

I participated in a DJL filming workshop with Bartek Dziadosz and Bea Moyes, which demystified the process of filmmaking, giving me confidence to go ahead with my project. The partnership with Bea worked really well, and the whole film-making experience opened-up a new way of working, seeing and thinking, which I’m still getting to terms with.

I am currently organizing a roundtable during Arts Week entitled ‘Telling object stories: film, peoples and plants in the Amazon,’ in which I will discuss with Bea Moyes and Bartek Dziadosz the potential of film to produce new insights into arts and humanities research – watch this space!

Watch The Many Lives of a Shield

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The Medical History of Speech Disorders

microphone-1716069_1920Dr Marjore Lorch from Birkbeck’s Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication talks to us about her recent investigation into the first recorded case of spasmodic dysphonia (SD) – a condition in which  involuntary spasms in the tiny muscles of the larynx cause the voice to break up, or sound strained, tight, strangled, breathy, or whispery. The below interview is adapted from an interview given to the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association and published in their newsletter Our Voice, 2016, 26 (1) 14-15.

What did this piece of research entail?

Together with Dr Renata Whurr, I investigated the very first case of spasmodic dysphonia that is regularly cited in the current research literature. We found that the picture presented by this patient, translated from German in the 1870s, was not what it seemed. The clinical description was not consistent with our current view and it is likely that the patient didn’t actually have SD. Subsequently, we discovered that research by a British clinician, writing at the same time, contained observations very similar to our current characterization.

How did you get involved in historical research?

I was fortunate to have teachers throughout my training who stressed that the way to understand neurogenic disorders, observed clinically, was to go back and read earlier descriptions to understand how syndromes were characterized by the perspective of the observers which changed over time.

Can you explain how historical research impacts current and future research?

I believe that applied medical history can contribute important insights into current clinical issues. This method puts a spotlight on understanding the way assumptions, concerns and questions change over time and how that influences the types of answers that are pursued. This kind of approach may be particularly useful in making progress on points that have been debated over the years by analyzing the types of symptoms that have been considered central to different formulations in the past. For example, whether clinicians considered SD to be psychogenic or neurogenic has changed over time. To develop a more nuanced and detailed picture to drive forward future avenues of research, it is valuable to go back and review historical observations. It can be a source of inspiration to revisit previous hypotheses and characterizations. The benefit is that it may produce a reassessment of things that were held as unquestioned assumptions.

What drew you to spasmodic dysphonia research?

I began my involvement with spasmodic dysphonia research in the early 1990s through my work with Dr Renata Whurr who was head of Speech and Language Therapy at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery at Queen Square London. Over the years we have collaborated on a variety of aspects regarding SD. Initially, this was focused on treatment. However, I later became interested in the linguistics aspects of the problem. We investigated how the vocal cord movement disorder interacted with the articulatory properties of different languages. One important finding drew attention to the fact that speakers with SD will have different vocal symptoms depending on what language they speak. For example, the diagnostic features of SD for English will not adequately describe the characteristics of French SD speakers. Put more simply, if you have SD, your symptoms will be slightly different depending on the language you speak.

What has surprised you the most about researching the history of spasmodic dysphonia?

When my colleague, Dr Whurr, and I went back to the original case of SD reported in the 1870s that is still cited today, we were amazed to find that the individual didn’t have a voice disorder that we would recognize as SD. This research revealed the common practice of perpetuating a reference to historical literature without necessarily going back to the source. The selection of emblematic cases is also influenced by the assumptions held by the researcher. Our work highlighted how a particular view of the past may be colored by present day biases. In this instance, a strong belief in Freudian psychology in the mid-20th century may have played a part in choosing a historical case that was formulated as “hysterical”. It also highlighted how more significant and worthwhile observations may not be promoted, because of social rather than scientific reasons. By reading the 19th century literature, we recovered important observations about SD that had been lost to posterity.

How do you think this research will help people with SD?

Our research has highlighted the contribution of the 19th-century clinician, Morell Mackenzie, who described the particular sound of a person’s voice, which will lead directly to the diagnosis of SD. This is of vital importance as there is often a long delay in diagnosing SD. It is important to recognize that changes in voice may be the only symptom of this neurogenic disorder.

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Peace-making in Colombia beyond the ratification of the peace agreement: political or market solutions to peace-making?

This post was contributed by Dr Olivier Sibai, lecturer in marketing in Birkbeck’s Department of Management. Dr Sibai recently published a paper entitled ‘Marketing as a Means to Transformative Social Conflict Resolution: Lessons from Transitioning War Economies and the Colombian Coffee Marketing System‘ in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing

Colombian peace agreement: is it really the end of the longest civil war?

After four years of negotiations, the Colombian government and the representatives of the FARC signed a historical peace deal this summer. The deal was ratified by the house of representative on the 30th November, officially ending 52 years of a civil war which has left up to 250 000 people dead and over 5 million people displaced. The peace deal was hailed by the international community as a major achievement. High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo described it as a miracle and the country’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role.

While the peace agreement is clearly a great achievement, voices are already raising concerns about the risks of ex-fighters joining criminal gangs. Clearly, the agreement is only the first step of a long peace-building process. As long standing civil war deeply changed Colombian society, peace-building will be a challenging process, necessitating the overcoming of many hurdles over many years.

Peace-making: a political challenge with a political solution?

Peace-making in Colombia is clearly a political challenge. Civil wars developed because, 50 years ago, the state was dysfunctional to the extent that it failed to provide certain public goods required for societal well-being. In particular, security manifested as physical safety, wealth, and welfare was limited to small segments of society – typically affiliated with the ruling party or class. In the wake of this situation, rebel parties emerged, fighting the state to implement a different political order.

Peace-making, therefore, typically involves achieving three objectives: restoring the ability of the state to provide public good,  undermining the ability of the rebel parties to challenge the state through war-making, and facilitating reintegration of the actors actively engaged in the war in a state-centered society. The peace agreement ratified in Colombia addresses those three political issues through political solutions. The Colombian state will redistribute land and invest in rural development, set up of a transitional justice system to judge and formally reintegrate the former rebels, and guarantee the FARC a place in democratic debates as a political party. International political organisations will also be involved, with, for example, the United Nations overlooking disarmament in the coming months. Civil society is already contributing to peace-making, facilitating community dialogue and communicating the benefits of citizenship and law-obedience within sensitive communities.

Peace-making: a market problem – with political or market-based solutions?

While political issues must undoubtedly lead the peace-making process, markets will also necessarily play a significant role in turning the peace-making initiative into a long-term success or a failure. As the civil war continued, the Colombian economy transformed into a war economy – an economic system adapted to the context of violent conflicts and functioning largely outside the rule of law. As the war economy itself continued, it stabilized itself as the new economic order, making it difficult to return to a peace economy. The markets of the war economy became institutionalized and business actors became dependent on the continuation of war to sustain their livelihood, producing short-term economic interest in perpetuating the war economy. The actors of the combat market accumulate their wealth from trade activities that directly fund the war (e.g. trade of money, arms, equipment, and fuel; taxation of licit and illicit economic activities). The actors of the shadow markets accumulate theirs from lucrative entrepreneurial activities on the margin of it (e.g. drug trafficking, smuggling, mass extraction of natural resources, currency exchange, and manipulation of aid resources). The actors of the coping markets (e.g. wage labor, petty trade) depend on the combat and shadow markets to eke out a living and reimburse their loans.

As business actors are embedded in the war economy, they are often viewed as a significant force working against peace-making. Typical approaches to fostering the transition from a war economy to a peace economy are therefore political, involving policies and interventions aimed at controlling market actors. The peace agreement for example foresees the states collaborating with the international community to crack down on narco-traffickers.

Yet, in the past 15 years, governmental institutions in countries afflicted by civil wars have been criticized as kleptocracies manipulated by elites embedded in the war economy to retain power and wealth. Markets, by contrast, have increasingly been recognized as including the potential to be the pro-social forces contributing to peace-making in such contexts, promoting cooperation, inclusion, security, social justice, and sustainable prosperity. Some have argued that business people have more interest in building a deeper peace than transitory international peacebuilding officials as they have a long-term personal investment in the country. Others have depicted business sites, such as plantations or large mines which remained “islands of civility” in times of war, as representing spaces in which trust and hope can redevelop in post-war periods.

Envisioning market-based solutions to peace-making

If market-based solutions can complement political solutions to peace-making in Colombia, we still need to understand how markets can contribute to stabilizing Colombia into peace rather than destabilize it back into war. And today, we still know very little about that.
My colleagues and I argue that, for markets to contribute to transforming the war economy into a peace economy, marketers need to shift their perspective. They need to view themselves not solely as economic agents guided by profit but as policy agents or corporate diplomats, equally interested in promoting social wellbeing through the market. From this perspective they must design peace-making markets rather than just design marketing tactics in existing war markets.

Now, what would a peace-making market look like? To get a first picture of this, we investigated the fair-trade coffee market system in the Colombian civil war. Overall our analysis shows that promoting individual empowerment, communication, community building, and regulation within markets represented useful anchors for marketers to design a peace-making markets, contributing altogether to legitimizing the government as a provider of public good, weakening rebel forces and helping market actors from the war economy to transition to a peace economy. Let us look at each anchor in turn.

  • First, the Colombian fair-trade coffee market system has empowered individual actors from the shadow markets engaged in illegal entrepreneurial activities on the margin of the war, providing them with the necessary resources and capabilities to reintegrate into the peace economy. For example, it has given farmers a viable “way out” of cocaine production.
  • Second, it has fostered the development of resourceful communities that incentivize actors from the coping markets, struggling to eke a living, to embrace the peace economy. For example, fair-trade coffee certification came along with training, increasing poor farming communities’ knowledge and expertise and the provision of education and health care for communities.
  • Third, the marketing system promoted communication between/among market actors and government bodies, enhancing the legitimacy of the state. For example, governmental methods to eradicate cocaine fields which damaged crops pitted the government against coffee farmers suffering from it, breaking ties between them. The democratic requirements of decision-making in fair trade coffee cooperatives motivated negotiations with the governments which successfully led to developing less destructive ways of eradicating cocaine plantations, relegitimizing governmental activities.
  • Finally, the fair trade coffee marketing system promoted the development of self-imposed market regulations that promote the view that prosperity can be attained through the peace economy. Governmental support of such regulations further legitimized the state as a provider of public good.

We do not contend that the anchors identified will necessary be the same in different contexts as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to peace-making. We do not contend either that market-based solutions to peace-making are alternatives to political solutions to peace-making. However, they represent a useful and necessary complementary approach. Markets will play an important role in the actual long-term pacification of Colombia and it seems unlikely that the war economy will transition in a peace economy without peace-making initiatives from market actors themselves. It is therefore essential that the Colombian government and the international communities consider carefully how they can promote and leverage market-based peace-making initiatives when working towards peace-making.


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