R&D sometimes necessary, but never sufficient, for innovation

A couple of interesting reports on R&D… firstly the DTI’s R&D Scoreboard 2006, where clearly more is better – at least one assumes that’s the purpose of creating lists and league tables ordered by the sums spent (see chart from the report showing the world’s biggest R&D spenders). Note the big spenders are not necessarily who you would regard as the great innovators.

The second report is from the management consultants Booz Allen Hamilton… Its arresting title is: A Select Set of Companies Sustain Superior Financial Performance While Spending Less on R&D Than Their Competitors [release/report]… What it comes down to is that innovation drives business, but that R&D spend is only loosely correlated with innovation. Booz Allen reckons that 94 out of the 1,000 companies it surveyed are ‘high leverage innovators’ (ie. Google not Microsoft, Toyota not General Motors)- they have an innovation system rather than R&D spend.

All of this should give pause for thought… For example, the EU plans to spend €50.5 billion on R&D between 2007 and 2013. Will this be spent in a way that generates innovation? Continue reading “R&D sometimes necessary, but never sufficient, for innovation”

Soft paternalism – changing behaviour for the common good without giving orders

Several interesting meetings last week… including with:

And it turns out they all had a common theme, namely ‘behaviour change‘ – ie. recognising that people have considerable behavioural autonomy and governments can’t simply legislate to achieve many of the key sustainable development outcomes, so more subtle persuasive models are needed. This is sometimes seen as a branch of paternalism known as ‘soft paternalism‘.  The Economist [leader/article] recently highlighted its rise – partly to disparage (it in that annoying way they have), but also approvingly to distinguish the soft from the ‘hard’ variety. I think it’s an apt description of the role of the modern state in securing collectively-valued outcomes from an aggregation of individual behaviours. Continue reading “Soft paternalism – changing behaviour for the common good without giving orders”

England 1 – Paraguay 0… setback for England

How to interpret England’s 1-0 victory against Paraguay? On the one hand it was a win. On the other hand, it was only just a win, a poor performance marred by defensive tactics and bad subsititutions that allowed the Paraguay into the game. This might have revealed England’s deeper weaknesses. One guide is betting markets, like Betfair. Its market in an England World Cup win showed deterioration in the market’s view of England’s chances in the period after the game (see chart), meaning the money says it was a setback.

Nuclear fusion

Another solemn cheque-signing [BBC report] and confirmation that, at €10 billion, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) will be the second most expensive experiment of all time. Fusion scientists are pulling a fast one playing on gullibility and vanity of politicians… in return for hugely expensive and enjoyable research spend they are offering the empty promise of endless energy, allowing us to fill that mental void marked “answer to world’s energy problems” with something looking suitably futuristic. There’s a (lame) joke about fusion and its constantly shifting promise of jam tomorrow: “did you hear that the fusion research programme has discovered a new fundamental physical constant – and it is equal to 40? As in “40 years from now”.

Alternative medicine – you’re on your own

Should the NHS fund complementary medicine? Some top medics say ‘no’. Scientists are often too quick to dismiss treatments that work outside their own paradigm – and we need to stay open-minded about this stuff. But the question is, as always with the NHS, should someone else pay? The NHS is based on an implicit ‘contract’ between net beneficiaries (typically the old, sick and poor) and those that are net payers (young, healthy and rich). Those paying in are entitled to expect that NHS treatments have been shown to effective and cost-effective, and that they are not funding New Age fads. The NHS already has NIHCE to tell it what interventions are good value for money. I suspect that we will find that there are valuable therapeutic benefits from some of these treatments – but unless there is evidence, people wanting unproven alternative treatments should expect to go it alone.

Professor Sir Roy Meadow

It’s hard not to dislike intensely Professor Sir Roy Meadow – the ‘expert’ witness that consigned Angela Canning to gaol and her family to utter misery on the basis of completely incompetent statistical assertions designed to shore up his idiosyncratic theories about sudden infant death syndrome. And he has never even apologised.

So good news today to hear that the General Medical Council is to appeal against the High Court ruling denying its right to stike him off. And the GMC will be supported by the Attorney General. [BBC item]. The High Court’s ruling was a disgrace, effectively protecting experts from the professional consequences of outrageous failure with extreme consequences for others.

The most famous claim with which Meadow mislead a jury was that there was a 73 million to one chance of two ‘cot deaths’ in an affluent family. There are two childish flaws in this statistical claim: Continue reading “Professor Sir Roy Meadow”