Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

Archive for the ‘Information economy’ Category

Research Funding: Funding for Outputs, Please, and not for Ego

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Chris Horn has written, “Commercial success, at least in IT, is not driven by the size of R&D spend.” This is very true, in Ireland as elsewhere.

There has been concern expressed in Ireland by various sources recently about the lack of commercial impact from university research. A critical reason for this, from my observations, is that the objective of research funding in Ireland has been far too much focused on ego rather than output.

The former, funding for ego, includes the following, quite dysfunctional aspects from the point of view of the whole system of human capital. It takes the form of funding units of activity that are hermetically sealed off from the natural hinterland in the university system. Included here are:

  • the lack of any role in undergraduate teaching or curriculum,
  • separate physical location, and
  • reporting lines that are outside mainstream university structures.

This is a weakness in current research funding in Ireland, i.e. how the funding is spent on highly profiled yet splendidly isolated activity.

Another dysfunctional aspect is that related and complementary disciplines, and vital supply lines of expertise from various disciplines, have all now been ended, in the limited form that these were once present. Mathematics and astronomy come immediately to mind, where there is enormous negativity among public servants.

This has been backed up by views among senior public servants that are disparaging and dismissive of those disciplines and of the higher education system as a whole. A recent example from the Government of Ireland’s Chief Scientific Adviser: “It’s very difficult to herd cats, but I can certainly change the position of their feeding bowl.” Or another Director-General of Science Foundation Ireland: “SFI funding is social welfare for universities”.

How to achieve commercial and social impact based on scholarship and learning is as follows. In measuring outputs the multifaceted forms of all of these need to be considered. Innovative ways to find and achieve impact on the economy are crucial to both the system outputs and the quantification of the system processes. What is needed is a whole system approach, starting with higher education which has come to be the major context for research and scholarship, and its spin-off and launchpad impact. Hence the importance of the roles of all disciplines in the body of knowledge, and understanding outputs rather than the pursuit of an ego-based system.

  • Portfolio management, across all of education, commercialization and business, scholarship, and public leadership are crucial in order to ensure continuity through natural and strategically planned evolution and growth.

  • Integration, firstly into the higher education system and more generally into the commercial and governance fabric, is vital for sustainability too.

Those are my two foremost requirements for a properly functioning research and scholarship system, that will be productive over the long term. They are my own motivation as a researcher and as a research leader, with a long track record in scholarship and research commercialisation with impact which is non-ego driven. Over time, I have observed just how very wasteful and unsustainable the alternative is.


Maurice Coakley’s book, “Ireland in the World Order: A History of Uneven Development”, 2012

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With the long sweep of history from late mediaeval times through to the North Atlantic financial crisis [p. 167] post-2008, this book was and is compulsive reading, instilling throughout a need to know what would happen in the end!

Maurice Coakley’s narrative starts in the late mediaeval world. The Protestant Reformation both boosted literacy and was based on a tradition of a literate laity. The Catholic Counter-Reformation also motivated greatly literacy. A major difference between the Irish Pale (region of English overlordship around Dublin) and the Scottish Lowlands, was that written contracts had become common in the latter [p. 62]. Literacy became a necessity for social position and advancement [p. 73]. That is in keeping with an interesting book dealing with Scottish history in terms of the polarity between dúchas and oidhreacht (the latter is heritage; the former has no straightforward translation in English; perhaps what comes closest in meaning is German Heimatliches):

Allan MacInnes, “Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788”, Tuckwell Press, 1996. (See this online site.)

The roots of the present often enough go back to certain specific historical times, and Coakley focuses on the 14th century economic and social crises of feudalism. He sees a resurgence of an agrarian pastoralism in Ireland and expands greatly on this, in the interrelationships between Gaelic social order, Anglo-French society in Ireland, English monarchial overlordship, and property rights from social collectivities or individuals/families.

Coakley draws out from this a great deal that is hugely insightful. I liked this depiction relating to a much later Ireland in the 1930s: “… small-farming communities … a world in which agricultural labour is still largely collective and cooperative. If these smallholders were culturally conservative – religious belief and seasonal patterns rhymed – they were not politically conservative, and their social outlook included a strong egalitarian streak.” [P. 154] This characterizes well people of my parents’ generation.

Coakley has some comments on Irish intellectual life on p. 155 (and for political expression, p. 162), which I would highly commend, to be read in the context of his narrative.

So what then is the end of the narrative, that I could not wait to arrive at?

  • Productive investment of accumulated wealth [p. 211].
  • Employment policy an explicit policy objective rather than an indirect outcome of growth [p. 206] re European Union – CAP, Common Agriculture Policy, the only area where EU sought to establish a common social model [p. 176].

Coakley’s tour de force has most interesting views on language, verbal and written, that may carry over – my view is that implications ensuing will certainly carry over – into our online world, and changing practices and opportunities in publishing and dissemination of information, with social and economic drivers, and meaning and relevance of a high level in the social and economic context.

Coakley’s encyclopaedic and far-sighted understanding of language, verbal and written, and trajectory into contemporary processes and practices and innovative possibilities, has much to be commended.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2013/07/30 at 22:03

Moore’s Law, the Rise of the Data Economy, and the Problem of “Dirty Data”

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In the piece on “Are Greenpeace attacking the younger generation and their ‘dirty data’?”, I found the discussion interesting as to whether data centres were “dirty” or not, in the sense of using energy that is high in CO2 or equivalent greenhouse gases.    In that British Computer Society blog post, the rates of growth are looked at in the data economy, the ability of computational technologies to respond, and then just how green this computational response is, in practice.   Let’s have a closer look at this. 

First I will touch on compute power and space.   Moore’s Law refers to the doubling of processor, storage, and related computing capability every two years.   Hence the compound annual growth rate, or CAGR, for doubling every two years, is 41.42% per annum.   

Hydropower is “the most widely used renewable resource for clean power generation across the globe”, and stable, flexible and inexpensive, as noted by ”Hydropower continues to account for major share of renewable power through 2020”.   A CAGR for hydropower in the period 2011-2020 is estimated as 3.6%. 

Moore’s law and hydropower indicate just well we can do to handle data growth. 

Citing from “IDC Releases First Worldwide Big Data Technology and Services Market Forecast, Shows Big Data as the Next Essential Capability and a Foundation for the Intelligent Economy”, that discusses an IDC (International Data Corp.) report on the Big Data Economy to 2015:

“IDC defines Big Data technologies as a new generation of technologies and architectures designed to extract value economically from very large volumes of a wide variety of data by enabling high-velocity capture, discovery, and/or analysis. Further, the study segments the Big Data market into server, storage, networking, software, and services segments.”

Compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is looked at in this IDC report, and for 2015 it is estimated at 44% CAGR for Big Data deployments, and up to 61.4% CAGR for storage.    Servers and software are less, being estimated respectively at 27.3% and 34.2%.  

So – my conclusion, echoing the Greenpeace and “dirty data” discussion above: the soaring rise of the data economy, and in particular storage, point to high growth of up to around a CAGR of 60%.  Technology as expressed by Moore’s law can only partially keep up with this pace – 41%.   Renewable power generation, as represented by the leading category of hydropower, is incapable of doing the job alone, in the green and global picture.   The growth of data outstrips greatly computing technologies and green technologies. 

So we have something of a conundrum here: just how do we handle our data economy, while avoiding or mitigating the data economy’s “dirty data” side?   Potential answers: nuclear, hydrogen, a battery miracle.   Or the Spirit of Ireland solution. 

Momentous Change in Research Process

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The last few years have seen very great changes in research process. Some of these changes are accelerating by the day. One facet is at issue here, powered by economics and demographics.

Research results in all manner of outputs. For three and a half centuries, a very prominent form of research output has been a delimited or demarcated textual description that is laid out in a relatively standardized way. That’s the research article.

The big changes of interest are the “meteoric” increase in authorship by our Chinese colleagues, and the enormous increase in research journals coming from India and also from Western publishers.

A useful overview of the data is presented in Elsevier’s Editors’ Update. See in particular “The Rise of Asia: A Research Profile”.

China, it is noted there, has 1.4 million researchers and compound growth of 24% per year over the past ten years in number of papers published. Hardly a week goes by, I find, that there is not an invitation to be an author or an editor or, often enough, to be editor-in-chief, of a new journal.

As always great change goes hand in hand with significant new opportunity.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2011/10/02 at 17:03

Pharmaceutical products as the new software: considerations on intellectual property and innovation

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Consider what pharmaceutical products really are: a type of software. They are expensive to produce and essentially have zero cost to reproduce. Furthermore, a crucial property of software is how it is associated with a very rich ecology of intellectual property rights. Since new product innovation in pharmaceuticals is at a low level, globally, it is an interesting idea that software in general could be looked at as a future-oriented role model for innovation.

Not just software is explored in my wide ranging article on this (see below). Research publishing is also, and the move towards open access in particular in the life sciences. I also deal with the scientific method, arguing that the scientific research process itself ought to be considered as an output of research, and a very important one too.

Fionn Murtagh,
“Intellectual Property in Publishing and Research: Open Access in Biotechnology, Life Sciences, and Software”,
CEPIS UPGRADE, The European Journal for the Informatics Processional, Vol. XI, issue no. 4, August 2010, pp. 50-64. Full issue of this journal at:

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2010/10/10 at 12:04

Case Study of How Knowledge Economy Triggered Industrial Growth

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Some interesting perspectives arise out of recent work that looks at the origins of copyright intellectual property in Germany and Britain in the 19th century. Most interesting is the vantage point offered on the implications for innovation in science, engineering, and technology generally. The view emerging from this work is that wide circulation of scientific, engineering and technical books was highly influential in the growth and scaling of German industry (Krupp, Siemens etc.) in the 19th century.

Unlike in France and Britain, in the 19th century the German lands witnessed an unparallelled knowledge explosion. In the year 1843 alone there were 14,000 new publications in German, which is, pro rata for population, about today’s level. About 1000 new publications were then appearing each year in Britain. The massive output in German included novels but was mostly scientific. Because of this, it is suggested that the underdeveloped, agricultural German lands caught up with the colonial powers in terms of technological and social development during the 19th century.

The British introduced copyright in 1710. Prussia did so in 1837. Copyright was a considerable time being established though in the German lands. The result was that in Britain, books were a luxury, produced in runs of up to 750 copies, bought by the rich and powerful, but also guaranteeing profits for publishing houses. In the German lands, a way was found to face down the lack of copyright and breaching of any and all ownership rights: a dual market was developed with inexpensive paperbacks to target first mover advantage, and to undercut copies made by others.

A most interesting market developed in practical and applied treatises and manuals in chemistry, mechanics, machines and production, optics, steel production, and other areas. Many professors supplemented their income through the huge demand for scientific and engineering knowledge of all sorts. This was the age that gave rise to the big industrialists, like Alfred Krupp and Werner von Siemens.

However as copyright came in increasingly from the 1840s onwards, and the cheap editions became less and less common, but prices went up and up, the generalizing of author rights was no substitute at all for what had been so lucrative beforehand for author and beneficial for reader, and for wider society.

Interesting perspectives. Could we have today anything like the possibility of markets and economic sectors “developed in practical and applied treatises and manuals”, based on open innovation models? The answer is clearly yes, considering all the crowd-sourced, web-based possibilities.

But in health, governance, education and other areas, we still have a considerable way to go, before quality of information and knowledge are what they should be. A job – a most inspiring job – needs to be done, to turn today’s 21st century innovation models, whether open or proprietary, into a deep and broad citizen science.

The book at issue here is Eckhard Höffner’s Geschichte und Wesen des Urheberrechts, Band 1, Band 2. Verlag Europäische Wirtschaft, München, 2010. A review is available in Der Spiegel and online in English.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2010/09/05 at 20:54

Towards the Renaissance of the Irish Construction – Planning; Prices

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The report A Haunted Landscape: Housing and Ghost Estates in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, by Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson, Karen Keaveney, Cian O’Callaghan, National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) Working Paper 59, July 2010, pp. 66, provides interesting data. From the summary:

“Government has two principle levers through which it can seek to regulate property development. The first is through fiscal policy with respect to regulating access to credit and determining taxation rates. The second is through planning policy and the zoning of land and the granting of planning permissions. Explanations of the Irish property bubble have focused almost exclusively on the former, and the role of the banks, tax incentive schemes, and the failures of financial regulators. To date, the role of the planning system in creating the property bubble has been little considered.”

In regard to transaction price information, an Irish Times editorial had this to say, on Saturday 14 August 2010:

“A property market that is undergoing a huge price adjustment … was never in greater need of accurate price information. … the public awaits right of access to national property sales data.”

Open, linked data and information relating to all aspects of planning and prices are desperately needed.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2010/08/15 at 16:46