Sapere è potere

Quando un politico è a corto di proposte, puo’ sempre urlare lo slogan  “più fondi alla ricerca”.

E chi oserà mai contraddirlo? Non lo faranno di certo i ricercatori da sussidiare, così come non lo farà l’uomo della strada che ha imparato ad adorare la vacca sacra della “ricerca scientifica”.

L’unico che ha qualcosa da dire è probabilmente Terence Kealey, almeno stando al suo libro “Sex, Science & Profits: How People Evolved to Make Money”.

La nostra visione della “ricerca scientifica” la dobbiamo ad un politico/avvocato del ‘600: Francis Bacon

… The story of the longest-surviving intellectual error in western economic thought started in 1605 when a corrupt English lawyer and politician, Sir Francis Bacon, published his Advancement of Learning. Bacon, who was a man with a preternatural interest in wealth and power, wanted to know how Spain had become the richest and most powerful nation of his day. He concluded that Spain had done so by the exploitation of its American colonies. And how had Spain discovered those colonies? By scientific research: “the West Indies had never been discovered if the use of the mariner’s needle had not been first discovered.”

Secondo Bacone, la tecnologia spagnola consentì a quel paese di conquistare il mondo: sapere è potere.

Ma il sapere, ragionava Bacone, una volta prodotto è facilmente appropriabile da parte degli avversari, come dargli torto…

… Scientific research, Bacon explained, was “the true ornament of mankind” because “the benefits inventors confer extend to the whole human race.”…

E’ un problema non da poco…

… the whole human race might benefit from inventions but the whole human race does not reimburse inventors, so invention will not be rewarded by the market….

Per questo motivo ricerca e scienza sono un bene pubblico che lo stato deve finanziare.

Ai nostri giorni i fautori di una simile visione sono stati tre economisti di vaglia come Robert Solow, Kenneth Arrow e Richard Nelson.

Solow

… The contemporary story starts with a 1957 paper by Robert Solow, which was an empirical study that confirmed that most economic growth in the modern world can indeed be attributed to technical change (as opposed, say, to capital deepening.)…

Nelson e Arrow

… Nelson and Arrow published in 1959 and 1962 respectively, in which they explained that science is a public good because copying is easier and cheaper than original research:…

Una teoria sulla carta impeccabile che ha il solo difetto di non coincidere con i fatti osservabili…

… The problem with the papers of Nelson and Arrow, however, was that they were theoretical… in the real world there did seem to be some privately funded research…

Come far coincidere fatti e teoria? Si sentì il bisogno di mitigare l’imbarazzo, anche per questo entrò in campo Paul Romer con il suo lavoro

… In a 1990 paper Paul Romer…created a mathematical model by which some original research would be rewarded by the market. Nonetheless, he still assumed that too little industrial science would be thus rewarded:…

In questo modello, un ruolo veniva assegnato anche ai privati, sebbene i sussidi continuassero ad essere centrali.

Un altro accorgimento  fu la distinzione tra ricerca di base e ricerca applicata introdotta da Dasgupta e David …

… Dasgupta and David in their 1994 paper reviewed the historical development of our universities, research societies and research conventions, and they acknowledged that such social constructs did indeed foster pure science, but because advances in basic science were too unpredictable for their discoverers to profit from them in the market, such science: “is in constant need of shoring up through public patronage.”…

Ma anche qui l’evidenza latita.

Su questi temi regna un problema grosso come una casa: il conflitto di interesse. A sostenere la plausibilità dei sussidi sono coloro che di fatto li ricevono…

… The fundamental problem that bedevils the study of the economics of science is that every contemporary actor in the story is parti pris: every contemporary actor who enters the field starts by pre-assuming that governments should fund science. Such actors are either industrialists looking for corporate welfare, or scholars looking to protect their universities’ income, or scientists (who, frankly, will look for money from any and every source— they are shameless)…

Da notare che un tipo empirico come Adam Smith non si è mai sognato di inserire la “ricerca” tra i beni pubblici, eppure aveva in gran considerazione la conoscenza. Perché?

Basta vedere da dove derivava secondo lui la vera conoscenza. Innanzitutto da chi “fa”…

… “A great part of the machines made use of in manufactures… were originally the inventions of common workmen.”… The second source of new industrial technology were the factories that made the machines that other factories used: “Many improvements have been made by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines.”…

L’accademia ha un ruolo marginale…

… “some improvements in machinery have been made by those called philosophers [aka academics.]”…

Conclusione

… flow of knowledge from academia into industry was dwarfed by the size of the opposite flow…governments need not fund science…

E l’evidenza empirica raccolta ai nostri giorni supporta Smith: nessun nesso tra finanziamenti alla ricerca e crescita economica…

… Yet the contemporary empirical evidence supports his contention that governments need not support scientific research. Consider, for example, the lack of historical evidence that government investment in research contributes to economic growth…

Inghilterra dell’ 800…

… The world’s leading nation during the 19th century was the UK, which pioneered the Industrial Revolution. In that era the UK produced scientific as well as technological giants, ranging from Faraday to Kelvin to Darwin— yet it was an era of laissez faire, during which the British government’s systematic support for science was trivial….

USA del ‘900…

… The world’s leading nation during the 20th century was the United States, and it too was laissez faire, particularly in science… America, therefore, produced its industrial leadership, as well as its Edisons, Wrights, Bells, and Teslas, under research laissez faire….

Intanto, Germania e Francia

… Meanwhile the governments in France and Germany poured money into R& D, and though they produced good science, during the 19th century their economies failed even to converge on the UK’s, let alone overtake it as did the US’s…

Le conclusioni sono facili da trarre…

… For the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, the empirical evidence is clear: the industrial nations whose governments invested least in science did best economically— and they didn’t do so badly in science either….

Poi le cose cambiarono. Cosa accadde?

Essenzialmente ci furono le guerre. Le grandi guerre tecnologiche del 900 implicarono la pesante discesa in campo dello stato per orientare la ricerca.

E oggi? Che ci dice, per esempio, l’OCSE?

Ci dice: più fondi pubblici alla ricerca, meno crescita economica…

… The contemporary economic evidence, moreover, confirms that the government funding of R& D has no economic benefit. Thus in 2003 the OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development— the industrialized nations’ economic research agency) published its Sources of Economic Growth in OECD Countries, which reviewed all the major measurable factors that might explain the different rates of growth of the 21 leading world economies between 1971 and 1998….

Ma anche: più ricerca privata, più crescita economica

… whereas privately funded R& D stimulated economic growth, publicly funded R& D had no impact…

Ma perché addirittura un impatto (leggermente) negativo della ricerca pubblica? Probabilmente è l’effetto spiazzamento

… They speculated that publicly funded R& D might crowd out privately funded R& D which, if true, suggests that publicly funded R& D might actually damage economic growth… the direct effect of public research is weakly negative…

Il privato ragiona così: perché investire se c’è chi lo fa per me? Attendo e mi specializzo piuttosto a sfruttare il lavoro altrui.

Oltretutto, l’indirizzo alle ricerche dato dal “pubblico” non favorisce quasi mai l’arricchimento del paese, non esiste alcun interesse affinché le due cose siano collegate.

***

Conclusione: la pura teoria non spiega i fatti. Cambiamo i fatti o la teoria?

… The OECD, Walter Park, and I have therefore— like Adam Smith— tested empirically the model of science as a public or merit good, and we have found it to be wrong: the public funding of research has no beneficial effects on the economy….

Forse è meglio cambiare la teoria, in particolare un suo assunto problematico per cui copiare è facile.

Non è affatto facile!

Edwin Mansfield sui costi di copiatura…

… When Edwin Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania examined 48 products that, during the 1970s, had been copied by companies in the chemicals, drugs, electronics, and machinery industries in New England, he found that the costs of copying were on average 65 per cent of the costs of original invention…

Il 65%!

La copia, poi, non è mai del tutto accurata. In un mondo dove lo status conta, il “tarocco” ci squalifica.

Copiare è anche un processo macchinoso, impiega molto tempo…

… And the time taken to copy was, on average, 70 per cent of the time taken by the original invention…

Copiare è costoso perché non c’è nessuno che spiega: un conto è apprendere da una spiegazione, in conto è inferire la spiegazione dall’oggetto (conoscenza tacita). Alcuni studiosi si sono occupati di questa distinzione…

… As scholars such as Michael Polanyi (see his classic 1958 book Personal Knowledge) and Harry Collins of the University of Cardiff (see his well-titled 2010 book Tacit and Explicit Knowledge) have shown, copying new science and technology is not a simple matter of following a blueprint: it requires the copier actually to reproduce the steps taken by the originator…

Il caso del TEA Laser

… when Harry Collins studied the spread of a technology called the TEA laser, he discovered that the only scientists who succeeded in copying it were those who had visited laboratories where TEA lasers were already up and running… But if it costs specialists 65 per cent of the original costs to copy an innovation, think how much more it would cost non-specialists to copy it…

Bisogna conoscere a menadito la materia per poter poi copiare bene.

Per questo le imprese fanno eccome scienza di base: per comprendere meglio la materia in generale ed avere le basi ideali per eventualmente copiare un domani…

… In a 1990 paper with the telling title of “Why Do Firms Do Basic Research With Their Own Money?” Nathan Rosenberg of Stanford University showed that the down payment that a potential copier has to make before he or she can even begin to copy an innovation is their own prior contribution to the field: only when your own research is credible can you understand the field. And what do credible researchers do? They publish papers and patents that others can read, and they produce goods that others can strip down…

Ma formare e aggiornare questo background ha un costo, che sommato a quello di copiatura arriva circa al 100%

… So the true costs of copying in a free market are 100 per cent— the 65 per cent costs of direct copying and the initial 35 per cent down payment you have to make to sustain the research capacities and output of the potential copiers…

E che il privato si dedichi alla scienza pura è un fatto registrato…

… That is why, as scholars from the University of Sussex have shown, some 7 per cent of all industrial R& D worldwide is spent on pure science. This is also why big companies achieve the publication rates of medium-sized universities…

Profitto e produzione di scienza pura non sembrano in conflitto…

… Edwin Mansfield and Zvi Griliches of Harvard have shown by comprehensive surveys that the more that companies invest in pure science, the greater are their profits…

Obiezione comune: ma il privato che acquisisce conoscenze, poi se le tiene per sè.

Altra teoria non suffragata dai fatti: il ricercatore privato condivide eccome

… Industrial scientists have long known that sharing knowledge is useful (why do you think competitor companies cluster?) though anti-trust law can force them to be discreet. So in 1985, reporting on a survey of 100 American companies, Edwin Mansfield found that “[ i] nformation concerning the detailed nature and operation of a new product or process generally leaks out within a year.”…

Ulteriore evidenze della condivisione…

… in a survey of eleven American steel companies, Eric von Hippel of MIT’s Sloan School of Management found that ten of them regularly swapped proprietary information with rivals. In an international survey of 102 firms, Thomas Allen (also of Sloan) found that no fewer than 23 per cent of their important innovations came from swapping information with rivals…

Evidenza sul contributo trascurabile dell’accademia

… In two papers published in 1991 and 1998, Mansfield showed that the overwhelming source of new technologies was companies’ own R& D, and that academic research accounted for only 5 per cent of companies’ new sales and only 2 per cent of the savings that could be attributed to new processes… the distinction between pure and applied science is now largely defunct,…

Anche le motivazioni della ricerca intrapresa non sembrano quelle assunte dagli economisti…

… The economists say that unless an innovator can claim, in perpetuity, 100 per cent of the commercial return on her innovation, she will underinvest…

Il ricercatore vuole vincere una competizione tra concorrenti ed essere riconosciuto come tale più che assicurarsi il 100% dei frutti della sua ricerca massimizzando così i profitti. Quel che conta è il beneficio marginale più che quello totale…

… In reality, entrepreneurs make their investments in the light of the competition, and their goal is a current edge over their rivals, not some abstract dream of immortal monopoly in fictitious “perfect” markets…

Si puo’ difendere la ricerca pubblica? Sì, ma solo su base aneddotica

… The strongest argument for the government funding of science today is anecdotal: would we have the internet, say, or the Higgs Boson, but for government funding? Yet anecdotage ignores crowding out…

Ci si puo’ raccontare di Internet o del Bosone di Higgs, purché lo si faccia avendo cura di trascurare l’effetto spiazzamento. Su una base del genere sarebbe facile costruire al contrario paradossi del tipo: non avremmo mai avuto l’energia elettrica senza la ricerca privata…

… We wouldn’t have had the generation of electricity but for the private funding of Michael Faraday, and if government funding crowds out the private philanthropic funding of science (and it does, because the funding of pure science is determined primarily by GDP per capita, regardless of government largesse)…

L’evento che più entusiasmò i sostenitori dei fondi alla ricerca fu la corsa allo spazio dell’URSS. Ma…

… it was the Cold War and the upcoming space race (Sputnik was launched in 1958) that— incredibly— persuaded economists that the USSR’s publicly funded industrial base would overtake the United States’ unless the United States foreswore its attachment to free markets in research….Sputnik was based on the research of Robert ‘Moonie’ Goddard of Clark College, Massachusetts, which was supported by the Guggenheims

Perché allora insistere nel difendere la ricerca pubblica?

Forse chiedersi “a chi giova” è utile a capire, e qui torniamo al patente conflitto di interessi…

… Cui bono? Who benefits from this fictitious economics of science? It’s the economists, universities, and defence contractors who benefit, at the taxpayers’ expense… Unfortunately too many people have an interest in so representing science…

C’è chi difende l’intervento statale almeno nella ricerca medica

… Victoria Harden makes a strong defence for the public funding of health research…

I miglioramenti ottenuti in termini di salute nel corso della storia sono notevoli ma se li mettiamo su un grafico nessuno si accorgerebbe di quando sono cominciati i sussidi statali alla ricerca medica…

… the improvements in health we have seen in the industrialized world have been occurring for nearly 200 years now, and when a person charts those improvements against the initiation of significant government funding of health research (which in the UK, for example, was launched in 1913 with the creation of the Medical Research Council) one simply does not see any deflection in the long-term trends in morbidity and mortality…

D’altronde, persino oggi che i finanziamenti statali sono massicci, i privati non sono del tutto spiazzati…

… So much health research continues to be supported by independent foundations (Wellcome Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates etc) to say nothing of that funded by private companies (the drug companies have huge budgets for R& D)…

In URSS, poi, i finanziamenti statali erano tutto. E la salite?…

… After all, it is interesting how little benefit the former Soviet bloc’s generously funded research programs yielded in terms of health care…

I fondi pubblici rischiano anche di minare l’autonomia intellettuale dell’accademia

… Patrick Michaels makes the point that government funding has introduced perverse incentives and has damaged the intellectual autonomy of the universities…

L’evidenza storica è notevole, facciamo solo il caso della presidenza Roosvelt

… for example, one of the godfathers of the federal support of research was Henry Wallace (one of FDR’s Vice Presidents and, unexpectedly, Marxist in his sympathies) and he complained that the greatest opposition to his plans came from the scientists themselves, who wanted to protect their autonomy…

Non a caso le Università dapprima si opposero ai finanziamenti statali al fine di preservare la loro credibilità, poi però cedettero allettate dalle somme offerte.

Con questo non si vuole dire che lo stato potrebbe avere un ruolo sussidiario nella ricerca…

… David Guston makes a different set of points: he says in effect that, okay, perhaps in narrow economic terms science may not be a public good, but there are nonetheless good national reasons other than defence why a democratic government might legitimately want or need to fund science, particularly in support of particular, perhaps infrastructural, missions. In this he was adumbrated by Victoria Harden who made the point that drug companies’ published clinical trials cannot always be trusted… I do agree that we can’t leave research solely to the for-profit sector and so, if for whatever reason the philanthropic sector fails to provide, then government would have to intervene, but the problem is that there is good evidence for the government funding of philanthropic research crowding out private philanthropic research, so public research even if philanthropically orientated should not be entered into lightly….

Il fatto è che l’effetto spiazzamento è decisivo: se concediamo un ruolo sussidiario, quel ruolo presto sarà di fatto egemone, l’evidenza a supporto è chiara su questo punto.

Un ultima cosa ma importante: meno fondi alla ricerca, meno tasse, più crescita economica, più ricchezza pro-capite. Ma è proprio la ricchezza pro-capite che spinge la ricerca privata. La ricerca pubblica, frenando la crescita potenziale, oltre a spiazzare la ricerca privata, la frena anche attraverso questo secondo canale. 

Jan-Van-Der-Straet-1587-1589.-

 

 

 

 

 

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