Science & Technology

What If Brexit Was Only the Beginning?

A must-read piece from the Boston Consulting Group:

“In polls, sizable majorities in the United States and key European countries now demand a reorientation around narrow national interests, proclaiming, ‘Let other countries deal with their own problems.’ As more people feel left behind by economic progress, this sentiment could grow and percolate into politics and then policy. And such policies could prove to be contagious across nations.”

“Firms could soon find themselves in an environment of escalating political risk in terms of trade, access to talent, regulatory rules and constraints, and restrictions on new technologies. Political uncertainty could become the major business risk, compromising firms’ ability to innovate, to access markets and talent, and to invest and create wealth.”

“In short, it appears that many are so dissatisfied with the current game that they are threatening to end it, even at significant cost to themselves, thereby jeopardizing two major drivers of global economic prosperity: globalization and technological progress.”

No Improvement in Doomsday Clock

Eco Watch: “With ‘utter dismay,’ the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Tuesday that the symbolic Doomsday Clock will hold at three minutes to midnight—at the ‘brink’ of man-made apocalypse—because world leaders have failed to take the necessary steps to protect citizens from the grave threats of nuclear war and runaway climate change.”

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“The decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock ‘is not good news,’ it continues, ‘but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.’”

“Since the clock was first introduced in 1947, the hands have moved 22 times. As Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin, explained, the clock represents a ‘summary view of leading experts deeply engaged in the existential issues of our time.’”

Study Shows How Government Funding Boosts Innovation

Stephen Dewhurst highlights a new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research showing that “each $10 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) results in 3.1 new private sector patents in the area of research that received funding – or about 1 patent for every 2 NIH grants.”

“This is largely because R&D at companies depends on prior knowledge created by publicly funded science.  Interestingly, the report also notes that about half of these patents are targeted to a different disease than the one addressed by the NIH research –  underscoring the fact that innovation depends on generalizable, fundamental scientific insights.”

“These new findings highlight the enormous importance of government funded science as a driver of private sector innovation and patenting, and underscore the need to grow the NIH budget after over a decade of stagnation.”

Patent Troll Bills Split Innovation Community

“‘Innovation’ is among the most highly prized civic and commercial virtues today. So much so that opposing sides in policy contests each claim its mantle,” writes Drew Clark. “Nowhere is this truer than in now-bubbling debate on Capitol Hill in Washington over patent reform.”

“And the divisions aren’t based on political party. In the Senate, the co-sponsors of the bipartisan PATENT Act are deep-red Republicans Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and dark-blue Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chuck Schumer of New York… The bills’ target is that frequently derided species known as the ‘patent troll’: those who use a bogus claim and impose a litigation toll on an innocent entrepreneur going about creating jobs and driving economic prosperity.”

“Instead of being divided by party, or even squarely by industry, supporters of these two measures, and their opponents, pit one view of ‘innovation’ against another. On the one hand are those Silicon Valley companies constantly making and remaking the tools of the digital economy. On the other hand are inventors who use intellectual property as an asset and license the manufacture of their patented devices to others.”

San Francisco Moves to Add Warning Labels on Sugary Drinks

Wall Street Journal: “Likening the fight against soda to the old public-policy wars over tobacco, San Francisco city officials unanimously voted Tuesday on a package of ordinances that would make it the first in the U.S. to require health warnings on ads for sugary drinks.”

“Before it can be enacted, the proposal first has to pass another vote before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors next week, and then goes before the mayor.”

“Advocates hope the passage will spark similar legislation in cities and states across the country.”

“The proposal, believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S., is part of a package of ordinances meant to curb the consumption of sugary drinks—including some juices, some flavored milks and sports drinks with added sugar—in the city, which sponsors say play a large role in health problems.”

“Billboards or other advertisements for sugary beverages would include this language: ‘WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.’”

Is the Rate of Innovation Slowing?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new analysis showing that the “breakneck pace of innovation is showing signs of a slowdown.”

“More than 2.15 million patentable inventions were created world-wide in 2014, 3.3% more than in 2013. But the pace of growth seems to be slowing, according to Bob Stembridge, a Thomson Reuters intellectual property analyst: It was 17.7% in 2013, 20% in 2012 and 7.3% in 2011.”

“A different measure of innovation, the global rate of publication of scientific papers, also is slowing. The total number of research papers in 12 key industries fell beneath 250,000 last year… The number was around 300,000 in 2013. It peaked in 2008—just before the economy entered a recession—at 350,000.”

Is the Technological Revolution Overhyped?

Paul Krugman: “A growing number of economists, looking at the data on productivity and incomes, are wondering if the technological revolution has been greatly overhyped — and some technologists share their concern.”

“New technology is supposed to serve businesses as well as consumers, and should be boosting the production of traditional as well as new goods. The big productivity gains of the period from 1995 to 2005 came largely in things like inventory control, and showed up as much or more in nontechnology businesses like retail as in high-technology industries themselves. Nothing like that is happening now.”

“So what do I think is going on with technology? The answer is that I don’t know — but neither does anyone else. Maybe my friends at Google are right, and Big Data will soon transform everything. Maybe 3-D printing will bring the information revolution into the material world. Or maybe we’re on track for another big meh.”

“You see, writing and talking breathlessly about how technology changes everything might seem harmless, but, in practice, it acts as a distraction from more mundane issues — and an excuse for handling those issues badly.”

Climate Scientists Are Also Susceptible to Denialist Campaigns

The Hill: “President Obama in a speech on Wednesday cast climate change as a growing national security threat, accusing Republican skeptics of harming military readiness by denying its effects.”

A recent study shows that climate denial campaigns also take a toll on climate scientists and their findings.

Inside Climate News: “Scientists spend time and resources addressing denialists’ debunked claims in a way the scientific community has never done, said Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol in England and lead author of the new study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change. Researchers also often downplay future climate risks to avoid being labeled an ‘alarmist’ by climate contrarians.”

“The study reviewed dozens of psychological and social science papers to understand why scientists are susceptible to denialist campaigns and provided a real-world example of this impact from the climate science literature. The authors concluded that scientists are as vulnerable as anyone to persuasive messaging and fear being stereotyped (in this case, as a global warming alarmist), and that when enough people criticize or question their work they, too, may begin questioning their findings.”

 

Decline in Basic Research Threatens American Innovation

MIT released a report showing which details specific impacts of the declining federal investment in basic research.

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“Last year was a notable one for scientific achievements: In 2014, European researchers discovered a fundamental new particle that sheds light on the origins of the universe, and the European Space Agency successfully landed the first spacecraft on a comet. Chinese researchers, meanwhile, developed the world’s fastest supercomputer, and uncovered new ways to meet global food demand.”

“But as these competitors increase their investment in basic research, the percentage of the U.S. federal budget devoted to research and development has fallen from around 10 percent in 1968 to less than 4 percent in 2015.”

Working Capital Review: Are “patent thickets” killing innovation?

Silicon Valley Giants Look to Defy Death

The Washington Post reports that “the tech titans who founded Google, Facebook, eBay, Napster and Netscape are using their billions to rewrite the nation’s science agenda and transform biomedical research.”

“Their objective is to use the tools of technology — the chips, software programs, algorithms and big data they used in creating an information revolution — to understand and upgrade what they consider to be the most complicated piece of machinery in existence: the human body.”

“The entrepreneurs are driven by a certitude that rebuilding, regenerating and reprogramming patients’ organs, limbs, cells and DNA will enable people to live longer and better. The work they are funding includes hunting for the secrets of living organisms with insanely long lives, engineering microscopic nanobots that can fix your body from the inside out, figuring out how to reprogram the DNA you were born with, and exploring ways to digitize your brain based on the theory that your mind could live long after your body expires.”