Friday, 20 February 2009

Knowledge Transfer is Power

Apologies to Francis Bacon for mincing his words. I was just reading Terence Kealey's book Science, Sex and Profits - a much more interesting title than the book itself, and a much more racy cover than any of the prose. The sex is just there to try and titillate rather than for any justifiable reason. Sex sells and he makes a profit. So what is my excuse for having a copy? Well my book club sent me a copy and I could not be bothered to send it back. I wish I had. Anyway I digress.

This is a book that could do with a serious edit. First to remove the typographical errors - Khutu and not Khufu etc. and second to sort out his ideas about history. He starts one chapter discussing Petrarch and the Renaissance and finishes discussing Plutarch and the Renaissance. Sorry but Plutarch was long dead before then.

Anyway his biggest mistake and one that actually leads to some insight is confusing science with technology. He is trying to argue that public funding of science is bad as it does not stimulate economic growth and actually delays it (apparently the OECD has also come to this conclusion). So he says events that public science does not stimulate GDP but only commercial pressures can deliver the scientific paradigm shifts. What he means is shifts in levels of technology and that is why I have named this Blog entry as I have. He looks at how Francis Bacon concluded knowledge is power based on the growth of the Portuguese economy under Henry the Navigator and saw that Henry used science to create his nation's wealth. Kealey argues that the desire to conquer was the wealth generating effect and the science came from these commercial desires.


The real point is that what actually creates the wealth is knowledge transfer. In the knowledge based economy you make money by exploiting that knowledge by transferring it to the commercial world. I do not mean by creating intellectual property, I mean by actually doing something useful, making something, having ideas, creating businesses, commercialising and creating products and services that people want. This does not mean more off-shored manufacturing which is what is killing our balance of payments. For now the countries with the worst balance of payments often have the biggest knowledge resources but they are very poor at exploiting them. So if they do not want to be swamped by the Asian tigers they better start thinking about what to do with all that knowledge and start translating it into something useful.