Tag Archives: knowledge

Knowledge Transfer Ireland – Give it away, give it away now…

The Irish Times has today printed a laudatory, uncritical, advertorial on Knowledge Transfer Ireland. It is to me a thousand word puff piece, which contains little hard facts, no analysis, and little news. There is one piece of news, to which I will come.

The piece reads, and may be, as an extraction and repackaging, a collation of press packages. It lauds the new director, whom I am sure is great woman, as a secret ingredient; it praises the approach to getting business and academia talking; it praises the promise of a new way. You know the type of article.

KTI is appallingly error ridden. It is partial, poorly constructed and unfit for purpose. A casual usage would reveal that. I have two blogposts deconstructing it here and here.  Any company relying on KTI to find appropriate partners would need its head examined.  It doesn’t work.

There is one piece of news. The proposal to kickstart commercialisation now seems to be to give IP away for free. This is a rather radical proposal, and something that if it does go ahead should get the public accounts committee involved as a possible waste of state funds. Researchers in the higher education space get funded in four ways ; direct state grants to the institution, fee income (whether paid by the state or other) , research income (again from state, private, commercial and other sources) and miscellaneous sources such as benefactions, campus events and tourism etc. The bottom line is that there is and will remain a large state, that is taxpayer, involvement in all research. Even researchers in the most privately funded research lab have indirect state funding via their usage of college facilities.

Researchers create or surface knowledge. This may be valuable. It is always in part taxpayer supported. The plan now is to give away this public funded good to a private organization, with a clause that if it works they might eventually pay.  This is similar to the idea of advance market commitments, but differs crucially in that it gives power to the firm. It is in effect yet another subsidizing of private wealth creation by public money. Presumably the argument is that these companies will create jobs, and thats a net benefit (although we see no cost benefit analysis having been undertaken).

Several issues arise here. First, most IP doesn’t pay in the short term. Many of the most valuable and socially impactful inventions and innovations take decades to percolate to use.  There are massive lags in the R&D – innovation process. Companies may not be able to create in a meaningful timeframe any return on the granted IP, so the state would be at an absolute loss. Second, as we know in Ireland, companies are rather adept at using the provisions of the accounting code to show that they are flat broke, barely hanging on, not a bean etc, while delivering fat returns to the shareholders. Trust us they say.. Third, the issue of patents,  or licensing of IP, is extremely complex. A recent Harvard study provides a good overview of the area. A conclusion they draw is that many patenting and IP protection activities are in fact rent-seeking, and that non patent approaches to fostering knowledge may in fact be superior. Patents and other forms of IP protection may in fact be stifling of innovation rather than what they are supposed to be doing, providing a barrier behind which it can take place. They suggest, with evidence prizes, with the majority of rewards being non-monetary. This would be cheap, would allow the IP to be made public, and would enhance research. Yes, there is a danger that the jobs or wealth created would not be in Ireland, but companies wilshing to use such knowledge would in all likelihood work as closely with the discoverers and researchers as possible, and that means locally.

KTI is a classic Irish situation. Its intentions are good, if fuzzy, and its execution execrable. We need to determine first what it is we want from industry academia collaboration, then we need to map in detail what is going on. That is much much more than counting patents.. Finally, we need to determine how best to ensure that gaps in these desiderata are filled. A poorly executed poorly populated database is nowhere required.


Knowledge Transfer Ireland – Keeping Dead Academic Experts Alive….

Knowledge transfer Ireland is, as I have noted, rather error ridden.  It is designed to allow companies to find experts in academia with whom they can work. This was launched with great fanfare to be a new portal.

Lets say I am a company that wants to look for a TCD based art and design expert, to collaborate on a new project.

In I go, and select Art and Design, and TCD.

Hmm .. John Joshua, the Earl of Carysfort sounds good… classy. Oh, hang on … he died nearly 200 years ago…

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What about this foreign sounding gent.. Le Broquey. I shall get my PA to give him a ring..

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Ok, so maybe you are an architecture firm, and want to consult with someone on sensitive interpretations of norman and later material.  You find Edwin Rae – a wonderful American professor of art history who was one of the experts involved in the post WW2 years in returning to their owners art works looted by the Nazis. Prof Rae was an expert in Irish medieval art and donated thousands of beautiful photographs of Irish medieval churches and sculptures (including those of norman tombs) to Trinity. Through the generosity of TCD’s Art History Department these images are available through TARA (Trinity’s Access to Research Archive). If only it was possible to contact Professor Rae and get him to aid your company… he died about 10 years ago. As the Iron Islanders say “that which is dead shall never die”

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It is not just TCD. These errors abound in other universities.

Sadly, EI in designing a knowledge expert portal have ignored RIAN.ie (Ireland’s Open Access Portal) which provides a beautifully-designed and technically-sound extract of the universities’ repositories of actual research (papers, books, book chapters etc.). The repositories are also used to host lots of other things, making the most of the resources & storage space to provide multiple cost-effective services for the universities and univ libraries. But even it is only an aggregation of archives.  It does what it’s supposed to do very well. But it contains theses of past postgraduates and publications of departed colleagues as well as existing material. It and the open access repositories from which KTI are drawn are the wrong sources for a database of current experts. They should have used the current research information systems in all of the universities – just like expertiseireland.com did over 10 years ago (and so much better). They could have read the National Research Platform report or at a pinch asked any librarian or research information staff. Libraries nowadays are so much more than bukes on shelves – the modern university library is the cross platform organic heart of the university. Ignore and belittle it at our peril.





Knowledge Transfer Ireland – Partial, Error ridden and Naïve


Knowledge is only useful if people know it exists. So it is great to see Knowledge Transfer Ireland established, to start to allow organizations and individuals to seek out the knowledge in Irish third level institutions.

At least , it would be if it worked. . It doesnt

Look first at economics. Inputting “economics”  we see on the front page (how is this ranked? Is it random? ) my good self and we also see Richard J Tol as economics in TCD. I am in the Business school and work in Finance. He is in Sussex, and has been for some considerable time.

I apparently have 31 publications (an undercount by at least an order of three if we look at just peer reviewed publications and by seven fold if we look at all publications).  If we look at the TCD research system record we see nearly all my publications. If we look at google scholar, to which the KTI system neatly provides a link we see a pretty full record again.  The system misclassifies my research interest,  and it misses most of my research output. This alone tells me, straight out the box, that KTI is next to useless.

Looking at the TCD Economics profile of experts, again it’s a mess. It contains (some) of the people who actually work there; it also contains people who work in the Central Bank, a whole bunch of ESRI folk, a smattering of people in TCD in areas as disparate as law, sociology, business, sports science….

A quick glance at the other universities shows similar problems.

It proudly states that it “ automatically builds expert profiles from publication output, patent submissions and funding attainment. .Aficionado is unique in that it never asks an expert to create or maintain a profile on our system.“ and that’s a problem. If they are going to just trawl open access archives (as they seem to do) then they cannot present that as remotely like a full picture of any research endeavour. It seems that they have, as so often in Ireland, tried to do it on the cheap. Bibliometric databases abound and a decent system would use all of them, firewalled and open, to build a picture. Not here.  Beyond that the data are presented in a whizzbang graphics rich mode that is devoid of any hint of bibliometric or other analysis. Every paper is the same as every other. A raw paper count is produced but there is no sense of quality in any sense.


This portal may well be an accurate representation of the STEM areas researchers and research profile. The thrust of the thing seems to be towards that area – leaving aside the fact that the centers of global excellence in Irish universities is in Arts, Humanities and Social Studies –  but the data seem to me to be so patchy, poorly presented and flawed as to make it useless.  If it is merely meant to be for STEM patentable  right-now commercial research then say so. We know that AHSS research is not valued, so lets be upfront.  This exercise has been supported by the taxpayer via Enterprise Ireland, launched by the government via Richard Bruton and its shoddy.