Stephen Matchett has put on the armour of Don Quixote and taken a tilt at the sacred cow/windmill of state-funded medical research.
Not, you understand, that this is picking potential winners, as the Medical Research Future Fund Action Group explains, “Medical research is Australia’s best knowledge industry, employing 23,000 research professionals supporting a medicines industry of over 40,000. Annually, Australia now exports $4 billion worth of products developed through medical research, making it Australia’s largest high technology export industry.”[vii]
Good, oh, except researchers are largely on the public sector payroll and the exports are not necessarily the result of Australian science. As Professor Anderson acknowledges, “Only a small amount of this export is the direct product of Australian health and medical research, but I’m equally certain that we wouldn’t have such a vibrant sector if we didn’t have such a vibrant and quality medical research sector.”[viii]
But not to worry, medical researchers are making a motza for us [possibly] [but] With “large uncertainty surrounding the inputs” and a 210 per cent range between lowest (but still outstanding) and highest rate of return cynics could suggest this is not exactly bankable data, but what can you expect from cynics?
As for whether medical research is the best use of public funds – few ever ask the question.
Terrence Kealey addressed the related question, whether public funding of research drives out private funding. His answer was “yes” and moreover, the amount of private money driven out exceeds the public input. Hence more public funding means less research funding in total. Interesting? See the summary of Kealey’s book in this collection of papers on the way to make research pay.