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Where Have You Gone, Bell Labs?

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the i'm-guessing-china dept.

Businesses 552

theodp writes "Name an industry that can produce 1 million new, high-paying jobs over the next three years, challenges BusinessWeek. You can't, because there isn't one. And that's the problem. So what's the answer? Basic research can repair the broken US business model, argues BW, saying it's the key to new, high-quality job creation. Scientific research legends like Bell Labs, Sarnoff Corp, and Xerox PARC are essentially gone, or shadows of their former selves. And while IBM, Microsoft, and HP collectively spend $17B a year on R&D, only 3%-5% of that is for basic science. In a post-9/11 world, DARPA's mission has shifted from science to tactical projects with short-term military applications. Cutting back on investment in basic science research may make great sense in the short term, but as corporations and government make the same decision to free-ride off the investments of others, society suffers the 'tragedy of the commons,' wherein multiple actors operating in their self-interest do harm to the overall public good. We've reached that point, says BW, and we're just beginning to see the consequences. The cycle needs to be reversed, and it needs to be done quickly."

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It's not the business model that is broken. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29251913)

It's not the business model that is broken.
It's the capitalist system.

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (4, Insightful)

Aphex Junkie (633436) | more than 5 years ago | (#29251993)

The capitalist system IS the business model. There's no money to be made in basic research when you can sell shitty packaged "solutions" consisting mostly of off-the-shelf hardware.
An example: The Army uses mobile PCs with touchscreens that are given out to soldiers in the field. They're made by Toshiba, I believe. What do they run? Windows with some shitty full-screen GUI. Yes, they do crash. The defense budget takes the biggest chunk of the USA's budget. Even with all that money, they still get utter crap peddled to them by "system integrators". How can this be?

Business plan:
1. determine how to maximize profit no matter what
2. repeat indefinitely

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (0, Troll)

P0ltergeist333 (1473899) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252037)

Free market! Free market! Free market! la la la

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (1)

Marble68 (746305) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252261)

As opposed to what?

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252661)

A regulated market that prohibits companies from buying each other out when there are only a few players left, protection from lawyer attack and price undercutting for new players entering an established market and anti-monopoly/anti-cartel legislation to round it off.

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (5, Interesting)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252043)

The defense budget takes the biggest chunk of the USA's budget. Even with all that money, they still get utter crap peddled to them by "system integrators".

Milton Friedman explained this very well when he pointed out that your incentive to get your money's worth is lowest when you're spending someone else's money for someone else.

-jcr

Not just Bell (4, Informative)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252203)

NASA used to have research labs, too-- Ames and Lewis and Langley-- but years of cuts to the research budget and redirection has pretty much eliminated most of the work that doesn't have a near-term engineering payoff for a funded project. There's just no real constituancy to funding research.

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252175)

Actually, why pay money to do R&D when you can patent generic ideas and then later sue the people who actually do the R&D?

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (5, Informative)

SBrach (1073190) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252231)

Actually, Social Security is the biggest chunk of the national budget at 21.05%. The Department of Defense is 16.85%. Actually if you add SS, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment and Welfare, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services you get 49.72% for social programs. Also, interest on the National Debt is budgeted at 8.5%. That leaves 25% left for things like Education, NASA, DOE, DHS, DOJ, EPA, NSF, Federal LE, etc.

mmmmm pie [wikipedia.org]

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (1)

Hemi Roid (1219226) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252589)

Actually, Social Security is the biggest chunk of the national budget at 21.05%. The Department of Defense is 16.85%. Actually if you add SS, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment and Welfare, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (2, Informative)

Hemi Roid (1219226) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252649)

Actually if you add SS, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment and Welfare, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services

Uhhm No Unemployment is paid through unemployment insurance that employers pay to the government.

The higher your rate of claims against you the higher your rates will be.

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (1)

Marble68 (746305) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252253)

Uh, there's more to science than computers. Perhaps your missing the point of BW's article. We need more hard science.. the kind of stuff that was done 30 years ago that delivered the "mobile PCs" your reference.

Re:It's not the business model that is broken. (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252655)

There's no money to be made in basic research

Lets correct that stament:
There's no quick money to be made in basic research.
That's where the government can step in by making it interresting through wise taxation.

They're still in Murray Hill (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29251917)

Just a different name, you still need a clearance to work for them even as a custodian. Drive past the place everyday.

It's all about profit.And there is none here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29251941)

The business model that is currently in play expects profit. Short-term profit. Doing research now that pays dividends 10 years from now is simply not OK.

We need dollars to the bottom line. Period. Produce, or be gone.

Re:It's all about profit.And there is none here (3, Interesting)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252393)

" Doing research now that pays dividends 10 years from now is simply not OK. "

And that wouldn't even be considered basic science which means more of "30 years from now, or maybe never".

One Research Lab is Still Hiring... (5, Funny)

ZackSchil (560462) | more than 5 years ago | (#29251951)

They're looking for talented engineers and scientists with LOTS of imagination to take important projects from concept to reality!

Check out their website and apply if you want to turn this trend around! [go.com]

Re:One Research Lab is Still Hiring... (1, Funny)

Alomex (148003) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252063)

Replying to undo accidental moderation.

Re:One Research Lab is Still Hiring... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252375)

They're looking for talented engineers and scientists with LOTS of imagination to take important projects from concept to reality!

Check out their website and apply if you want to turn this trend around!

Having met many IT people who worked for Disney, I assure you that they are some of the brightest people around.

You sometimes hear a remark like "it's a Mickey Mouse operation" intended to suggest that something is a crappy operation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Disney employs many many bright people to offer products & services that will separate you from your money.

Now, Disney could be doing something more productive, but they are very good at what they do.

YES I CAN! (-1, Troll)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#29251971)

Nobama says green revolution will bring the change we need to give us hope. ;-)

Failing that, we can all become bankers and play pyramid bingo while Fed printers are still working.

Re:YES I CAN! (2, Interesting)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252045)

Actually that is cynical and I beg to differ here. Obama is actually right on the mark. The green revolution is important and we need it. Not because of global warming. I really could not give a rats ass about that since it is already too late. Read National Geographic about 4 years ago they had a climate article where they said that they noticed climate change happened like a flick of the switch, but bounced back slowly. They were of the opinion that the switch has probably already been flicked.

So why green revolution? Because the heat waves, droughts, storms, etc will cause upheaval and if we have technology to deal with this new reality we as a human race will survive. The green revolution is about using other forms of energy, and becoming more efficient. Both of these things are great steps forward regardless of climate change...

Re:YES I CAN! (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252055)

Seriously, though, the largest public funding for R&D goes to NIH, but the economic benefits from it seem to all flow to medical industry, and I am not certain profit-driven health care industry that we have is the right one, ethically, to drive our economy.

Re:YES I CAN! (1)

P0ltergeist333 (1473899) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252101)

Yea, Koresh forbid we research anything other than cheapening products for bigger profit margins. Certainly there's no future in creating cleaner, more efficient energy solutions...

More like there might be no future (or at least a very ugly one) if we DON'T.

Re:YES I CAN! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252449)

I bought a more efficient car than almost all other cars avaiable. Indeed, no future at all.

Cheaper products makes life better for poorer people. A great example that all westerners take for granted is the goold old refrigerator. Running water is another one. If we can produce these more cheaply, we can help Africa tremendously. I have people that I have worked with who were working on :gasp: cleaner fossil fuels technology for the epxress purpose of helping produce energy for Africa.

Want to get more basic research? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29251985)

There is a really simple idea on how to get more basic research... PAY MORE!!!

Seriously, in a world where artists, movie actors, athletes get completely outrageous salaries (let alone wall street and executives) the answer can be easily found.

It used to be in the old days that you should learn a profession before becoming a professional athlete, actor, etc. Now the payoff of these fields far outweigh learning a "real" field. Look at MTV and this weird chick who thinks that she has talent. In fact want to see what the youth has become look at MTV reality in general...

What do I do? I work in a hedge fund, even though I am a professional mechanical engineer who used to "build real things". I can actually build robots, and industrial production machinery. Because of my upbringing (German) it was ingrained to me to build "real things". I moved to finance because I am of the motto, "if you can't beat them, join them... Your life is too short..."

Re:Want to get more basic research? (2, Insightful)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252177)

I agree. Its not the model that is broken, it is the society that isn't raising kids up to want to participate. Science and math are almost vulgarities it schools, its more fun to be in the drama team (official or unofficial).

Re:Want to get more basic research? (2, Funny)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252455)

On the plus side, some research is really popular:

E.g., how far can a man hit a ball with a stick after injecting steroids into his blood stream?

Or, how many deaths will a teenage girl cause if she is texting while driving?

These basic research questions may soon be answered!

Re:Want to get more basic research? (1)

Loconut1389 (455297) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252663)

Is that in now? When I was in school, the drama kids were almost as outcasty as the science kids- though slightly more acceptable if you really were good.

Re:Want to get more basic research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252263)

Gee, when the topic is file-sharing and copyright violation, people posting on this site seem to think that musicians, filmmakers, artists and writers are perfectly willing to invest decades of their life honing their respective crafts regardless of whether they expect to ever get paid or not. Or maybe it's, they shouldn't expect to be paid for their works themselves, but they can make up for it by going on tour (BTW only big well-established acts can realistically support themselves this way) and selling t-shirts and baseball caps (good luck with that).

Re:Want to get more basic research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252281)

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Re:Want to get more basic research? (4, Insightful)

spleen_blender (949762) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252283)

Most artists and actors (think local, like the guy who makes murals for cities or organizes local productions) aren't paid outrageous salaries. We only hear of the ones that do thanks to a for-profit news media.

Re:Want to get more basic research? (1)

muyshiny (944250) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252467)

You work for a hedge fund? Cool. Do you know where we can invest to support long term thought?

Re:Want to get more basic research? (1)

Swizec (978239) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252537)

Oops, wanted to mod insightful, clicked wrong. Posting.

Surprising (4, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 5 years ago | (#29251989)

Researchers have been sounding this alarm for years, if not decades. But what makes this significant is hearing it from the likes of BusinessWeek. If the Wall Street Journal ever catches on, we might be close to some real change. On the other hand, they are sure to think the solution to tragedy of commons is stronger IP laws rather than more investment in commons.

Re:Surprising (3, Insightful)

samuX (623423) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252073)

true. stronger ip laws will lead to even less R&D or to R&D which will involve 50% of the people there just to check if there hasn't been alread a previous IP on that idea . it is time to wipe out patent and copyright or rewrite it from the scratch to help evolve and not involve

Re:Surprising (2, Insightful)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252401)

it is time to wipe out patent and copyright or rewrite it from the scratch to help evolve and not involve

I don't suppose your proposal has any more detail to it?

How would you incent R&D?

Cash Prizes?

stronger ip laws will lead to even less R&D or to R&D which will involve 50% of the people there just to check if there hasn't been alread a previous IP on that idea

Actually, anyone doing research really doesn't have to worry about other people's patents.
Since the beginning, patent law has recognized a strong research exemption from infringement.

So if you're doing research that you simply want to donate to the commons, then you have nothing to worry about.

Now, if you plan on selling the invention or using it in your business, *then* you need to worry about patents.

Not too surprising. (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252167)

Researchers have been sounding this alarm for years, if not decades. But what makes this significant is hearing it from the likes of BusinessWeek. If the Wall Street Journal ever catches on, we might be close to some real change.

That's a good point. The Wall Street Journal's approach would probably be a bigger R&D tax credit.

Re:Not too surprising. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252333)

as opposed to what?

Re:Surprising (1)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252353)

On the other hand, they are sure to think the solution to tragedy of commons is stronger IP laws rather than more investment in commons.

The problem with the "more investment in commons" argument is that even the U.S. government wants to protect the fruits of its research with patents (to prevent other countries from free-riding on us).

In order for R&D to be worthwhile to any group of people, that group of people needs to see a return-on-investment. I know, I know. "Information wants to be free."
But people want to get paid.

Re:Surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252367)

Nicholas Kristof complained about this in the NY Times years ago. Not much happened. I read the Journal daily, and it is a shame that I rarely see similar articles emphasizing the importance of science, except for some op-eds by executives of tech companies.

http://select.nytimes.com/2005/12/06/opinion/06kristof.html?_r=1

Not only that, but he somehow manages to invoke Godwin's Law as well.

Re:Surprising (4, Insightful)

pitchpipe (708843) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252369)

If the Wall Street Journal ever catches on, we might be close to some real change.

No, we'll just be in for more bullshit articles about how government regulations are stifling innovation.

What we really need is some basic R&D into why conservatives hold on to the mantra that the free market cures all ills when it's been shown time and again to fail completely in so many areas.

Re:Surprising (1)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252427)

"Researchers have been sounding this alarm for years, if not decades. But what makes this significant is hearing it from the likes of BusinessWeek. If the Wall Street Journal ever catches on, we might be close to some real change"

Don't think so when what the "Businessweek-alikes" are really telling is "somebody else should pay us a lot of money so we could maintain the 'statu quo' -short term returns, while producing basic science". No that I guilt them... after all, if it worked for the bailed-out banks why other wouldn't want to ride on the free money wagon?

Re:Surprising (5, Insightful)

Keith Duhaime (139896) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252629)

Forget the Wall Street Journal. This needs to resonant with the Dicks and Janes that walk main street USA. The US is racking up record deficits and debts, a huge chunk of which is borrowed from foreigners. It's economy is still reliant on important strategic resources like oil. There is only so long it can go on doing this. At some point, the US must produce goods and services for the global marketplace that are competitive enough to generate the tax base to not only stem future deficits, but also pay down some of the accrued debt. When I put what this article has to say together with some of the more recent studies on US literacy and numeracy, the picture is pretty scary. There is some life to the US economy right now, but what happens when all the stimulus money dries up, and foreign investors realize that US T-Bills, savings bonds, and even US currency potentially isn't worth the paper it is written on? The financial turmoil of the last 12 months is going to look like a cakewalk then.

Basic research in Ireland - billions spent (4, Informative)

zoney_ie (740061) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252003)

We've invested in basic research here in Ireland, and the government is being criticised for it (link to Irish Times opinion piece [irishtimes.com] ).

Certainly there is a problem here in Ireland that there are a lack of opportunities for those who've acheived a PhD qualification through basic research. Already a lot of even ordinary degree graduates in science and technology have emigrated from Ireland, and the number of entrants into such undergraduate courses is dropping year by year.

However, possibly there's nothing inherently wrong with investing so much in basic research and the issues arise merely from the ineptitude of those running this country and the blind voting that such a section of the populance do for the current ruling party - who've throughout Ireland's history acheived lots of public support but attempted to ruin the country at various stages (starting with the Civil War, continuing with the economic war with the UK in the 1930s, going crazy in the 1970s even abolishing car tax to win votes as the country went bankrupt, deliberately facilitating a property bubble after the dot-com crash, attempting to have the taxpayers continue to pay into the Ponzi scheme with a unique Irish version of the bad bank - i.e. pay speculative amounts to banks for bad loans and attempt to keep prices up until a new bubble is created).

Socialism (5, Insightful)

P0ltergeist333 (1473899) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252011)

Government spending on R&D? That's socialism! I thought everyone knew that taxes are bullshit. It's not like government funded basic research ever gave us anything useful like the transistor.

Re:Socialism (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252041)

well, of course, the transistor. I didn't mention the transistor because it goes without saying. But other than the transistor (and the aqueduct), what have we ever gotten out of government funded research?

Re:Socialism (1)

arethuza (737069) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252079)

The World Wide Web?

Re:Socialism (1)

GaryOlson (737642) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252119)

Nuclear power?

Re:Socialism (1)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252151)

GPS, the internet, memory foam, and all other sorts of fun stuff.

A ton of stuff we use nowadays was created by or uses components created by NASA and DARPA.

Re:Socialism (1)

siride (974284) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252193)

Amazing that nobody got the reference.

Re:Socialism (1)

_Sprocket_ (42527) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252311)

Amazing that nobody got the reference.

NOBODY expects the reference.

Re:Socialism (1)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252461)

"But other than the transistor (and the aqueduct), what have we ever gotten out of government funded research?"

Latin, I suppouse. But yes, you a right, appart for that, nothing, as you thought.

Re:Socialism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252077)

Er, that one wasn't government funded. That one is from Bell Labs.

that's not the tragedy of the commons (1)

boguslinks (1117203) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252069)

as corporations and government make the same decision to free-ride off the investments of others, society suffers the 'tragedy of the commons,' wherein multiple actors operating in their self-interest do harm to the overall public good.

That's not the Tragedy of the Commons. Perhaps the writers at BW should look up the definition of it before using it in an article.

Re:that's not the tragedy of the commons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252257)

You're right. The tragedy of the commons is about herders and grazing cows, not corporations.

Re:that's not the tragedy of the commons (4, Insightful)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252413)

It kind of is.

Ok, fine. There are many collective action problems, and the Tragedy of the Commons is just one of them. If we're being picky, I suppose you should only use "Tragedy of the Commons" to refer to scenarios in which individual incentives cause a shared resource to be used unsustainably. I think the argument is that, metaphorically, there is a shared resource here (and indeed there is) -- scientific knowledge. Now, perhaps you can actually "use up" this resource by exploiting all the economic opportunities it affords. But I will agree that the metaphor of the commons breaks down here, because the problem is NOT that knowledge is being "overused" but that it is being "underproduced."

So the phrase "Tragedy of the Commons" is used, maybe, a tiny bit out of place, when simple "Freeriding" would have been a better choice. But I'm ok with that. We can call it synecdoche: The writers are using one element (the Tragedy of the Commons) of the set of collective action problems to refer to the entire set. I can live with that.

Yeah so... (5, Insightful)

ComputerGeek01 (1182793) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252097)

All of you Genetisists with your fancy degrees start discovering stuff, but remember if you start playing god again we are going to complain to the governement...

All of you Nuclear Physists start making your reactors and glowey things, but not in my back yard! I don't want that nuclear waste making my McDonalds Double Cheesburger unhealthy!

The same for all of you green energy people with your wind turbines you need to start building this renewable energy! but not in my neighborhood you're destroying the value on my now worthless house!

Clearly this is everyone's fault except for mine, now if you'll excuse me I'm late for second job delivering pizza's I'm glad I never went to college otherwise I might be expected to do something about this! - The American Public

Greentech! (5, Insightful)

EricBoyd (532608) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252099)

"Name an industry that can produce 1 million new, high-paying jobs over the next three years", challenges BusinessWeek. The obvious answer is Greentech. We need to scale wind and solar power production rapidly, for a whole host of reasons. Currently installed base took decades, and is still only 1% of the electric grid, so clearly there is lots of room to expand... and that's not even counting such opportunities as electric cars.

Re:Greentech! (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252269)

"Name an industry that can produce 1 million new, high-paying jobs over the next three years", challenges BusinessWeek. The obvious answer is Greentech...

Actually, that's moderately insightful. There's a persistent stereotype that "green" meaning a step backward in technology, but, realistically, it's exactly the opposite-- true green means high technology. Family-farms and kerosene lanterns won't cut it in the 21st century. There's a lot of technology improvements needed-- both in power production, and in improving efficiency, and materials science improvements needed to implement recyclability-- and this represents real market value.

Re:Greentech! (5, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252579)

Actually, that's moderately insightful. There's a persistent stereotype that "green" meaning a step backward in technology, but, realistically, it's exactly the opposite-- true green means high technology.

The true story is that we are far underutilizing the technology we have. We could have more small, local generation of power from wind and solar; the wind stuff can be made from recycled materials, and solar panels were able to pay back the energy cost of their production in less than a decade back in the seventies. It could probably never fill all demand, but we already use multiple forms of power.

Re:Greentech! (1)

kabloom (755503) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252331)

Are the science and money there to make it happen in a paradigm-shifting way? Or is it just a bunch tweaks on existing industries?

Re:Greentech! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252397)

So called greentech hasn't been implemented because it doesn't pencil out. Wind and solar can't do it. It doesn't pencil out even for environmental reasons. The chief environmental reason, AGW, is a contrivance anyway. Strangely, the most hated technology solution to our energy problems, nuclear power, is the solution that will work the best. The problem here is not technological. The problem is political. The perceived risk of nuclear is far out of whack with the actual risk. The perceived benefit of green is far out of whack with the actual benefit. If you turn the energy problem over to engineers, we will solve it in short order.

Environmentalists who proclaim, "Science, Science." don't really support a solution to the problem other than for people to revert to some idyllic notion of life without technology.

Re:Greentech! (1)

gclef (96311) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252469)

While I'm all for solar and wind, there are some really good reasons why they're not really the answer (for a great explanation of why, see Sustainable Energy - without the hot air [withouthotair.com] ). You're close to the right answer, though. The industry that *should* be growing in leaps and bounds is energy. Solar should be a part of that (though, again not enough on its own), but nuclear needs to be there, though, and we *need* to figure out details of how to handle nuclear power long-term.

The really long term answer is fusion. One can only hope it's figured out in our lifetimes.

Individual (3, Interesting)

Bodero (136806) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252109)

as corporations and government make the same decision to free-ride off the investments of others, society suffers the 'tragedy of the commons,

How about the individual? You know, the type that parrots around here against the patent system (or at the very least, software patents), and screaming how they use Pirate Bay to protest them? How about the individuals who demand our government buy price-controlled medicine from Canada to deny the organization who discovered it the fruits of their labor, and the ability to recoup their investment?

Creators and inventors see a hostile environment for profiting off their works, so they stop investing in creating and inventing. Film at 11.

Re:Individual (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252233)

Err I think you have copyright and patent mixed up. The Piratebay is primarily a copyright issue not patent. And most people's problem with patents are more because of patent trolls and how patents with clear prior art can still get passed.

Re:Individual (2, Informative)

Kratisto (1080113) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252271)

Yeah, just the other day I had my multibillion dollar corporation download some illegal patents off TPB so I could throw them into full scale production without giving the inventors and researchers any credit or any money.

Re:Individual (1)

Marble68 (746305) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252277)

Amen... And many of these are the same type of uninformed nationalist who decry the free market as a broken system. The ignorance is suffocating.

Re:Individual (5, Insightful)

pesho (843750) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252471)

How about the individuals who demand our government buy price-controlled medicine from Canada to deny the organization who discovered it the fruits of their labor, and the ability to recoup their investment?

This is not exactly true. The fact is that the drug industry is making handsome profit at the prices they sell in Canada, Mexico or Europe. They easily recoup their R&D costs. Besides, R&D expenditures in the pharma industry are relatively small part of their budget. For example marketing costs are about 3 times as much (can you turn on TV and not see an add for a prescription drug?) . Even manufacturing costs are higher. The reason for this is that all the basic research as well as some of the drug development is done by universities and payed by grants from the government (NIH, DoE, DoD, NSF) and non-for-profits. Creators and inventors see a hostile environment for profiting off their works, so they stop investing in creating and inventing.

Creators and inventors do what they do because they enjoy it. Making money is a second or third motivator. If it was the primary goal they would be in marketing selling you stuff from China that you don't need.

How I think it all started, and more (5, Interesting)

rcoxdav (648172) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252127)

I think a lot of the lack of R&D goes back to decisions made many years ago by the government. At one point all employee salaries regardless of how outrageous they were were a deductible expense. Congress decided they wanted to tax high salaried people. Therefore companies found ways around those laws. In comes stock bonuses and stock options. The problem with that is that a highly paid employee (most likely a decision maker) will do what is best for them, which is kick up the stock price so that they get higher effective pay. Easy way to do that, kill long term R&D. In addition with companies hiring people with business BS degrees who then get an MBA to manage, instead of the engineers, everything is looked at on the current P&L statement, not the 10+ year roadmap.

The combination of the higher ups wanting short term profits due to changes in tax law, along with many fewer R&D companies (HP for example) having engineers and technical people making decisions has decimated R&D.

I remember when HP meant test equipment and awesome calculators, not lousy consumer based computers (Thanks Carly). Another example, don't laugh too hard, is Radio Shack. I used to work for Radio Shack in the late 80's and the early 90's. When I started, they actually had R&D (they had a dye based CD-R technology they were working on, but had RIAA type problems with), manufacturing, a lot of electronic components, etc. When the founder of Tandy died, the MBA style management came in. They started off selling manufacturing, as that was not part of the "Core Business", sold off the credit card division, which made a nice one time profit, that then really made customers made because of lack of customer service, and lowered sales because of tighter credit requirements. They stopped carrying a lot of small parts, because of the low dollar value, regardless if they were high profit. In short, Charles Tandy, the leather salesman, ran it better and more profitably than the "business school" people that were bought in because he understood the business. We need to find a way to encourage the people who know the business they are in to get higher up and make decisions, rather than feeding the orgy of MBA's and people with business degrees that now rule most companies. As to how, I have very little in the way of ideas, but I think some tax law encouraging long term and pure science R&D would be helpful, if it could not be bastardized for other purposes (yeah, I know, a pipe dream).

Re:How I think it all started, and more (3, Insightful)

jopsen (885607) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252541)

I think a lot of the lack of R&D goes back to decisions made many years ago by the government. At one point all employee salaries regardless of how outrageous they were were a deductible expense. Congress decided they wanted to tax high salaried people. Therefore companies found ways around those laws. In comes stock bonuses and stock options. The problem with that is that a highly paid employee (most likely a decision maker) will do what is best for them, which is kick up the stock price so that they get higher effective pay. Easy way to do that, kill long term R&D.

In a capitalistic society management (decision makers or highly paid employees) serves the interest of the stockholders... And most stockholders want money on a short term... Not long term risky investments...
I doubt higher taxes on high incomes has much to do with this...

The solution is not necessarily communism... - But government investments can be a part of the solution... subsidizing certain industries might be an idea too... In Denmark the government subsidized every watt produced using wind energy, thus driving research in this area... In Germany it was solar energy...

The money AT&T didn't make from Bell Labs (2, Interesting)

GGardner (97375) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252181)

It's incredible how successful other companies were at commercializing the amazing basic discoveries or inventions that came out of Bell Labs (transistor, laser, Unix, etc. etc. etc.), and somehow AT&T never was all that successful at commercializing these discoveries, and ended up spinning off Bell Labs and selling out to SBC.

Bell Labs held many, many patents from all this basic research, that ultimately weren't nearly as profitable as the inventions that used them. Lessons for those who insist that IP rights are key to innovation.

Re:The money AT&T didn't make from Bell Labs (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252341)

You might want to read about the 1956 AT&T consent decree as it prevented Bell Labs from profiting from its patents. Any company that wanted it could get a license for transistor technology for $25K. Also, the reason Unix took off was it cost a university only the one charge of a magnetic tape to receive the full source code.

Re:The money AT&T didn't make from Bell Labs (5, Informative)

skwang (174902) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252345)

Bell Labs was a subsidiary of the Bell Telephone company. Since the telephone company was a regulated utility, and a monopoly, the US government did not allow it to commercialize many of its discoveries and inventions. UNIX for instance was "given away" with a license to universities (e.g. UC Berekely), companies, and the government.

I believe the conclusion you drew is incorrect because it was based on the faulty assumption that Bell Labs tried to commercialize and profit off its products, when in fact it could not.

Re:The money AT&T didn't make from Bell Labs (2, Interesting)

GGardner (97375) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252475)

The consent degree did not apply to Lucent after it was spun off, and they did even worse. Moreover, lack of commercialization was true at _all_ the privately run labs. How much did Xerox make from PARC's great Computer Science work? IBM from T.J Watson?

Re:The money AT&T didn't make from Bell Labs (5, Interesting)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252543)

I believe the conclusion you drew is incorrect because it was based on the faulty assumption that Bell Labs tried to commercialize and profit off its products, when in fact it could not.

Indeed. And the same point should probably be made about Xerox PARC; a lot of really good basic research went on there, but the management of the company had little clue what to actually do with it. The graphical user interface, the WYSIWYG word processor, object-oriented programming -- all of these were PARC innovations, and Xerox did almost nothing to commercialise them. In the end, Xerox was simply content with being a photocopier manufacturer. Laser printers were close enough to that core business to fit in; graphical networked workstations, operating systems and programming langauges weren't.

Re:The money AT&T didn't make from Bell Labs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252487)

Think, Texas Instruments.
Their technology is everywhere.

No. (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252189)

Research in the sciences usually requires a Ph.D level education. We (US) don't have nearly enough Ph.Ds to answer that challenge.

Plus, people who hold a Ph.D in the sciences aren't exactly unemployable, even in "this economy..."

Re:No. (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252247)

"Research in the sciences usually requires a Ph.D level education."

Is that a bureaucratic requirement or a practical one?

Re:No. (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252425)

Practical. Basic research requires quite a lot of specialised knowledge, training, and practice.

Re:No. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252623)

no its bureaucratic. "Ph.D level education" != holding a PhD.

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252429)

we have too many PhDs for the available jobs as it is. what incentive does anyone have to stay in school other than a slim chance at a low paying job?

Re:No. (1)

MrCrassic (994046) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252657)

Usually to sate a passion. Sometimes, it's not about the money.

Re:No. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252673)

That's too simple of an answer. Sure, there aren't a whole lot of science PhDs; but there's very little funding as well. Today most professors spend most of their time finding funding, indeed, that seems to be their main job. And there's another big problem. I have a degree. I'm more than employable, I get unsolicited job offers. But I decided to be a PhD student. I make, in the US, less as a PhD student than unemployment, and less than a PhD student in China. Never mind comparing to the 4-6x salary I could have in industry. Never mind that it's harder work and longer hours.

So if you really want more PhDs and more research, the answer is twofold. Pay better, and stop making people that should be doing research spend most of their time going around trying to get funding.

Where have they gone? To the ether... (4, Insightful)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252205)

Sometime in the late 60's/early 70's, economists and politicians began to see honest growth based on adding value and fair trade as something that would slow the growth of the US economy, and leave the country unable to pay for the massive military and social programs that we are committed to. How many trillions of dollars were invested in ICBM silos? Strategic Air Command bombers and tankers that are still flying today by the grandchildren of the original pilots because they were never needed in the first place?

We made the switch from scientific and industrial powerhouse to empire. Instead of building factories, we build relationships with dictators. Instead of employing citizens in manufacturing, we exploit peasants in East Asia. I live in Albany, NY. Thanks to government, this area is pretty prosperous. But as you drive west through once-thriving cities like Amsterdam, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, you are a witness to economic devastation as the region declines to a shadow of its former self.

We live in an age of false prosperity, where our chief export is the wealth of the nation.

you may as well call this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252213)

...the rise of the MBA, or PHB, or whatever amalgam of the two you see in your work life every day, taken to a high, an extreme, a global pinnacle from which they make their influence felt far and wide.

Geeks? who needs 'em...!

Sudden Outbreak of Common Sense (1)

omb (759389) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252217)

Of course this is right, and we need to re-encourage investment in basic science in all of the goverment, Universities and Industry and it needs to be in Basic Science, _not_ short time applied science, engineering or product development and anyone with an MBA needs to be disqualified from any part of the decision making as do almost all pols, except to do it.

The problems are:
(a) short term-ism on Wall Street,
(b) good and improving engineering education in China and South East Asia
(c) the fallacy that the "great and good" running research councils can usefully direct research, a few can, but most are politicized old farts!

Remember, must of the most vital discoveries were accidental, eg the Transistor at Bell labs and that the only way to ensure that we get that fall out is to undertake serious sustained investment in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.

Engineering, while important is nothing like such a fundamental innovator, sure let us also invest in Computer Science & Engineering and the Life Sciences, where much profit can be cheaply mined, but it is in the basics where the big new technologies start.

A simple example, all the green-renewable-energy sources, and the mistakes deploying them could be bypassed by a small safe fusion reactor in the 200-10,000 KW range, which would remove dependance on foreign oil and make energy esentialy free. My BM 735i needs about 270KW so it could power cars, planes homes ... without a new lot of un-intended consequences. Ethanol and the price of basic foods anyone.

Combination of Factors (2, Interesting)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252267)

The first factor that has to be corrected is the entire Education System in the United States because until the many problems (rote memorization favored over critical thinking) is fixed, we simply wont have the bodies needed to do any basic research. The next factor that has to be solved is the Governments continual slide into Mediocracy and illeteracy that's been desired by the Corps and Politico's for the last 30 years. Sorry folks but that's at least 2 generations (not counting the current and future gens) that have been robbed of our Constitutional Requirement for both an educated and armed populace. Instead they've wanted sheep and now they've got them who don't care about anything except where their next fix is coming from (be it telivision, latest hip product, drugs).

Sorry to say but if the founding fathers were to attempt a revolution with our current tranqed populace today, they'd have failed and been executed as terrorists instead of hailed as hero's. In fact, General Orders to HighGaurd. Time to throw a Nova Bomb into Sol's Sun and clear the cockroaches before they spread to the rest of the galaxy.

Where Have You Gone, Bell Labs? (5, Informative)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252273)

If you want the literal answer to this question, they're part of Alcatel-Lucent now, after being part of Lucent Technologies since AT&T spun them off in the 90s.

-1 Troll (pro-IP rights) (0)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252293)

Another factor that I see having an impact on R&D is the steady weakening of the patent system.
Decisions like KSR, eBay, and Seagate are causing corporations to question the value of patent protection, which - in the long run - causes them to question R&D. Because why spend the money if you can't protect inventions from being stolen/copied very well?

as corporations and government make the same decision to free-ride off the investments of others, society suffers the 'tragedy of the commons,'

The whole point of patent protection is to stop this free-riding problem.
Of course, patents by their nature interfere to some extent with downstream innovation.
So weakening patent rights is great in the short-term, but it is short-sighted.

http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2009/08/microsoft-v-i4i-briefing-the-appeal.html [patentlyo.com]

Microsoft's R&D == marketing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252423)

If you look at the activities M$ has under the category research, it's mostly a lot of marketing. M$ took a lot of heat for having far larger marketing budgets than for anything else, so marketing was split up and called many other things including R&D. M$ execs even went as far as to pay institutions to let their marketers get degrees so they can take out "Linux" and other pesky competitors. One barrier M$ has is college-educated IT people. They know better than to touch M$ products with a barge pole. Solution? Send in lay preachers dressed as PhDs into universities and put a stop to talk of computer science.

Not the Free Rider Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252299)

Corporations and Government are not free riding on the investments of others. This is not the tragedy of the commons. Those companies that do not advance will wither over time. Those companies that do advance will prosper. The economic landscape will be different. Different is not doom.

The article speaks fondly of Manhattan, Apollo as if they were altruistic scientific advancements. No, they were direct competitive answers to foreign enemies with military objectives. Then the article criticizes modern DARPA projects as short term tactical efforts. What is the D in DARPA? Let's be realistic. Our current defense objectives are not strategic in scope. They are tactical in scope and DARPA is meeting that need.

Today we actually have private individuals working on credible private space programs. IBM is doing incredible work in nanotech. Genetics holds great hope for medical advancement. We've barely scratched the surface with our new computing abilities. "Something wonderful is going to happen." And what about google. Sun couldn't make the network into the new computer but it looks like Google will succeed where Sun failed.

The common thread running through this article is government. We need more of it to do basic science or we will all lose our jobs. I don't buy it at all.

There is an answer! (5, Funny)

cbraescu1 (180267) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252355)

Name an industry that can produce 1 million new, high-paying jobs over the next three years

Government!

Other countries should do their share too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252377)

Fortunately, we can count on OPEP countries to
fund Fundamental research.

But we don't like monopolies... (4, Interesting)

PhysicsPhil (880677) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252391)

It's interesting to note that most of the top-tier research facilities of the past were backed by monopoly or near-monopoly corporations. Bell Telephone speaks for itself, IBM Labs was supported by revenue of a dominating computer manufacturer, Sarnoff is the old lab facility of RCA, which for a time had sufficient clout to pretty much set the price of vacuum tubes. Xerox was the dominant photocopier supplier in an era of large growth. In today's world, Microsoft is one of the biggest spenders on research, and they have their own cash cow from a software monopoly.

One wonders if the ability to fund basic research depends on having a nearly monopolistic revenue stream. And if that's the case, are we prepared to suffer monopolies to get the research that comes with them?

5+% of revenue on very long term return (3, Interesting)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252403)

This is what we are talking about, and having 5% to spend is not easy. It requires planning and determination. We can see how difficult this is at the micr level with families. Take an average family bringing in 4K a month. How many spend even $200 a month on education? Sure some invest in private school, but I am talking about suitable books, cultural events, etc.

So firms must find the 5%. This happens through efficiencies and prices. A choice must be made between all those wasteful middle managers that do nothing, or research.Everyone has a useless in law that needs a job, so create another wasteful middle manager position. Or perhaps someone needs external validation, so build another wasteful highrise to stroke someone ego.

The there is profit. The pharmaceutical firms are doing research, but then what happens when they try to pay for the research? Everyone screams, like drugs are an entitlement. It is the pursuit of happiness, but the entitle to it. Is everyone going to be able to afford all drugs in the US. Perhaps is universal healthcare is passed, otherwise it will be the free market deciding that those with money will live, and those without will just have to make do.

Then, of course, on has to convince the stockholders that a reduction in per share profit is a good thing. Not an easy sell when many will buy solely on the basis of net profit.

I am not sure if industrial research labs are going to work in the current climate. Research based companies seem to get clobbered by those who merely derive products from the research. The model emerging over the past 20 years of so, private public research partnerships, seem to be a pretty good job. The reason we see so little of it in the US is that owners of firms are primarily concerned abut their 100 million dollar paychecks, not the long term effects they have on the company, the country, and the world. Why else would the auto manufacturers not use their windfall over the past decade to build the next big thing. Why would oil companies use their windfall to create false document, a la big tobacco, against alternative energy sources rather than develop those alternative energy source. Why else would MS buy a virtualization company, way before MS Vista, a not integrate that technology into Vista to form a transitional compatibility layer, as Apple did between OS 9 and OS X.

Really, research labs are not the issue, cowardice is. When we have leaders that are not scared of their own shadows, when we have leaders that will go out a defend us against the real enemy, and not waste a trillion dollars attacking a fake proxy enemy or create FUD to distract us, then we will have progress.

Is basic research mined out? (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252417)

A real question is whether basic research mines a depleting resource. The issue is not whether more can be discovered. The question is whether basic research is still cost-effective.

The problem is that we've found most of the easy hits in science and technology. Edison's lab, circa 1880, had a goal of one minor invention every three days and one major invention every two months. This was with a rather modest staff, about 40 people. In no area of science is that level of output possible today. Everything that easy has already been done.

One guy built the first IC in two months at Texas Instruments, without much help. Several early microprocessors were designed by teams of about 5 people. It took 3,000 people, in grey cubicles in Santa Clara, to design the Pentium Pro/II/III architecture, the first superscalar IC. (Getting a working design out of 3000 people for something as tightly integrated as a fast superscalar CPU for a complex architecture was an incredible management achievement.)

Xerox PARC, in its heyday, had a nearly open field in which to work. PARC was funded on the concept that if they did things which cost too much now, they'd be affordable later and Xerox would own the technology. So they built things like the Dover (a $100,000 laser printer) and the Alto (a $30,000 single-user computer), and they built enough of them to be useful experimentally. So they were able to make major progress with about 40 people in the computer science section. (PARC seemed bigger, but a big part of PARC was copier technology development. Everybody forgets those people, but they filled much of the building.) Now it takes resources like that to develop a midrange cell phone.

There's a curve here, it gets steeper, and not in a good way. The easy stuff is discovered/invented first, then the harder stuff. Each new bit of progress comes at a higher price. It's like mining lower and lower grade ore as the good stuff runs out.

Those are places I know about and visited at one time or another, all in semiconductors and electronics. I can't speak for biotech, which seems not to be as far up the curve yet. On the other hand, consider aviation and rocketry, where the easy part ended in the 1960s. Look at progress in aviation between 1903 and 1956 (Wright Flyer to Boeing 707), then 1956 to 2009 (Boeing 707 to Boeing 787). Or rocketry between 1929 and 1969 (Goddard rocket to Apollo) and 1969 to 2009 (Apollo to Shuttle).

Re:Is basic research mined out? (5, Interesting)

stupendou (466135) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252653)

I find this to be a narrow-minded view, despite the points well-taken about research getting harder and harder in general.

Case in point: mobile-phone technology. How many patents have been generated from that? How many new jobs around the world? You'd have thought the "hard-part" of basic radio research was over long ago.

Sure, the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. However, we have so much more knowledge to build on and such better tools these days with which to do the research that, even though the overall job is harder, it can be done quicker and more efficiently than ever before.

Curves/trends are useful for predictions, until something comes along that no longer fits. And it's impossible to predict when that something will arrive. But if we don't fund basic research adequately, it'll likely take that much longer.

So lets invest in that then. (1)

muyshiny (944250) | more than 5 years ago | (#29252447)

The problem with getting funding for long term stuff is that no one wants to pay for things they won't benefit from in this decade let alone their lifetime. Except... we kinda do. What companies are in it for the long haul? I could buy their shares and be glad to improve the world and pass on the ownership to my children who might reap some serious rewards. If there isn't one, and you have some decent capital, why not get some more together and start up a vehicle that for those of us who want to put our money where our mouth is on this to do so. I think there are many on slashdot who'd be able to put $100/mo or more to this.

wallmartification (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252491)

Economy, business, society is an interconnected entity. Once you introduce and implement the something like wallmart, it does not stop there, it ripples through the entire system. It is effecting views, expectations, etc. What's happening is wallmartification of R&D as well.

Glenda (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29252625)

Commercial research labs have all lost credibility after this: http://plan9.bell-labs.com/plan9/img/plan9bunnyblack.jpg

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