Science, technology and innovation policy — part 2

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By RENATO DAGNINO*

Considerations about the 5th National STI Conference

This article follows, as a second part, a recently published on the website the earth is round focusing on preparatory events for the 5th National STI Conference. As explained there, the separation of the original text into these two parts was due to its size. But I also interpret what I discuss here – the Thematic Conference on University-Business Cooperation, which took place at Fapesp, on the morning of March 19th – as a watershed in the way we should analyze and, hopefully, develop our PCTI.

Prepared by the same authorities that 11 days earlier had organized the State STI Conference, the University-Business Cooperation Conference represents, in my opinion, a turning point in relation to the past. In particular, what happened in previous events, when once again the sixty-year-old diagnosis of the scientific elite and “their” technocrats who hegemonize the PCTI was reaffirmed, which understands the scarce university-business relationship (EU) as the main problem of our environment of CTI, and its increase, as the main challenge.

A diagnosis that, summarizing the critical vision that has been formulated by left-wing PCTI analysts, among whom I include myself, had been questioned (see here) 24 days before the University-Business Cooperation Conference takes place.

The fact that, at this Conference, experts explained the reality of our research-production environment in a way that is radically different from the dominant one, and significantly close to the one I summarize in this article, is what motivates what I now write.

For anyone who wants to know more about this diagnosis, I recommend the previous article, the part 1. And for those who already know and criticize it, and are interested in why I consider that we are facing an opportunity to turn our cognitive politics to the left, I recommend consulting its initial sections: Presentation and Introduction.

A turning point

The University-Business Cooperation Conference, an event prepared by the same people who organized the State Seminar, marks, as I stated at the beginning, a “turning point” in the official interpretation of the PCTI. And, as a result, it could prove to be a watershed in the development of this policy. In what follows I comment on what I watched live and then, more than once, I checked the recording (available here).

The first table brought together the two poles of the relationship or cooperation. The first, represented by a research university especially open to her, Unicamp. In the voice of its rector, Antônio Meirelles,[I] what has been done and what is intended to be done about it was emphasized.

In line with the “entrepreneurial” orientation, he highlighted Unicamp’s role in implementing an “International Hub for Sustainable Development (HIDS) designed to be a fourth-generation smart innovation district dedicated to generating solutions for the challenges of sustainable development. With universities, research centers, companies, startups, entrepreneurs, investors, public authorities and the community interacting in a mixed-use territory, with laboratories, offices, commerce, industry and residences”.

The second pole was represented by three participants (a multinational company, a “semi-state” company, and a small one, intensive in techno-scientific knowledge and inserted in the American environment). His speech aligned with the “transference” orientation.

There appeared, and was later taken up by many other participants, a complaint about a hostile and prejudiced climate that prevailed in the public university regarding the University-Company relationship and a call to support a change towards the “modernization” of the that, in light of best practices internationals, it would be a backward mentality.

I close my comment on this table here since, contrary to what happened on Monday, it did not present any new information about the topic I am interested in addressing here.

For the same reason I will not comment on the third table either. It brought together, in the words of event organizer Carlos Américo Pacheco,[ii] who was also mainly responsible for preparing the State Seminar, the “University-Business intermediation organizations or innovation environments”. Representatives from Cietec-SP and Sebrae were present, reporting on the achievements of their entities (Embrapii was expected to be present).

The second table, this one, deserves to be commented in detail. It began with a speech by a respected member of the scientific elite, Carlos Brito Cruz,[iii] who, after dedicating himself to the management and analysis of PCT, currently works in an important private foreign organization related to the STI area. Regarding the subject that I am interested in analyzing, he referred to the fact that “we must avoid repeating policies that have not worked, which is what we have been doing since 2000”, and that “they have not managed to make companies carry out more R&D and innovation ”.

Although as a public manager he was a supporter of the “entrepreneurial” orientation, here he aligned himself with the “transferenciar” orientation. He even said that it would be the State's duty to “create an environment that stimulates/facilitates (in certain places in the world I would put another bar, which forces companies to do R & D and be globally competitive)”.

The second speaker was currently the most prestigious analyst at our PCTI, Fernanda De Negri.[iv] I consider her presentation and the comments that followed from the event organizer, who like her was a student at our most important university center that radiates innovation culture, as something that could prove to be a watershed in the preparation of the PCTI.[v] They seem to me to have provided elements to catalyze a “turning point” in the official interpretation of this policy.

Points that denote the “turn”

From the exhibition by Fernanda De Negri and Carlos Pacheco, I will highlight some points that demonstrate my impression. In doing so, I will show very briefly that they expressed a view that agrees with what has been pointed out by researchers in STS studies, including myself, for a long time.

The first: it was mentioned at the beginning of his presentation when he said he would make a statement “against”.

She said: “contrary to what I hear, University-Business interaction is not the biggest bottleneck in the Brazilian innovation system”. She did not say, but it was implied, that she is using the term interaction with the meaning it has within the narrative of the scientific elite. That is, a flow of disembodied knowledge produced at the university to the company. Which, unlike what occurs in this narrative, I detailed in the Introduction of this text.

This statement, which would later be repeated by the event organizer, like others that I comment on in the following points, does not simply express a view contrary to what these two analysts “hear” saying. What they said also contradicted much of what they had written and spoken until then; and practiced as participants in the preparation moments (formulation, implementation and evaluation) of the PCTI.

The second point was mentioned after a reference, which she said was included to comply with a kind of tradition, to the low number of researchers trained here per million inhabitants.

The graph he displayed served to introduce the critical note he made, contradicting the hegemonic narrative, given that it is accepted without reservation by the other actors involved with the PCTI, the scientific elite and “its” technocrats. The mantra that we have to train more masters and doctors, do more cutting-edge research, publish more, “invest” a greater percentage of GDP in S&T, etc. was asked...

With the frank language that marked her presentation, she drew attention to the fact that “if a lot more people graduate, they won’t have jobs”. And he added, probably to the further astonishment of those who still align themselves with linear offerism and perhaps implicitly referring to the Talent Repatriation Program: “if we start training a lot of doctors, there will be no jobs for anyone and the people are leaving for the USA”.

Here again, it provides elements to think about the emergence of a “turning point” by referring to what has been repeatedly indicated by analysts, including myself, regarding the fact that the company hires a very small portion of researchers trained in the university. Therefore, the exodus of brains to territories other than those for which they were formed is a structural and even foundational characteristic, despite being recognized by many analysts, including myself, of our STI system.

As I have repeated over the last few years, I agree with her. To illustrate, I refer to what I wrote in the article I quote at the beginning of this text, coincidentally published less than a month before this event: “… unlike companies operating in the USA, which absorb more than 50% of masters and doctors trained in hard sciences to carry out R&D, companies here hire less than 1% of our employees”.[vi]

Now, when commenting on this point I remembered an anecdotal episode that occurred years ago. In an article in which she criticized a comment I made about the rationality of businesspeople's behavior, Fernanda de Negri reproached me for taking it as a kind of advice that should be given to them. In it I repeated what I heard more than four decades ago from the wise Jorge Sabato, that there are three good businesses with technology, buying, copying and stealing, and that no company or country has developed or will develop technology if it can do one of these three.[vii]

The third point refers to the fact that R&D expenditure carried out by companies in central countries is concentrated in the company itself and that the portion applied to universities is very small. With the help of graphs, he showed that the state finances research at North American universities. And the portion corresponding to business resources is only 6% of what they spend on research.

In her frank language, she said: what the company spends on joint activities with the university is “a very small part of what it spends on research”. Based on this information, she concluded this point by saying that the existing empirical information is sufficient “to show that university-company interaction is important, but it is not the most relevant factor in explaining the success of a country's innovation”.

Here again, to show how much I agree with her, I limit myself to what appears, summarizing what I have written in several places, in an excerpt from my article published a few days earlier: “… it is unrealistic to think that unlike US companies, which intend only 1% of what they spend on R&D for projects with universities, and thus contribute only a negligible portion of the university budget[viii], those located here could lead, if implemented, the recommendations made by the two actors[ix], to the University-Business relationship desired by them”.

The fourth point refers to university patents. The fact that “of the twenty main patent applicants, two are companies and the rest are universities”, was pointed out by her as a “distortion” of the Brazilian case arising from the “diagnosis that the University-Company relationship is the main problem of innovation in Brazil”.

And he continued: “we created a system where patents became a performance metric for universities”. In an ethically critical tone towards this system of inducing researchers' pro-patenting behavior, and based on a study he carried out comparing MIT and Unicamp, he added: “we have created a distortion: a lot of patents that are not transferred to anyone” . We register, according to her, things that are not patentable and we have university patents on things that should not be patented.

The article that I have been repeatedly citing, contrary to what we have been doing for a long time in other works, does not address this issue. Even so, he indicates that “… it will not be by spending more on their corporate arrangements and inducing their staff to research what yields patents (which only increase their prestige) that it will be possible to generate the scale they intend to produce the “virtuous” University relationship -Company".[X]

Moving forward in relation to what the speaker said, we have insisted that the institutional arrangement of patenting in our universities does not aim to increase the knowledge passed on to companies. Its objective is to value and honor, in my opinion in an artificial and harmful way, the careers of teachers and, in particular, “entrepreneurial researchers”. Thus, through the “fabricated” use of an indicator that in central countries (where more than 90% of patents are filed by companies) is used to measure (and compare internationally) behavior considered virtuous, the aim is to imply that the implemented PCTI has been successful.

For this reason, and going on to comment on an observation made by Carlos Pacheco, it is not possible to accept the idea that “the research community accepted the patent metric and began to act in accordance with it”. She seems unaware that this regulation came precisely from the scientific elite that hegemonizes the PCTI with the aim of demonstrating its correctness and legitimizing itself in the face of the technocracy that shares the linear-offerist vision with it. And, therefore, the implementation of the measure was already practically assured since its formulation was in the interest of the political actor who implemented it. It would be important to tell younger people that one of the reasons that led to this “forced patenting” at the university, which goes against international experience, was the comparison of the curves of scientific publications and patents that portrayed, from the 1970s onwards, Brazil's symmetrical performance. and South Korea.

Further on, when referring to a 2002 OECD Report that he had seen some time ago, Carlos Pacheco added an important element to corroborate Fernanda De Negri's argument. There was the figure of a pyramid that indicated the relative importance of the University-Company interaction modalities that had at its base the hiring of researchers by the company. And successively, with less importance, informal relationships appeared, the flow of professionals between the company and the university, congresses, joint use of laboratories, etc. And only at the top of the pyramid did the research commissioned by the company from the university appear.

Conclusion

To conclude, I would like to highlight that although the usual statements appeared at the event that “it is difficult to understand the reasons why businesspeople do not carry out research”, that “there should be a law that obliges companies to carry out research”, that “ we have to convince businesspeople to carry out research", that "we have to make the company understand what it can gain from its relationship with the university", that "we have to overcome the hostile and prejudiced climate regarding the University- Company”, there was no question among those present of the opinion of these two participants.

The fact that they stated that the University-Business relationship, in the words of Fernanda De Negri, was not “the great bottleneck of the Brazilian innovation system”, was not objected. The denial that the scarce relationship was the central problem of our CTI, although it contradicted the powerful advocacy coalition formed by “scientists” and “entrepreneurial researchers”, was not questioned.

Their statement implies a substantive change with regard to institutionality, the imitative orientation in relation to the North of the teaching, research and extension agendas of our institutions, the induction to patenting, etc., all of which until now have been aimed at satisfying what the PCTI claims to be the needs of the local company. And it opens the discussion regarding which partners the university should seek to guide its work.

As I highlighted, the acceptance of things that have been repeated for a long time in other areas about our “problematics”, could perhaps trigger the debate about “solutionatics”. But, at the conclusion of part 1, I wrote “To those who, eager for the “solutionatic”, would like me to promise that I would present it in part 2, I am sorry to disappoint. If what I am going to discuss there, the awareness of what that small community of PCTI left-wing analysts has been producing, is in fact beginning, it will be their responsibility to conceive it.”

Even so, when resuming elements of this “solutionatic” anchored in the concept of Solidarity Technoscience and the proposal for solidary reindustrialization, which have been discussed there, I suggest another article published on the website the earth is round which can serve as a provocation to continue the debate.:. It echoes the Free Conference on Solidarity Technoscience and Platformization of Society held on April 17th, seeking to place on the agenda of the 5th Conference these two topics that have been absent until now, due to their incipience in our environment and their counter-hegemonic character, in the dozens of events similar issues that have been shaking and galvanizing those involved with the subject.

* Renato Dagnino He is a professor at the Department of Scientific and Technological Policy at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Solidarity Technoscience, a strategic manual (anti-capital fights).

To read the first article in this series click on https://aterraeredonda.com.br/politica-de-ciencia-tecnologia-e-inovacao/

Notes


[I] Current dean of Unicamp, food engineer and postgraduate at the Faculty of Food Engineering and the Institute of Economics at Unicamp.

[ii] Director-president of the Technical-Administrative Council of Fapesp, engineer at ITA, postgraduate at IE/Unicamp and professor there and at the DPCT at IG/Unicamp, former executive secretary of MCTI, former undersecretary of the Secretariat for Economic Development of the State of São Paulo, former dean of ITA, and former general director of CNPEM)

[iii] Senior Vice President, Research Networks at Elsevier, engineer at ITA, postgraduate at IF/Unicamp and professor there. He was rector of Unicamp, is a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, and received the National Order of Scientific Merit.

[iv] Director of Sector Studies at Ipea, economist with a postgraduate degree from IE/Unicamp and postdoctoral studies at MIT and Harvard, she was an advisor to the MCTI's MIDIC.

[v] It is interesting to note in this regard that the two other personalities already mentioned who participated in the event were also intellectually influenced by the hegemonic innovationist vision at Unicamp. Whether due to its academic familiarity with the topic, at IE and at Unicamp's DPCT, or due to its proximity to the bodies responsible for its “innovation policy”, with its Innovation Agency.

[vi] Em https://jornalggn.com.br/industria/conversando-sobre-a-nova-industria-brasil-por-renato-dagnino/, I stated that “Between 2006 and 2008, when the economy was “booming” and businesspeople were making a lot of money, the innovationist trend expected them to hire the masters and doctors that for more than five decades we dedicated ourselves diligently to training in hard science . We graduated, then, following the canons of universities in central countries, thirty thousand per year: ninety thousand in three years. If they were in the US, around sixty thousand would have been hired to do R&D in companies; After all, that's what they're trained for all over the world. The fact that, according to PINTEC, only sixty-eight were hired to carry out R&D in our innovative companies, and that they prefer to innovate by acquiring existing knowledge, should create a profound existential crisis among cognitive policy makers. Instead of training researchers, they should take a thorny and painful shortcut: training good buyers of knowledge.”

[vii] In the same article, showing evidence of what Sabato told us, I wrote: “According to PINTEC, the response of innovative companies to the allocation of public resources to business R&D has not just been wasted. It has led to a relative decrease in its own spending, replicating the crowding out phenomenon that occurs in other areas of public policy that involve business.

The same source indicates that among the five innovative activities listed by the Oslo Manual, which obviously include internal R&D, 80% of those companies declare to systematically opt for the acquisition of machinery and equipment.”

[viii] This portion of research contracts with companies, as I have estimated, covers only around 1% of the total cost of the American university (although there are exceptions, such as MIT, where it reaches 20% of its budget). In the case of Brazil, although, as Fernanda De Negri mentioned in her presentation, we do not have statistics on this, a study we carried out on Unicamp – “our MIT” – showed that this percentage is similar to the American average, of 1%.

[ix] I am referring here to the two actors, the “scientist” and the “entrepreneurial researcher” that I caricature in that article.

[X] Which has led me to argue, opposing myself to the “entrepreneurial researcher” actor who defends public university spending on maintaining what they call business incubators, that it would be very difficult for it to increase its resources in this way.


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