In January 2012, Science Foundation Ireland announced the appointment of Mark Ferguson as its new Director General. The Minister for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock, expressed his delight that Ireland had secured someone with such “extensive commercialisation experience” and hailed the new appointment as “a tremendous coup” for Ireland. The chair of SFI, Patrick Fottrell, cited Ferguson’s track record of excellence in both the academic and commercial spheres and noted that “his arrival marks the start of a new stage in SFI’s journey”.
Renovo never produced a single marketable product, never generated any product revenue and failed in its commercialisation of Ferguson’s alligator research. Indeed, it burned over £100 million of private and state investment. Driving this process was a constant sales pitch about the potential money to be made.
Minister Sherlock recently indicated that the salary for the new director was “under consideration by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform”. There was controversy in 2010 when the media revealed that the former SFI director was paid a salary of over €250,000.
As discussed in the previous post, international evidence suggests that research commercialisation is never going to generate significant financial returns, while it distorts research culture and undermines the ethos of scientific research. The Renovo debacle illustrates the folly of pursuing commercialisation as the primary research mandate for Ireland.
Indeed, the Renovo debacle raises questions of public interest about research funding priorities. Why has SFI decided to wholly embrace such a failed strategy of research commercialisation? How can Mark Ferguson credibly head up the nation’s principal scientific funding agency on a such a commercialisation platform?