Century of Endeavour

Ch 1.2: Structures and Institutions

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

November 25 1970:

The Annual Report of the Royal Irish Academy, which is a sort of House of Lords of Irish scholarship (both scientific and literary), was published earlier this month.

This is useful, in that it gives lists of members of the National Committees for the various branches of learning..... These are, in a sense, representative of Irish scholarship as seen from abroad. They are therefore to be watched. This however is difficult, as the average working specialist has no direct channel whereby he or she is kept informed of what goes on in 'his or her' national committee, unless by chance encounter with a member who is willing to talk.

It seems that there now exists a procedure of nomination to National Commitees from the appropriate learned societies, and that this is regarded as a daring innovation. I have yet to hear of a reporting-back procedure.

I remember suggesting this at a meeting of a specialist learned society once, some years ago, and being told rather stiffly that the National Committee would consider whether it might permit the minutes of its proceedings to be read at committee meetings of the learned society. I am not aware of this ever yet having happened. If it has become the practice, it is to be welcomed. The next step is to get the general membership informed.. For this one needs a bulletin or journal, which is read and appreciated. We have some distance to go yet.

December 12 1970:

...I referred to the RIA as being the 'House of Lords' of Irish science, and suggested that the National Committees were to be watched; while they are the bodies which correspond abroad, their links with what is going on in Ireland are sometimes rather fragile...

The National Science Council could perhaps be regarded as the 'Commons', but the analogy is not good, as it has no elective component and there are no apparent feedback loops. The need for democracy in systems such as this is apparent to anyone who has ever looked into the science of cybernetics.

March 10 1971:

....The inaugural address by the current President of the Royal Irish Academy, Dr Vincent Barry, delivered on October 26 of last year, has since been published. It contains a historical account of the background to present developments, in which some of the shameful lost opportunities of the past are exhumed and displayed. An example of the latter was the declining by the Academy Council in 1939 of the Government's invitation to act as sponsor for what has become established as the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies. The failure to take up that opportunity(1) undoubtedly contributed to the isolation of DIAS from university life, and to the consolidation of the 'intellectual partition of Dublin' into TCD and UCD spheres of influence(2). This persisted through the forties, fifties and most of the sixties, until the 'merger' threat accelerated the thaw, at least at the working level.

A further skeleton exhumed by Dr Barry was the failure of the RIA in the thirties to keep up any effective scientific contacts abroad: for example at a conference of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry in Rome, Ireland was represented by a poet-diplomat.

Dr Barry is to be complimented for having had the courage to publish the report and to display the skeletons.. Few of his generation, who lived through and fought the obscurantism of the black decades before science in Ireland got public recognition, have stayed active and remained forward-looking. Most emigrated, took refuge in cynicism or else became entrenched in obscurantist positions themselves.....

March 24 1971:

The Regional Scientific Councils were founded...to provide a meeting-ground for the exchange of ideas between scientists of various disciplines in centres other than Dublin; they were conceived as a means of establishing an intellectual climate, a stimulus to the imagination, for those condemned by their employment to rustication or exile from the heady atmosphere of the Metropolis.

They have a historical precedent in the 18th century: the Lunar Society in Birmingham united in monthly philosophical dinners a small group of innovators, craftsmen and scientists who were at the centre of the technology of the first Industrial Revolution. They were practical men and they questioned the dogma that all good must flow from London. They used to meet at the full moon, the better to see their way home on horseback, whence the name.

The Cork Council I have previously referred to; it is in a sense the leading one, in that it has a broader base from which to draw its membership. The scope of its activities includes popularisation, by means of lectures on topics of interest, to a mixed lay and specialist audience; it also provides a career guidance service, does regionalist political lobbying and holds exhibitions.

This pattern has tended not to include the reading of learned papers and the publishing of proceedings, which on the whole is all to the good.

Nor has it led directly to the development of interdisciplinary work among scientists; this however may occur as a result of chance contacts or conversations at Council events.

There is no Scientific Council in Dublin, fulfilling any analogous function. If there were to be one, it would be likely to have a rather different emphasis, as many of the functions carried out by the Regional Councils are already catered for by the specialist bodies and by old-established bodies such as the Royal Dublin Society.

These reflections are stimulated by a visit to the Carlow Scientific Council's exhibition which took place on March 9-11. Carlow is an expanding technological centre, with some 100 or so qualified professionals. The Regional College of Technology is due to open this year, providing courses in industrial chemistry (among other things)...with emphasis on natural products and on the needs of local applied-scientific research, which is centred in the Oakpark centre of the Agricultural Institute, and in the research laboratories of Erin Foods ltd and the Irish Sugar Co, of which Dr Tadhg Twomey is the Director.

There is little evidence so far of local science-based industry 'spinning off' from either of the main research centres. The main obstacle to this, possibly, is the existence in the semi-State bodies of a civil-service approach to pension rights; the latter would be forfeited by anyone leaving a research-centre to start a science-based small enterprise......

May 5 1971:

A word is perhaps necessary on the question of whether to have an Irish Institution, or an Irish section of a UK one. This is a highly political question, which is not helped by communications barriers which are placed sometimes by the London HQ, and sometimes by the Dublin Government, in the way of Irish specialists (organised in UK-based Institutions) talking to the authorities.

There are no political boundaries among working scientists. The natural interaction crucible for Irish scientists and technologists is the island of Ireland for cross-fertilisation and interdisciplinary work, while for specialist work within the discipline the natural crucible is the British Isles, Europe, the US and the world.

We need to organise so as to have access to both types of network. Thus any attempt to have a 26-county 'national' body which cuts off our Northern colleagues is basically negative, though it may sound 'patriotic' to some to counterpose such a body to one with London HQ. On the other hand, London-based bodies, for which Ireland is a region, can be negative if they discourage autonomy.

To build a national scientific consciousness under these circumstances is decidedly tricky, requiring tact and diplomatic ability of a high order. No wonder we have so far been unsuccessful....

October 20 1971:

The death on September 15 of J D Bernal FRS has passed without comment in Ireland (to my knowledge), apart from one or two minor obituary notices. Readers of this column will have noted that from time to time I have invoked his name in connection with the idea of social responsibility in science. I take this opportunity of paying tribute to a remarkable Irishman, who ranks with Joyce and O'Casey as a world-figure in human culture. The fact that his career was constained to develop outside the mainstream of Irish life has resulted in most Irish people being unaware of his existence. That this is not the case for emigrant writers of equivalent stature constitutes a measure of the relative status of science in the Irish consciousness.

Bernal, if he had remained in Ireland, would be unlikely to have become a world-figure....an unfortunate truth that has to be reckoned with. Science in Ireland, though now beginning to know itself, is still stunted by decades of impoverishment.

Bernal was educated in England and went to college at Cambridge(3). On completing his Tripos he got the opportunity of going into research under Sir William Bragg, of X-ray crystallography fame. He was from a land-owning family near Nenagh, Co Tipprary: the same class of 'minor landed gentry' that has contributed Parnell to politics and Yeats to literature. His principal contribution to science was his development of the technique of X-ray diffraction analysis to the extent that it could be used to unravel the structures of large and complex molecules. He can therefore be counted among the initiators of the currently booming science of molecular biology. If Watson and Crick are counted as the founding fathers, then Bernal was the grandfather.

However, he was far from being the ivory-tower purist; he was an all-rounder, working at all levels. During his 'fundamental' period in the thirties, he was active in the foundation and organisation of the Association of Scientific Workers, the first scientists Trade Union.

(The latter has recently merged with a number of other 'white-collar' unions such as ASSET and the Insurance Guild to form ASTMS, of which the general secretary is Clive Jenkins.... The Irish section of ASTMS organises the staffs of the IIRS, the Agricultual Institute and other Irish scientists and technologists(4). The Bernal 'social responsibility' tradition persists...there are plans for expert working groups.....to develop an informed view on questions such as technology-based redundancies.....)

Then during the war, along with the generation of basic scientists who evolved into technology via radar and nuclear weapons, he became associated with what became subsequently known as 'Operations Research'. As scientific adviser to the Chief of Combined Operations (Lord Mountbatten) he was actively involved in the research background of the Normandy landings; this despite his political reputation as a Marxist.

His most significant contribution to what has come to be known as 'the science of science' was perhaps his 1939 book 'The Social Function of Science'. Such was the impact of this that on the 25th anniversary of its publication a tribute to it was organised in the form of a book of essays by leading scientists, mostly FRS, who had been influenced by Bernal's work. Entitled 'The Science of Science', it is compulsory reading...... The editor was J G Crowther. Few people can have had the satisfaction of a pre-obituary tribute of this calibre.

I had a brief exchange of letters with Bernal in 1967. This was when, in the pre-National Science Council days, we had a voluntary federation of most of the specialist associations, known as the 'Council for Science and Technolgy in Ireland'(5).. We had big ideas, but, of course, no resources. We thought, at one stage, of trying to put on the pressure for the siting of a major international laboratory in Ireland, as a stimulus to Irish science. We had in mind molecular biology, as the front-line where the most rapid and spectacular advances were being made.

I wrote to Bernal, hoping that he might come over. But by then he had had the second of a series of cerebral haemorrages, and he was unable to take the invitation up. Despite his condition, however, he showed an informed interest and '...would have been delighted to contribute most actively because it is a scheme that is near to my heart...a sign of a scientific renaissance in my native country...'

He then went on to cite a list of possible international contacts which would need to be lobbied, and to stress the need for '...ample connections with agriculture and medecine...'

It seemed to him '...to be worth connecting it with the International Biological Programme under the ICSU, though this would require considerable negotiation...'

I have heard no more of this project. The CSTI didn't have the resources to lobby for it. The ball passed to the feet of the National Science Council......

There is scope, I feel, for an interdisciplinary lobby of active scientists to take up questions like this in an informed manner. The CSTI was a non-starter, because it was a federation of existing bodies.. Like a convoy, it was limited to the speed of the slowest.

A society with an individual (rather than corporate), active, socially conscious membership, devoted to the organisation of pressure for socially desirable objectives in Irish science, would have a positive role to play. Derry Kelleher (of the Chemical Engineers) and myself in November 1968 attempted to found such a body; we got virtually no support. We were disgusted at the way in which the CSTI, in which both of us had been involved, had folded up without even a whimper when the National Science Council was established, despite the fact that the CSTI recommendation regarding the NSC structure had been ignored.

Possibly now the time is ripe for re-examination of the need for a gadfly-society of the type we had in mind. We wanted to call it the Kane-Bernal Society, after Sir Robert Kane and Desmond Bernal. It could fulfil a function, by the physical presence of its members at events, analogous to what this column is trying to do via the printed word. It could research and publish pamphlets developing specific proposals for science policy in Ireland in more depth, and in a more permanent and effective form, than can this column.

What better means of inaugurating it than at a meeting to commemorate J D Bernal?

May 3 1972:

The elections to the Council of the Royal Irish Academy took place on March 16..... New members include Dr R B Gilliland, who is Manager of Research and Development for Arthur Guinness Son and Co ltd. Dr Gilliland is Chairman of the Microbiology Group of the European Brewing Convention, and was President of the Institute of Biology of Ireland in 1968-69.. He has published extensively in the world literature on yeasts and fermentation.

Also included are Dr Ciaran Ryan, Dr Brendan Scaife and Dr Trevor West. These represent the fields of theoretical physics, electrical and electronic engineering and mathematics respectively.

It is perhaps worth remarking on the relative seniority, amongst the new Council members, of the one industrrial scientist as compared to the academics. Election to Academy membership is virtually automatic once you are in the academic 'A-stream', and publish extensively in your own and cognate fields. If you are outside, the barriers are much higher. It is, apparently, more noble to produce words than deeds.

This is reflected also in the composition of the Science Committee, which is dominated by the academics, the exceptions being Dr Barry ( President of the Academy and Director of the Medical Research Council laboratory), Dr Walsh (of the Agricultural Institute) and Dr Went (of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries).

There is evidence that the conscience of the Academy is stirring, and that there is some recognition of the need for change. The belated recognition of Dr Gilliland as a scientist of world repute....is however no more than a beginning.

In passing, let me note that the Academy is unique in Western Europe in that it houses all aspects of human knowledge under one roof, and all share the one President. This happy situation is also to be found in the USSR, where a unitary theory of knowledge is allowed to help determine the organisational forms.

The new members elected in March also include Dr Hanson, the Bishop of Clogher, Dr Simms of TCD (the Primate's brother) and Dr Walton, also of TCD. The fields of scholarship which they represent (ecclesiastical history, political history and literary textual criticism) have all found useful the analytical power provided by the computer.

As members of the Council, they will have the right to elect to the two main committees of the Academy, Science (mentioned above) and 'Polite Literature and Antiquities'. The latter includes a geographer (Joe Haughton), and economist (Patrick Lynch) and a mediaeval historian (Michael Dolley) who is a pioneer in the use of statistical analysis in relation to coin-hoards. The unitary nature of human knowledge is becoming more obvious in proportion as the mathematical arts, with their associated aesthetics, creep across from one discipline to the next.

Notwithstanding the old-world charm of the name of the latter committee, I feel that there is scope for structural reform in the Academy........

The Academy, after all, once you are 'in', is a democratic structure, unlike the National Science Council, which is appointed. The Academy is exclusive, in that you are not elected until enough people who are already 'in' recognise your work as worthy. This is, of course, a legitimate way of conferring honours, accepted throughout world science. It can, however, become a tightly-knit coterie, in a situation where the demographic structure of the population, under the pathological influence of an excessive emigration rate, is characterised by a substantial 'generation gap'.

Is it too much to hope that the Academy reform itself, opening ranks to (say) all with MA or MSc standing having some research commitment? It could then develop a sectoral system for election to its Council (higher education, applied reseach institutes, industry etc), with a practical working sub-committee structure. The present dubious status of membership as a 'conferred honour' could be replaced by a proper system of awards for work of outstanding merit, the recipients of which might have some claim to FRS comparability.

The National Science Council is shortly due for replacement, having served its five-year experiemental term. Dare we suggest that the body to replace it is the Academy, democratically reformed, with the resources of the Council? Can we, for once, stop multiplying our institutions and start integrating them?

July 26 1972:

The second five-year plan of the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards was published on June 22 and received some mention in the press......

The IIRS distinguish in their plan between 'defensive' and 'offensive' work: the former consists basically of quality control, cost-reduction, raw material selection etc for existing industries. The IIRS spent 1.17M in the period 1969-71 on this type of service, producing an estimated net benefit to the economy of 2.36M.

The reasoning behind this quantification of benefit is summarised in the January 1972 Technology Ireland....

More spectacular is the benefit-cost ratio for 'offensive' work: a figure of 15 times is quoted. This is derived using a conservative estimate of the net cash benefit to the economy of four successful projects divided by the costs incurred by all R and D in the IIRS in the period 1965-70, including the unsuccessful projects.

This suggests that a major shift in emphasis towards an offensive strategy is likely: development of new products, new uses for existing products, uses for by-products and waste products, new processes. There is evidence of agressive and imaginative thinking in this respect, directed towards 'firms committed to growth in Ireland'. The IIRS expects to finance an increasing part of its expansion from industry itself, in the form of fees for service. They propose to use the fees for service as a measure of demand, channelling the State funding into those sectors which show themselves to be revenue-earners. They expect to be covering their costs to the extent of 26%; in some cases (eg timber technology) this rises to 47%. Biotechnical services are expected to expand by 40% and to earn a steady revenue of about 37% of cost.

Spectacular revenue increases are planned.....in physical measurements, metallurgical testing, process engineering etc..... The chemical analysis capability is to be extended to include the new generation of analytical tools derived from the physicists: X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence, scanning electron microscopy etc; this involves a capital investment of 60,000.

If large revenue increases are to be obtained, someone is going to have to do a promotion and selling job....

The Technical Information Division is to expand by 175% over the period; this is above the expansion for all services, which is 82%. The most rapidly expanding service is air pollution; water pollution is also above average. On the other hand 'minerals and inorganic chemicals' is not expanding significantly, no doubt because the mining companies mostly have their own laboratories....

The function of an information service is to enable one to get rapidly in touch with a person who knows, rather than to supply paper. The IIRS in collaboration with the TCD computer laboratory operate a system called INSPEC. A monthly updating tape comes, covering an area such as 'food science and technology'. A firm can subscribe, listing a number of keywords in a logical structure (with 'ands' and 'ors'). It receives a list of abstracts derived from the main world publications, giving the authors' names and contact-points. Thus the subscriber receives the service on his desk. (There is a complementary system operated by the Agricultural Institute; it is more generalised and the keyword-system is less of a precision filter. The user has to go the HQ to consult it.).....


I am indebted to Dr Noel Murphy of UCD for drawing to my attention the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences, which has a rather different approach to the science-industry interface. The scale at first sight appears comparable: 3.53M in 1971; only 20% of this however was State support and 70% was contract payments. There are about 1,500 people involved, compared to 357 people in the IIRS. It is a multi-centred system, with laboratories for biotechnics, corrosion, electronics, hydraulics, isotopes etc in various places. I suspect that the total budget is much larger than the sum mentioned, which would appear to be a sort of levy covering central services......in order to 'get the picture' one should imagine the industrial divisions of the IIRS 'hived off' into the industrial sectors, and a new body set up, with the financial structure as indicated above, devoted specifically to building bridges between the Universities and industrial laboratories, and having an honorific function (ie 'membership' is a reward for merit)..

August 23 1972:

Readers will forgive me if I indulge in a little euphoria. I feel that a corner has been turned when issues relating to investment in science and technology at the national level are debated in the Financial section of this newspaper. The issues all relate to the question of ownership and control of Irish brain-power; they are very basic, touching on issues such as democracy versus autocracy. The reason that the debate is occurring now is that the constitution of the National Science Council is coming up for review. There is talk of a central co-ordinating body for all science, with power.

On August 8 a special correspondent (it is a sad reflection that he or she should feel the need for anonymity) wrote a critical article entitled 'Our Technological Confusion'. The key point was a call for a National Development Corporation(6) to take up and exploit for the national benefit the fruits of the work of the IIRS, in accordance with the policy of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It was suggested that some of the public money channelled through the IDA should be invested in this way, rather than being handed out to private industry, hitherto mostly foreign, now (at least so the IDA hopes) increasingly native.

This was taken up by a correspondent (TFR Lyons, 15/8/72) who asked whether we were big enough to stand on our own feet technologically, going on to suggest that there was an unresolved conflict between State bodies cultivating native expertise and those dedicated to wooing foreign companies.

Then on August 17 Dr RJ Nichol, Deputy Director of the IIRS, wrote an article replying to the special correspondent, suggesting, in effect, that everything was fine, there are no conflicts, such overlaps as occur are creative and necessary, and that the strengthening of the National Science Council is a necessary and vital step in improving this co-ordination. Dr Nichol goes on to dismiss the idea of a National Development Corporation; the present system whereby IIRS ideas are taken up by existing firms is working; if firms do not exist then they can be created; the role of the projected NDC is in fact being carried out by the IIRS, and further funds to this end should be channelled to the IIRS.

Absent from the debate so far are the other elements in the structure of our national applied-scientific effort: the Agricultural Institute, the Academy, an Foras Forbartha, the Universities and Colleges of Technology. I look forward to their being drawn in.

An underlying factor is that the IIRS and NSC Boards are both 100% State appointed. An Foras Forbartha and an Foras Taluntais, on the other hand, both have, rather weakly but perceptably, democratic channels of control via the local authorities and farming organisations respectively.

The basic philosophy of the IIRS-NSC concensus is private business orientated; national-based business, granted, but privately owned and eminently subject to the foreign take-over bid. This is the weak link in the national technological structure.

I have listened to cosy seminars where this basic debate, fundamental to the future of Irish science, has been coyly avoided.. It must be brought out into the open. Dr Nichol, commendably, has called for a Dail committee as the focus of the debate. We need more than this: we need a series of well-organised lobbies to put the case to the Dail committee, fed by the distillations from continuous debate at the working levels.

I have advocated, without much success, structures in which this debate could occur. I do not pretend to know the exact recipe, but if there is to be a 'central co-ordinating body' it will need a 'feedback loop' whereby the effects of policies can be evaluated by making use of the direct experience of those affected.

Another component in the debate ought to be the work of Professor Tom Allen of MIT, who has made quantitative measurements of the degree of contact between the various bodies at the working level. (This work was summarised in a lecture to the Academy on April 19).

Professor Allen has produced a diagram showing the stengths of these linkages.....labelling the strengths of the linkages 'A, B and C' in descending order of importance, as measured in terms of inter-organisation contacts per unit staff time. The following facts emerge:

1. The IIRS has only one A link, that with private industry; the links with semi-State industry and the Colleges are C.

2. AFT has five A links: with UCD, the Colleges of Technology, private industry, the Forestry Service and 'other public institutions'.

3. Only 3 of the AFT links are C: those with an Foras Forbartha, the Geological Survey and the Meteorological Service. Eight of the IIRS links are C. Both have a total of 13 links recorded with other bodies.

There is quantitative meat here for the debate. An Foras Taluntais looks well in Professor Allen's analysis....

It is appropriate here to insert two insights into the standing of AFT. They have many faults in their structure, and I have repeatedly sniped at them, but they are doing great work. Last week I went to Lullymore and looked at what they had done with cutaway bog: they have a fabulous grass-clover sward, carrying 2.25 heavy animals to the acre from May to October, contrasting strangely with the surrounding fields of ragwort. Also last week I was up in Monaghan talking about winter milk to some 30-acre men. I can record the fact that on their side, not mine, it was 'the Institute say this, and the Institute says that..'

Prompted by the above, and by Michael Browner's article on the farming page (August 17), I feel I must contribute my shot in the debate, while waiting for the other big guns to fire.

I concur with Michael's castigation of the absurd rat-race among graduates around the County Agricultural Committees begging for jobs. I would go further and castigate the attitude of all bodies which employ science graduates and regard them as 'costs' without realising that they are either cost-reducers or revenue-generators. I include in this AFT which has a virtually zero recruitment policy because of this attitude.

There are two ways in which this log-jam can be cleared. Firstly, AFT could itself operate a scheme to assist and capitalise their older staff and get them into the management of the producttion systems that they have researched, either as farmers or as co-op staff. This would make way for younger graduates to come into the system.

Secondly, AFT could take on young graduates specifically as revenue-generators, with instructions to build up a saleable service to industry and agriculture sufficient to cover their salaries and overheads. This latter course would be more of a gamble, but it would have a high probability of success in the present enterprising atmosphere.

A more radically productive policy would be for the State to spend some of the IDA millions on a policy of graduate apprenticeship; to underwrite the salary for two years of every MSc who attaches his or herself to a firm. Even if the recruit failed to make the grade as a cost-reducer or a revenue-generator, he or she would gain good experience and become consequently more employable.

If this practice were adopted, there would be no need for the rat-race described by Michael Browner. The agricultural graduates would attach themselves to co-ops and start to pay their way by helping to develop the co-op services. Or would it be too Utopian to suggest that they might lease a farm?

September 20 1972:

Dr Nichol's contention (in his article on August 17) is that the IIRS is well placed for the role of bridging the gap between the working prototype and the production model, and indeed has a statutory obligation to do so. All it lacks is the resources.

I am in complete agreement with him as regards resources. The amount that the IIRS is asking for is minute compared to the immense sums which are being handed out to foreign multi-millionaire corporations. We are subsidising foreign capital, which has little need of subsidy, and starving our own golden geese. If I am occasionally critical of the way that our people organise themselves to produce the golden eggs, it is at the level of a tactical or strategic argument behind the front line, as to how best to survive the onslaught of the enemy. In this spirit I suggest, on the basis of some experience, that the institutional structures through which the prototype must pass on its way to the production stage do not exist on the IIRS campus, as at present constituted.

It is necessary to hive off, to establish a centre somewhere else, with an effective and flexible management structure, with complete autonomy of decision. Insofar as State capital is necessary.....this is the role of a 'National Development Corporation', or a special section of the IDA....

The number of viable IIRS developments which have been successfully taken up by private Irish-based industry is small. The reason is obvious: the large firms do their own R&D, and the small firms are technologically conservative; those few which have taken up ideas (all too few) are ones which have grown up around a single gifted individual having a scientific training and an inventive flair, along with a sense of enterprise: the ability to spot a gap in the market and relate a real need to a resource for which the technology of exploitation is readily available.

(See on this date in Chapter 3.4 for a note on the Qeleq analogue feed-mix computer, in the context of this discussion with IIRS).

....Consider the IIRS record to date. The following list is not complete, but as far as it goes there seems to be a pattern.

The ergot process went to Lilmar ltd, now Pharm-Chem ltd. This is a relatively sophisticated fine-chemicals process based on a somewhat exotic raw material which is grown in Ireland (diseased rye). The bovine pepsin process is now in industrial use. A hospital trolly is being produced by the Craft Co in Pearse St (they also make ladders etc). A range of hydraulic cylinders is under development; also a valve for aerosol cans, with a timing device, suitable for low-cost mass-production.. Neither of the latter are yet commercialised. Treatments for industrial effluents are under development. The building industry has taken up many IIRS system designs for prefabricated units.

Perhaps I can risk some generalisations: intermediate-technology systems within the scope of a small firm have caught on. Intermediate-technology devices (as distinct from systems) have caught on provided they face up to the needs of a sector of the market which has a problem and recogniseyd it. If a device (like a hydraulic cylinder) is in a sector already saturated with good hardware, there may be marketing problems, unless the device forms part of a system which is novel and fulfils a recognised need. The Talcoma bottle-washer is such a problem-orientated system....

Advanced-technology devices are 'not on'. Advanced-technology systems, using well-tried elements, are potentially viable, provided there is advanced-technology knowhow in the firm which takes them up.

The key to the problem is trained manpower in industry.....

October 11 1972:

It is too early to guage reactions to the proposed centralised scheme for the management of State funds to applied scientific research. Dr Tom Walsh, whose pioneering contribution to State science in Ireland must never be forgotten, has built an organisation which has international standing and which, at the same time, is close to the farmers. His initial 'hands off, leave well alone' reaction is understandable. However, I think he underestimates the problem on the industrial side when he asserts that there are no resource-allocation problems.

The classic case is the responsibility of food science. There is a demarcation problem here, in that the industrialist sees no single know-how centre. He goes to Ballymun if his problem involves an industrial process, but if his process involves meat or dairy produce, does he go to Ballymun, Dunsinea or Moorepark(7)? This is the kind of problem that ought to be soluble in an integrated system. Dr Walsh himself, I feel, recognises the problem, in that when the original National Science Council was formed, his complaint was that the largest single scientific resource, his own Institute, had no representation on it. Indeed, the introduction to the NSC Report quotes Dr Walsh's 1970 Kane Lecture(8) on the need to bring the NSC and the Institute together.

The initial reaction of the IIRS is concern that if the contract goes through a central agency, confidentiality will be lost. There is certainly scope for argument here: no bureaucratic system must be allowed to poison the direct relationship between the client and the worker or team doing the job. There is a case, however, for some centralised priority-allocation system. It is in the devising of this that you need some sort of democratic feedback-loop.

The discussion on the issues will be somewhat limited by the fact that nearly everybody concerned is in one or other of the 'Earldoms'.. This lack of independent voice restricts the volume of comment to the present writer, for all practical purposes, rendering all the more important the emergence of a Trade Union view, whereby the 'serfs' can formulate a viewpoint and get heard without the fear of being accused by their knights and barons of speaking out of turn. I know such a view is in gestation; it is however becoming urgent, in that structural decisions are about to be made which will affect the role of tthe research worker in Ireland for some time to come. In the meantime, everybody should buy the NSC report, read it, and consider its implications.


I have already referred to the highlights of the 1971-72 IIRS annual report, including the 15:1 return on money spent on 'offensive' strategy compared to 2.4:1 on 'defensive', the rapid projected growth in revenue from contract work etc.....

This 15:1 return is an estimate derived from the work of the IIRS techno-economics department. I personally am prepared to believe this, but I am doubtful whether everyone will. When a signal emerges from a study which says 'pump money into X' and when the study is carried out within X, I get uneasy.....

In this case, I have every reason to believe that the estimate is genuine, because I know the person responsible and am familiar with his work. Also, the interest is not strictly departmental, in that the techno-economic department is in fact an interface between the Institute as a whole and the implementation of novel processes, devices or systems in the national economy.

The terms of reference of the techno-economic department include the evaluation of applied-research projects, and the participation in their management, as well as the exploitation of inventions and the commercial development of Institute-sponsored investment opportunities.. In a sense, they could be said to be beginning to fulfil the role of a National Development Corporation(9). They are aware that this is a growth area, and are conscious of past shorttcomings (eg unleashing devices on the commercial market witthout adequate debugging...),, but are agressively optimisic about the future. The department head, Martin Dunne, is Scottish and exudes a Harvard Business School air of confidence.

To come back to the relative return for your 'offensive' pound as compared to your 'defensive': this balance needs to be watched. It would be a pity if, in the rush for innovations in products and processes, we forgot about the need to defend traditional processes. I suggest that there may even be a bias in the comparison, in that the benefit on the 'offensive' side includes jobs, while the cost of non-implementation of 'defensive' strategy includes loss of jobs....

...The analysis would in any case be more credible if it were done independently of the department which has the interest in the offensive strategy. In other words, the function of planning and allocation of resources in the IIRS should be separated from the function of commercialisation of successful inventions..

The IIRS are quite prepared to go the length of setting up companies to exploit inventions, or to take equities in companies. This function would fall within the scope of the techno-economics department, strengthening the suggestion that it should have separate corporate status, with a financial structure distinct from the funding of R and D. It could then pull risk-capital out of the market, where the IIRS itself could not.

October 18 1972:

The foundation of the North-Western Scientific Council on October 10 at a meeting in the Regional College in Sligo is to be welcomed. This is another addition to the family of RSCs initiated in Cork and now thriving in Carlow, Wexford, Laois and incipiently in Kilkenny.

The basis for the Sligo Council is the staff of the Regional College together with such Foras Taluntais centres as are within reach of Sligo, plus local science-based industry (eg Snia Viscosa; also the precision engineering people in Tubbercurry, etc).

(See Chapter 1.3 (Education) for some remarks on the courses offered)

...Bodies like the RSCs reserve direct representation on the national Science Council. There is however no hint of any such concept in the new structure proposed by the outgoing NSC. The Regional Councils should be lobbying for this now, before laws are enacted. Or are they content with the traditional procedure whereby if they are good boys and don't rock the boat the Minister will be pleased to nominate someone acceptable to them? It is time that democracy revolted against this procedure and scientists put in a strong claim for direct representation on the NSC as of right.

November 22 1972:

When I first heard of the idea of aa 'research park' in Naas as an IDA development, I was dubious. If the policy is to decentralise from Dublin, why not do so whole-heartedly? If the policy is to be near the main university specialist areas, why not be near them? Naas seemed to fall between two stools.

Having seen the Standard Pressed Steel (SPS) laboratories on November 10, I am converted (at least for this case). The SPS lab....is a powerful source of electronic and mechanical expertise.

Although it is viable in its own right, the distance to TCD, UCD or Ballymun is such as to make a one-day or a half-daay visit a worthwhile proposition should it prove necessary.

The growth of a skilled and cultured population in Naas itself will help that town develop a life of its own other than that of dormitory suburb.

The business of SPS is world-wide. They make nuts and bolts. The IDA is to be complimented on having persuaded them to centre a corporate research-unit in Ireland; this is not common policy among the multi-national corporations. We as a nation, if we are to continue to do business with the multinational corporations, will need to organise to make this SPS pattern repeat itself, as a means of keeping Irish graduates in Ireland.

In the case of SPS we had friends at court (this is rare). I remember Armand Frank, who was chief engineer of the SPS factory at Shannon, speaking at the Engineers Association in or about 1964; he criticised us as a nation for letting his firm get away with a tax-rebate deal which had no built-in provision for the development of organic links with home-based Irish technology.

Subsequently Ray Donnelly, then also at Shannon, now manager of SPS at Galway, engaged an Irish software-house (System Dynamics ltd) to do a theoretical study of a reorganisation of their machine-shop along 'group-technology' lines. ('Group technology' is a system whereby you can organise a jobbing machine-shop into groupings which 'look like' production lines, insofar as sequences of similar operations are carried out within each group. It was originally developed in Eastern Europe; there is a strong basis in mathematical theory.)

Ray Donnelly's motivation was pragmatic rather than ethnic; he could get service out of a local software-house more easily than he could from the Head Office management services unit.

The opening of the Naas research laboratory, under the direction of Paul Wallace, is a locical step in this progression.

The potential of the laboratory may be visualised according to the following recipe: take some mechanical engineers from Bolton St and some electronic engineers from Kevin St, put them together and give them some practical problems arising out of the machining of metal. Add in some metallurgists, and you have a very powerful problem-solving team.

(Why are there no Irish metallurgists? Because academic physics in Ireland is caught up in a self-regenerating system with momentum derived from 'la belle epoque' of nuclear physics.. It is time that this was changed.)

(There follows a technical description of some of the SPS development work; this can be found in Chapter 3.1 on the above date)

The IDA policy of inviting firms based here to set up R&D facilities in due proportion is to be welcomed; the SPS laboratory should be the first of many.

There is no reason why the Naas site should be confined to foreign firms. Is it too much to hope that multi-firm industries which are Irish-based might consider establishing co-operatively-owned research facilities with State support, in some well-defined field which could be hived off from the direct responsibility of the IIRS?(10)

April 11 1973:

The Royal Society in London is one of the oldest scientific societies in existence; founder-members include Newton, Hooke, Boyle and other grandfather-figures of natural philosophy. It emerged in the heady atmosphere of the aftermath of the short-lived English Republic, and undoubtedly helped to lay the basis for the development of the technologies on which the first industrial revolution, and classical English capitalism, were founded.

The election to Fellowship of the Royal Society constitutes recognition of sterling scientific work; it is a much coveted honour to which many aspire but few are chosen.

There is, by all accounts, a close interaction between the Royal Society and the formation of science policy in Britain, at least in the long-term sense. For example, in the 60s it became apparent that Britain, while being a world leader in basic research, was weak in the development and application of the principles pioneered by her scientists. This resulted in a conscious attempt to make applied science and engineering 'more fashionable' by distributing a few FRSs in that direction.

Eligibility for Fellowship of the Royal Society in the full sense has always been a Commonwealth thing; a distinguished German might be offered the special status of foreign membership as an honour, but it would not carry voting rights. By appropriate changes in its rules, the Royal Society has always included Ireland in its bailiwick. Despite this, the Irish FRS is a rare bird. By 'Irish' here I mean with roots in Ireland, and having done the work which merited the recognition in Ireland. There were Joly and Fitzgerald at the turn of the century (physics, TCD); more recently Conway (biochemistry, UCD) and Dixon (botany, TCD); the current holders of the honour are Synge (physics, DIAS), Bates (physics, QUB) and Williams (geology, QUB). There have been others from time to time with the status of 'birds of passage', their FRS work rooted elsewhere. This, I think, completes the list of resident FRSs with roots in Ireland, a small but highly distinguished group.

To their names must now be added that of Professor GF Mitchell, of TCD, for his work on the quarternary geology of Ireland. In this field he succeeded in linking the chronology of the recent glaciations in Ireland with the overall European picture; he was responsible for developing various novel dating techniques, particularly in relation to the various interglacial periods when peatbogs flourished. Thanks to Mitchell there is now a reliable absolute chronology for the last 12,000 years, such as to enable the archaeological records of early human habitations to be dated. The earliest Irish lived in the Bann valley about 5000 BC.

The successful integration of the study of fossil plants and animals with archaeology and quarternary geology gives this work an interdisciplinary flavour which must have weighed positively in the minds of the Royal Society Council. Cynics may say that if 'applied science' became fashionable in RS circles in the 60s, the keyword for the 70s is 'interdisciplinary'. I have heard of large university engineering departments splitting themselves up so as to be able to use this word when applying for a grant. I do not want to join this chorus; I accept that there is a genuine move in world science away from over-specialisation and towards the boundaries between disparate fields. Frank Mitchell's FRS award is a reflection of this trend, and is to be welcomed.

There are also, perhaps, political implication, though no doubt subconscious. There are now two FRSs each in Dublin and Belfast. This undoubtedly will help the Royal Irish Academy to rebuild its standing with Northern scientists. This, by all accounts, has in recent years been at a low ebb, not because of outside political events but because of the resources gap. Scientists in the North, benefiting by the Westminster largesse, have sometimes tended to look with ill-disguised condescension on their poorer colleagues in the Republic, and to under-rate the Academy as a learned body to be reckoned with. This view would be justified if physical resources were the only measure. Now it emerges that FRS-class work can currently be performed, despite tight resources, in darkest Dublin, much of it in close association with the Academy.

In this context I feel it necessary to refer again to the link between Mitchell's work and the earlier pioneering work of Lloyd Praeger (a Belfast man) and Tony Farrington (a Cork man) which was done in the 20s and 30s under Academy auspices.. Without this earlier foundation to build on, the work of Mitchell would have had to begin from a much lower base; it could scarcely have attained the necessary integrative character in one man's lifetime.


While on this topic of honorific learned bodies it is convenient to refer to the outcome of the AGM of the Royal Irish Academy, held on March 16.

The outgoing President, Dr Vincent Barry, has been succeeded by Professor David Greene, of the Institute of Advanced Studies; he is now Director of the School of Celtic Studies....

(There follow the names of the new Council members)

A young scientist seeking honorific recognition for his work has to take steps to see that the members of the Council are aware of it. This usually does not take place automatically; there is an implied discreet lobbying process. This puts people off who are temperamentally averse to blowing their own trumpets. Perhaps, if honorific societies of academics are to remain of significance, better procedures might be devised. The present system is under strain from increased numbers, increasing rate of change of things, and the obsolescence of knowledge.

At the March meeting there were eight new members elected. This number is fixed by the Academy rules. Thus, if there is a lean year, you have a higher probability of getting in. Your application stands for three years and then lapses.

The eight new members this year are Professor A E Astin (Ancient History, QUB), Professor Bernard Crosland (Mechanical Engineering, QUB), Professor J C I Dooge (Civil Engineering, UCD), Professor G O Evans (Agricultural Zoology, UCD), Profesor E R R Green (Irish Studies, QUB), Professor E M Jope (Archaeology, QUB), Kieran A Kennedy (Director of the ESRI, Dublin) and Sir Francis Arthur Vick, Vice-Chancellor of QUB.

Professor Edward Green is the author of the classic 'Industrial Archaeology of County Down'; he may be regarded as the pioneer of industrial archaeology in Ireland.

Sir Francis Vick was Director of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell from 1960 to 1964; he has specialised in electron and ion emission from solids.

There appears to be in the quality of these elections a distinct trend towards the applied sciences, echoing the Royal Society policy of the 60s.

It is, moreover, difficult to avoid the impression that, while all these awards are richly deserved and reflect genuine recognition of sterling work done, the precise timing is a political reflection of a trend to strengthen North-South relations and at the same time to strengthen Anglo-Irish relations. I am not suggesting any Machiavellian horse-trading (one FRS for Dublin, five MRIA for Belfast); simply that there is going on in scientific Establishment circles a kind of instinctive adjustment to the implications of the Whitelaw proposals(11). When the history of this interesting period is written, perhaps the truth, or some of it, may come out.

I subsequently had occasion to discuss these matters with Professor JL Synge FRS at the annual physics conference at Galway. He reminded me that there is, in fact, a third FRS alive in the Republic: Eamonn de Valera. He was accorded this honour in or about 1967 or 68, in recognition of his role in the foundation of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies as a haven for the refugee scholars of the 40s. This was of world-scientific significance and merited recognition, whatever criticism one may have of the way it was done(12) and the structures which have emerged in the Irish context. Consider now the timing: after the Lemass-O'Neill meeting and before the Civil Rights pressure started to rise. Does this not confirm the suggestion of an 'instinctive adjustment' by the scientific Establishment to political events?(13).

May 9 1973:

(Feedback on the FRS question where it deals with the historical record can be taken up in Chapter 2.3 from this date onwards.)

..The relative wealth of FRS-class scientists in Ireland in the pre-Treaty period, compared to the relative dearth in more recent years, may be attributed not only to political factors but also to the relative, and indeed possibly even absolute, decline of science in Ireland in the post-Treaty decades. I have on numerous occasions referred to the 'lean years' of 1920-1960.

The current re-awakening, under the stress of the national struggle for survival, is of course to be welcomed. I would be the last to suggest that the award of Royal Society Fellowships is the only measure of the international recognition of this fact. There are many other more reliable measures. No-one, however, has written in to contradict my suggestion that the timing of FRS awards has its roots in Anglo-Irish politics (de Valera in the aftermath of the Lemass-O'Neill meeting and the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement, and Mitchell in the aftermath of Sunningdale and the Whitelaw White Paper) or to say that I am talking rubbish. It ties in with the general political background, where the British Government wants to re-establish the British Isles Union in peoples' minds. They never, in fact, conceded the principle of Irish sovereignty in their inner thinking; there always have been quotation-marks around the word 'Treaty' in the British Establishment mind(14).

If they use the Royal Society as a means of implementing State policy with regard to applied science, it does not take much imagination to see them extending the principle to Anglo-Irish relations, by starting to award recognition for good scientific work done in Ireland at a greater rate than in recent decades.

Let me return to the Academy. It has been suggested that my remarks regarding how one gets to be a member were in some way disparaging the system. Nothing of the sort was intended, unless to suggest that 'there might be better ways' is taken as meaning 'to disparage'. Any system of of awarding honorific recognition has to be not only fair but seen to be fair. No person or group is omniscient; the areas of knowledge of A's work available to B depend not only on B's degree of omniscience but on A's ability as a salesman (which in science is increasingly to be regarded as a noble art, not to be despised).

I can envisage an annual event, at which the opportunity would arise for people to make their work known to their peers, without having to popularise, but keeping to a level such as to enable the interdisciplinary barriers to be crossed at a scientific communication level. Such an event might form a preliminary selection procedure, whereby an honorific choice might subsequently be made by the scientific 'Patres Conscripti'. It need not be an exclusive procedure, in that people regarding it as 'infra dignitate', and who hitherto had been unaccountably passed over, could still be honoured at the discretion of the Council.

The procedure adopted by the recent physicists' conference at Galway, whereby people gave abstracted summaries of their work and its background, enough to enable someone whose interest was aroused to make further contact, seems to me to be realisable across the specialist disciplines.

November 7 1973:

Professor David Greene's inaugural address to the Academy on October 27 contained some critical remarks which may, possibly, act as a stimulus to the development of the Academy. Outlining its history, Professor Greene suggested that the transfer of the collection of antiquities to the National Museum in 1890 was a betrayal of trust, rather than a patriotic act. The collection of manuscripts by a hair's breadth avoided participating in this transfer; under the Academy they have survived, have been cared for, and are available to scholars, which is more than can be said of the manuscript material in the National Library in its present disgraceful run-down condition.

However the care of manuscripts is not the only job open to a national academy of sciences. The first post-Treaty Government attempted to get going work on a definitive Irish dictionary; this should be completed shortly.. Mr de Valera looked to the Academy to take up the idea of a School of Celtic Studies...this alas was not taken up, and the School was founded without the support of the Academy. Thus in the key formative decades of the State, the Academy dragged its feet, presumably because it was dominated by the politics of the black years of the Union.

So run-down had the Academy become that the State was no longer able to depend on it for scientific advice, and ad-hoc committees had to be set up, dissipating resources. Indeed, it has in one occasion happened, at an international meeting where the norm was two delegates per national scientific academy, that the Irish were represented by three people from three different bodies!

Professor Greene went on to end on a note of hope: the new and expanding system of National Committees for this and that would help to pull in the international congresses and develop the exchanges of personnel. The National Committee for Physics is expected to host a major international conference on Physics in Industry in 1976, as part of the programme of the International Union for Pure and Applied Physics....

(The above is a short summary which does not do justice to Professor Greene's address; it selects from it those points which are germane to the writer's theses. The full text is of course on record with the Academy. What follows is the writer's commentary.)

..I do not share Professor Greene's optimism. I do not see how a National Committee which meets three times a year and produces no visible reports or publications can have any appreciable impact on the situation. A paragraph in the RIA Annual Report outlining what international conferences were attended by members of each Committee is not enough to establish confidence in the system.

Nor do the demographic statistics of the national committees suggest the existence of a dynamic situation. Of 21 committees of various kinds which existed both in 1972-3 and in 1971-2, 15 had no changes in personnel whatever. There are two new ones: Microbiology and Philosophy. Of the six which had a change in personnel, this involved two or three retirements out of ten members or thereabouts.

There is, apparently, no working renewal mechanism.

Professor Greene's desire that the Academy should serve the public is laudable, as is his desire to keep the Academy independent of the Government. This desire, however, is unlikely to be fulfilled unless the Academy changes its rules. It will remain weak and ineffectual as long as it remains exclusive and gentleman-amateur in its methods of work. There is a rule limiting the intake of members which relates to the 19th century situation.. This effectively prevents its membership from being 'diluted' with too many people who are actually working at science, and limits the intake to those who have the time for politicking and lobbying the Council.

The Academy has great potential as an independent socially responsible voice for science. This opportunity it has failed to grasp because its rules prevent it from assuming weight of numbers, and from harnessing the energy of youth.

I doubt if it has any genuine capacity for self-reform, despite the best efforts of the past President Dr Vincent Barry, and the good intentions of Professor Greene. I would hesitate to advocate legislation to amend the rules from outside, as this would pose constitutional problems: the Academy is an all-Ireland body, deriving its Charter from the Westminster Government. There is, perhaps, a faint hope that the threat of further State encroachment on Academy functions(15) will stimulate the present membership to amend the rules in such a way as to seek the genuine alliance and support of the younger working scientists, and those who are constrained not to publish by reason of their working in industry.

(Professor Greene published a letter on November 10, in which the above was stated to be '...full of inaccuracies and misinformed comment....'. The two inaccuracies about which he was specific I have corrected; they related to the Irish dictionary and the physics conference. He went on as follows: '...I do not object to the tautological statement that the Academy is exclusive, for all Academies derive their authority and prestige precisely from the limitation of their membership to those who have demonstrated a high level of achievement by their published work. But when Dr Johnston says that the intake of the Academy is limited 'to those who have time for politicking and lobbying the Council', he is clearly accusing my colleagues and myself of recommending candidates for election on grounds other than achievement. This is a very grave charge, and he should either substantiate or withdraw it....'

November 14 1973:

I welcome Professor Greene's response to my comments on his Academy address. The present recruitment position, with a limited, small intake per year, related to the numbers who were engaged in the appropriate kinds of scholarly activity in the 19th century, gives rise to the existence of a queue.

Selection from this queue is on the basis of worthiness as judged by the Council. Professor Greene is jumping to the wrong conclusion if when he imputes to me the suggestion that candidates are recommended on grounds other than achievement. All Academy members are undoubtedly the possessors of achievement, insofar as this can be measured by an output of learned publications. The selection procedure, however, involves a mechanism whereby candidates achievements are brought to the attention of the Council. This is where the lobbying and politicking comes in.

I have seen the process at work; given the rules as they stand at present it is inevitable. But I have heard the view of many people, of undoubted scholarly achievement, who stand aside from this process, as they feel it is undignified. As a consequence they are not members, or candidates for membership.

Under its present rules, the Academy has a problem: how to assume weight, to get to be reported, to be listened to by Government. Professor Greene put his finger on an aspect of the problem when he complained that his Presidential Address only got a couple of paragraphs in the newspapers, with the result that it was wide open to me to misrepresent him. Exactly. Compare this with the full treatment Colm O h-Eocha gets when he makes a statement on behalf of the National Science Council. Why? Because the news-hounds know to report those who relate to where the State power lies.

The key point in Professor Greene's address was not in the press-release, it was in an 'aside'. It was when he referred to the representation of Irish science abroad by three people from three separate bodies, on an occasion when from all other countries there was one body represented.

Now let me outline my tentative solution, which I have hinted at before. It is to separate the 'representing and speaking for science' function from the honorific function. In other words, open up membership to every bona-fide scientist and technologist in the whole of Ireland who is engaged in research. Take in specialist learned societies en bloc, the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society, the Geology Association; any grouping of bona-fide researchers of academic reputability who meet on a voluntary basis to sharpen their minds.

The Council would then become a sort of federal parliament, which would represent the working scientists and would stand some chance of assuming weight such as to be reported and listened to, even to the extent of rendering the National Science Council redundant, taking the place of that body.

The honorific function would then be taken care of by defining a new grade, called, if you like, Fellow. The existing members would all be elevated to Fellowship, and recruitment to the ranks of the Fellows would be on the basis of an annual review of candidates submitted by the various specialist groups of members.

The reviewing body would be a sort of 'inner Council' elected by the Fellows; the decision regarding recognition of achievement would be its sole function. It would act as a sort of 'Senate' of the Parliament of Science, the new Federal Council being the 'Dail'.

The difference between the new procedure for the honorific function and the old would be that in the new structure there would be a systematic means of seeking out meritorious work, which is at present lacking.

In the new structure there would be no room for the National Committees as at present constituted, as their functions would be fulfilled by the working committees of the various specialist groups, each being chaired by a Council member.

This Parliament of Science concept, I am informed, is not unknown elsewhere; the Japanese case, I believe, is worthy of study.

I don't think that we can afford to be complacent about present structures. If I criticise them, it is not to attack the people who are in them, it is to invite people to consider the possibilities for democratic reform.

It is, of course, necessary to consider the political dimension. Can, for example, can the proposed Council of Ireland(16) fulfil a positive role, by acting as the State body to which the Academy relates? People should be thinking of positive, creative functions for that body; up to now it seems to be conceived as a sort of policeman for Westminster, to oversee the implementation of Redmondite Home Rule(17). In the latter context, an unreformed Academy relating to the Council of Ireland could be expected to act as an intellectual policeman, preventing the rise of national and social consciousness among the younger scientists by keeping them divided and frustrated. Integration into the British system would be complete.

It is therefore all the more urgent for the Academy to recognise its national creative role and structure itself to maximise the flow and interaction of ideas both across disciplines and between generations, along some such lines as suggested. If it does not organise itself to act in this way as a spokesman for science, then eventially some other body will do this, in a manner which will be crippled by the lack of historical continuity and tradition, these latter commodities being the Academy's main assets.

Regarding....the completion of the Dictionary project next year: the job having been started in the 20s, it is hardly possible for the Academy to claim a good 'track record' in a situation where the status of Irish is rapidly approaching that of Latin. Professor Greene's main point was that in the past the Academy had dragged its feet, and this was one of his illustrations. Both he and I said 'it is not yet complete' in a rather similar spirit. I am sorry he felt misrepresented.

.....Regarding the Physics in Industry Conference, Professor Greene suggested that this project 'must be of great benefit to Ireland'.

I am now on ground that I know fairly well, and can state with conviction that by using the word 'must' he is being over-sanguine. There is absolutely no inevitability about the benefits. They could remain at the level of Bord Failte(18). It all depends on the extent to which the preparatory committee is prepared to work on the interface between physics and industry in Ireland.

Of all the specialist interfaces, this is the most fragile. I have served on a 'working group' sponsored by the Academy National Committee for Physics on this topic. The report we produced, which exposed this fragility, never to my knowledge saw the light of day.

I have served on a similar committee set up by the Irish Branch of the Institute of Physics; this produced a report which was submitted to the National Science Council. However it contained no concrete proposals and I have heard of no repercussions.

I do not see the materials for bridging the cultural gap between Irish academic physics and Irish industry in the context of the IUPAP conference. I look forward to seeing the plans for this conferrence when they become known. However I fear that the combination of long time-scale and wide cultural gap is unlikely to gain credibility for the Academy in this particular foray into the problem of applied science in the Irish context.

January 30 1974:

I have previously referred to the work of Professor T J Allen of MIT on the question of information flow between the institutions concerned with research and development.

The journal R and D Management (Volume 4, no 1, 1973) has an article in it by Professor Allen with Sean Cooney of the Agricultural Institute. This summarises results for the Irish scientific scene as a whole, in an abstract manner. We have been set a problem in detection: which is Campus C, the leading one for foreign contacts; Campus A which leads in contacts with the Continent; Campus D which leads in contacts with Northern Ireland? Which is Research Institute II, which dominates the Institute sector?

I do not understand this reticence. Those in the know can crack the code. Indeed, if the work is to be of any use in suggesting where the communications bonds ought to be strengthened, the code must be cracked. To introduce this obscurity, presumably to prevent some sensitive skins from being hurt, seems to me to detract from the value of the work.

However, some important generalisations do come through. For example, if a foreign development is heard of via the Research Institute network, it stands a greater chance of being disseminated than if it is heard of via industrial contacts abroad. The major generator of contacts is job mobility. People tend to phone up their old cronies, rather than search the literature.

A surprising number of Irish scientists meet each other for the first time at a conference abroad. (I have witnessed the remarkable phenomenon many times.) Professional society meetings are the main generators of contacts between sectors.

I quote: 'In general....communications among industrial firms, particularly semi-State firms, is very poor.....greater job mobility...might improve this......along with greater conference attendance...'

Further:'...Irish universities have produced trained personnel at a rate far exceeding the economy's capacity to absorb them....there is a reverse flow as well....the emigrant who has spent some time working in an R and D organisation outside the country is a potential gatekeeper.....a strong programme to attract back emigrants in critical skill areas would have an enormous potential for technology transfer....'

People wishing to study this important paper can get reprints from Sean Cooney.....who no doubt if pressed will supply hints to help the do-it-yourself code-cracker, provided the objectives are bona-fide improvements in communications, rather than mud-slinging at suspected troglodytes.

June 19 1974:

Each year in conjunction with the Vocational Education Committees the Royal Dublin Society operates a scheme whereby lectures are organised on topics of scientific and general cultural interest in various centres throughtout the country.....

It is necessary to ask whether these lectures ought not to be integrated into the considerable amount of adult education work which is going on thanks to the initiatives of the Regional Colleges and the Regional Scientific Councils, taking up the voluntary effort of the Regional College staffs.

The direct link between the RDS and the County VECs is, I suggest, a relic of the time before Regional Colleges existed, and the work of the RDS extension lecturers was the only window into science and technology for the majority of people outside the University cities.

There is also, I feel, a need to persuade people in a Regional College hinterland to look towards the College for enlightenment, rather than to Dublin.

August 8 1974: The Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr Keating, has announced plans for the IIRS to open a technical information office for the Midwest Region on the campus of the NIHE in Limerick. This announcement was made in April of this year, according to the NIHE Bulletin. I regret having missed it at the time, and I now belatedly welcome it as a step in the direction which I have been advocating.

It is, however, a very small step, and a long way short of what I am convinced is necessary, namely an all-round trouble-shooting unit on each and every Regional College campus, backed up by specialised services in Ballymun, and involving Regional College staff on a part-time basis.

September 19 1974:

The Annual Report of the IIRS was issued last Monday....

.....I remain uneasy about the IIRS acting as an environmental assessor of industrial planning applications, although on those cases I know about they have maintained a high standard of objectivity. The unwelcome fact however is that it is difficult to be an objective environmental monitor and a consultant to the polluting firm. What so far has saved us is the fact that a large proportion of the firms appear genuinely concerned to stay within potential environmental legislation, expecting the present ludicrously lax laws to be tightened.

It would be better if there were an independent environmental monitoring body with teeth, so that there was a legal obligation on the potentially polluting firm to take the IIRS assessment work seriously........

I note that the IIRS is involved in hygiene control in food processing; this again suggests a natural symbiosis with Moorepark and the dairy science people......

There is an intention expressed of going slow on expansion plans until the building programme is completed. This policy shows a lack of imagination. What is to prevent the IIRS doing what everyone else does, and building temporary buildings? There is plenty of site space for such buildings on the campuses of the Regional Colleges. There is a growing need for local-based consultancy services. I know at least two, if not three, Regional Colleges where, in response to demand, the staff, all of whom have relevant skills, and many of whom have industrial experience abroad, are engaged in consultancy work 'on the black'.

In one case, the VEC winks the eye; in the other two it positively disapproves. The latter situation is ludicrous and the former unnecessary.. The shortage of central space, instead of being a brake on development, would then emerge as a creative stimulus to a positive policy of regionalisation.....

When at Athlone (observing the ore microscopy seminar) I met some people on the Regional College staff and have had the opportunity to look at the syllabus for the certificate and diploma courses in polymer engineering.

It is clear to me that the people emerging from these courses will be very useful, and will have a broad-based understanding of the physics, chemistry and engineering aspects of a wide range of polymers, as well as a good grounding in the principles of management. The course is good because it is constructed by an enthusiastic group of recent recruits from industrial research and development abroad.

What will this look like in ten years time, if the staff are not allowed to have real industrial contact time by a VEC which treats them as if they were at a second-level technical school? The whole polymer scene is going to change, due to the decreased availability of petroleum as feed-stock. How can the staff keep up with this change if it has 21 class contact hours per week?

Here is an opportunity for the IIRS to overcome its space problem and decentralise at least some of its polymer division to Athlone. A restructured staffing situation could be established, whereby the RTC staff was doubled and the teaching hours halved by the addition of the IIRS staff into a symbiotic system. The administrative barriers which exist are largely in the minds of the Civil Service.

September 25 1974:

(Continuing comment on the IIRS annual report....)

Interaction with the Kilkenny Design Centre(19), at the level of exchange of visits by working staff, has begun to develop. The Kilkenny centre has contributed to an IIRS project, in the matter of the design of a case for a medical instrument. This may be regarded as a step along the road to a fully-integrated design philosophy. I have heard the 'industrial design' pundits holding forth on this, and I gain the impression that there is more to it than having a well-designed case for a given piece of hardware. This is the 'man-machine interface' problem, and the keyword is 'ergonomics'. An integrated design philosophy should relate the electronic system to the user and the problem; the structure of the man-machine interface should be implicit in the shape, size and layout of the device and its controls.

Ergonomic problems crop up all the time, yet I am told that there is no money to invest in ergonomic research in a university environment, where it would be feasible to draw together the necessary team of engineers, physiologists and psychologists. The unifying person to bring together such a team would be someone who had the status of an 'industrial designer' in the sense that Coras Tractala has been trying to promote.

August 12 1975:

My interpretation of the Bowie(20) case-history is as an illustration of the general problem facing the young researcher in the contemporary Irish context, rather than as a criticism of a specific decision affecting an individual. I have repeatedly come across cases of promising applied research by a young and enthusiastic worker being nipped in the bud by the established structures, which appear to be afraid of injection of new blood from below.

It ought to be possible for a young researcher relatively easily to move into an established structure, where he or she would get the resources to implement ideas.

In all the State bodies which had a rapid intake at start-up, followed by a clampdown on recruitment, this renewal process is virtually impossible. There is a promotion-blocking middle-aged cohort with tenure, and a fixed establishment. No system could be more destructive of initiative and capacity for self-renewal.

If there were no such thing as 'tenure', but instead five, seven or ten-year contracts, with mobile pension-rights, there would be no such problem.

A fraction of the initial cohort, now aging, would then retire and seek work elsewhere, possibly in the implementation of schemes they had researched. This system would leave room for the Gavin Bowies to come in and prove themselves, initially on a one or three-year contract, with renewal option subsequently for five years. The renewal term should lengthen with experience, but the option to part company with dignity should be there.

This phenomenon of the promotion-blocking cohort has been studied in depth by Andrew Young in the New University of Ulster. He has looked at major European firms, and has exposed catastrophic effects, leading to collapses and mergers. Nearer home, Tom McGovern (System Dynamics ltd) has studied the manpower policies in the banking system, and has brought out in the open effects due to the post world war I recruitment, which lasted long enough to contribute to the bank strikes of recent decades. The key factor in a fixed establishment system is probability of promotion; with 'lumpy' intake this probability becomes wildly variable and frustration-generating.

All existing semi-State bodies had a large intake at their foundation and the behaviour of this cohort in a situation of established tenure constitutes a problem. It tends to insist on young aspirants having short-term contracts, during which it picks their brains, then it sends them packing. It is time the personnel policies of the semi-State bodies came up for review.

August 26 1975:

The August 12 discussion of recruitment to semi-State bodies... drew a letter from the IIRS group trade union secretary, bristling with indignation. So clearly people who have tenure feel threatened and are afraid of losing it. I would not like to see the trade union movement digging in on this question......people with scientific and technological qualifications should have the opportunity for career-changes at intervals....this has been studied scientifically and found to be valid.......renewal or otherwise should be agreed well before the contract terminates, and if it is not renewed there should be available transferable pension rights and a lump sum covering retraining....

September 30 1975:

The Annual Report of the Royal Irish Academy....raises the perennial question of how best the access to scientific information ought to be organised. I see the RIA library has taken up an exchange agreement with the General Electric Company, Wembley; this extends a long list of exchange agreements with learned bodies into an area of hard-core applied science. I wonder who would think to go to the Academy to consult a GEC publication. I would have gone to the IIRS. Given the Union List(21)...it should not matter, except that there is a lag-time. In academic research this does not matter (much) but in applied science speed is essential.

There is still no national policy on matters of scientific publication. The proceedings of the RIA and the RDS are competing for the same narrow market of indigenous specialist papers, while the bulk of the papers of Irish scientists are published abroad. We need a national abstracting service.....this could be done at the fraction of the cost of maintaining two quasi-prestigeous publications; perhaps the prestigeous cores could be used to build a single publication prestigeous enough to attract papers from abroad and so make it economically viable....

The RIA 'Research Register' of 1971 was like an abstracting service, in that you could get an idea from it what the people were up to.....

It seems to me that there is a job here for the RDS, which is historically supposed to be a bridge between industry and academic science. The industrial side of the RDS science committee now has a strong IIRS lobby; the Academy is also well represented. A small fraction of the IDA budget in this direction would have a big pay-off in easing the flow of scientific information of economic value.

June 22 1976:

(Dr R J Nichol replies to the Allen report)

The report...on technology transfer in Ireland (as discussed last week) was highly critical of the role and effectiveness of IIRS. Though the entire study is questionable, in its methodology and assumptions, it is proposed to make only a few general observations here.

Allen set out in 1972 to survey a sample of 300 Irish companies. In the four years since then he has surveyed only 65 of the 300. Thus the report is not, as stated last week, based on a survey of 300, but of 65.

Thirty three of these, or just over 50%, were in the food sector. Only 2% of IIRS staff work in this area.

Of the remaining 32 firms, nine were large by Irish standards, employing 250 or more of staff. The greater part of IIRS work is for small firms, of which only 23, if one excludes the food sector, are represented in the survey.

The Allen study was concerned with innovation. The average date of introduction of the innovations studied appears to have been earlier than 1969, and the ideas on which these were based presumably occurred even earlier. The data therefore relate toa period in the mid to late sixties, when the IIRS had only a third of its present staff, when its links with industry were only beginning to develop, and when almost 90% of its work was concerned with services other than innovation: quality appraisal, testing and analysis, investigation, trouble shooting and standardisation.

In introducing the 'preliminary' report Allen observes that 'any attempt to generalise the findings to all of Irish industry would be premature'. Despite having surveyed less than a quarter of the proposed sample, he does not hesitate to draw general conclusions from transparently inadequate data, and to propose the most sweeping changes in the structure of the State technical support to industry.

This year the IIRS will earn almost 1M pounds from client work, over and above our grant-in-aid from the State. We are confident that we are serving our clients well and we would welcome any survey which would help us to increase our usefulness to them. We will have to look further than this subjective document from Professor Allen.

June 29 1976:

The annual report of the Institute of Industrial Research and Standards, published on June 23, was noted as news the following day. Despite the positive trend in earned income (26.4% in 1975 compared to 23.1% in 1974), there has been an effective cut in State aid; ie the grant-in-aid has not kept pace with inflation.

If a system were adopted whereby the State support were directly linked to the revenue, the incentive to give good service would be greater. As it stands now, there is a positive disincentive; with present trends, an attitude could easily develop whereby people started to say 'why should we try to earn revenue from industry; they will only cut our grant'. This attitude has been rampant for years in the Agricultural Institute, unfortunately with good foundation.

The level of service available from IIRS is at present equipment-limited rather than staff-limited. It is very frustrating for good people to be expected to do the job without adequate tools. Many of the staff are returned emigrants with valuable experience acquired abroad; the value of this will rapidly deacy unless they are kept active with proper equipment in fields where their experience is relevant.

The IIRS is still supposed to be acting as the consumers' watchdog. They state that 37% of consumers' complaints studied by them were 'found to be invalid'. This seems to me to be a high figure, suggesting that their instinct is to take the manufacturers' view. After all, this is where they earn their revenue.

There is a case for splitting off the Standards function, and associating it with a consumers' unit, in an autonomous body, wholly financed by the State.

The remaining departments could then serve industry without developing schizophrenia. The two autonomous bodies could interact, in that the former could buy services from the latter, at the going commercial rate.

There is a further case for reconstructing the Industrial Research functions into a federation of quasi-autonomous sectoral divisions, analogous to the British sectoral Research Associations. Such sectoral divisions might logically constitute themselves to serve the industries grouped in the CII sectoral divisions, and develop a close interaction with the latter, to the extent of promoting levy schemes into which the firms in each division could opt. This would require an intense period of marketing of a 'new-image sectoral IIR'(without the S) which would be much closer to the problems on the ground.

The autonomous Sectoral Divisions, along with the Standards and Consumers' Institute, could share central specialist services (eg the various physical and chemical techniques common to various problems). The field-work could be organised both regionally and sectorally.

Last week's riposte by the IIRS to Professor Tom Allen was, I thought, more negative than it need have been. It concentrated on demolishing his credibility via the quality of his work, rather than taking the necessary agressive position, along the lines: 'We have recognised this ages ago and are already well advanced along the direction he suggests; his remarks are based on an obsolete analysis and his conclusions are old hat'.

The role of outside investigators like Tom Allen is to catalyse change. This role can be exceedingly useful. The quality of the actual work is often of minor relevance, once the discussion gets going among the people concerned. No doubt the eskimo tribes similarly discuss their anthropologists.

August 3 1976:

...I have had a letter from Professor Allen which I feel I should quote substantially in full. It is good polemical stuff, and it may perhaps help the IIRS with its policy of reappraisal and development; this is going on already on the basis of continuous feedback from the market.

I quote: '....I feel obliged as author to respond to some of the detailed points.

1. The IIRS statement makes a blanket criticism of methodology and assumptions, saying that they are both questionable, without being any more specific as to what it is that is questionable about them. In fact the research method is one of the principle assets of the study. Far from being subjective, it does not enquire about opinions (as was the case of the IIRS study of information use two years ago). Rather it inquires about events and seeks facts surrounding those events, steadfastly avoiding opinions. The approach has met with wide acclaim among scholars of technology transfer.. It is now being used by other investigators in several countries in Europe and Latin America.

2. The only reason the report is a preliminary one, at this point, is that it is based on only 65 of an intended sample of 300 firms. As a result we cannot claim that the results are representative of Irish industry, only of those 10 industry groupings represented by the 65 firms. We intend to continue adding industries, but I personally doubt that this will have much effect on the results.

3. The sample at present is heavily weighted towards the food-processing industry. That is, of course, a very important sector in Ireland. (By the way, I am sure that certain individuals in another research institute were very pleased to hear the IIRS disclaim responsibility in this sector.)

This criticism has arisen before. I discussed an earlier version of the report with Robin Nichol of IIRS. His reaction was that we had not covered the industries where IIRS had placed the emphasis. He suggested that the results would have been different had we included the clothing or chemical industries. We therefore added 'mens and boys clothing' and 'chemicals and pharmaceuticals' to the sample. Nothing changed.

4. As far as size is concerned, the proportions in the study are representative of the proportions of differing sized firms in the ten industry groups. IIRS looks no better, nor any worse, if we separate out firms on the basis of size.....

5. The fact that most of the 'innovations' antedated 1969 is more a reflection on the slow rate of technological change in these industries, than anything else. Each firm was asked to nominate its most recent significant change in product or process. As far as IIRS are concerned, since the data were gathered in the period from 1972-75, it would tend to show that firms were more likely to have introduced such changes in the days before IIRS began helping them.

One final note: there were two other studies, which you reviewed along with my own. All three reached essentially the same conclusions. Are we to conclude that since IIRS did not respond to these, that they accept the conclusions? If this is the case, my point has been established.

As for restructuring IIRS, I would agree that the only hope lies in a structure which would allow specialisation along the lines of CII sectors. IIRS is not alone. Institutes for the technological support of industry in general (and most small countries support such institutions) have been a worldwide failure. I hate to see you hold up the British Research Associations as an example because their record is far from impressive. Nevertheless, I think that whatever hope there is lies in this direction. Such a restructuring must be accompanied by major changes in the manner of funding, however. A major proportion of the funding must be placed under industry control, in the manner suggested by the report.....'

Notes and References

1. See Chapter 5.1 for some material on the actual and potential performance of DIAS.

2. See Chapter 2.1

3. A biography of Bernal is in preparation, edited by Brenda Swann and due for publication by Lawrence and Wishart in 1983. The writer has contributed a chapter covering the Irish influences on the early Bernal, as evidenced by his diaries for the period 1916-1921. The question of choice of school is discussed. (This was finally published in 1999 by Verso, edited by Brenda Swann and Francis Aprahamian.)

4. The staff of the DIAS are now also organised in the same branch. 5. This is outlined in creater detail in Chapter 2.1, which was written originally in 1967 as a contribution to the debate around the formation of the NSC.

6. This concept appears to have been closer to the British National Research and Development Corporation than to the NDC which is now (1983) in the political currency. The latter is conceived as a holding company for the commercial semi-State bodies, charged with taking up their synergetic potential, and where necessary starting new State enterprises. The former was conceived as a State-funded entrepreneur to exploit the results of IIRS research and development. The earlier more limited concept could form a component in the later, more grandiose one.

7. The Agricultural Institute centres for meat and dairying research respectively.

8. Annual prestige event organised by the Royal Dublin Society. For can outline of the career of Sir Robert Kane see Chapter().

9. In the earlier sense; see note 6.

10. This is the British sectoral research association model. See also 26/7/72 in this chapter for Noel Murphy's account of the Danish model.

11. As discussed at Sunningdale; there was to be an 'Irish Dimension' in Northern politics, expressed in representation on a Council of Ireland, in which there would be a British controlling interest.

12. See again Chapter 5.1; the key weakness is the lack of active linkage with the university postgraduate system.

13. Full of Sunningdale euphoria, Professor FJ Smith (QUB Computer Science) spent time in the Irish Computer Society actively promoting the concept of an all-Ireland university computer network. The stimulus was that a similar concept was emerging in Britain, but Northern Ireland had been forgotten. Professor Smith was, and remains, an activist in the Alliance Party.

14. The British postal authorities have never recognised Irish sovereignty. If you are in London and post a letter to Dublin in the 'London and Abroad' section of the box, it will be marked as wrongly posted and delayed. Ireland is supposed to be 'country'.

15. The agency for doing this was then the National Science Council; it is now the National Board for Science and Technology.

16. See Notes 11 and 13.

17. Northern Ireland as constituted in 1920 was part of this structure. There was to have been 'Southern Ireland' and the two were to have been federated in a 'Council of Ireland', with defence and foreign affairs under British control. In proportion as the government of the Republic abandons sovereignty, the current 'Council of Ireland' concept approximates to the earlier one.

18. The Tourist Board. This 'Physics in Industry' conference took place (see Chapter 5.3) and in fact the interaction with physics and industry in Ireland was, as predicted, negligible.

19. See Chapter 3.3 (Innovation) for an account of the Kilkenny Design Workshops.

20. See Chapter 2.3 (History and Archaeology) for an account of Gavin Bowie's contribution tto the development of industrial archaeology in the Republic. This remains a neglected area in comparison with the North, where there is a university chair in QUB.

21. See Chapter 5.2 (Scientific and Technological Information).

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