This third and last commentary regards the UK's current industrial state of play unashamedly uses an excerpt of classic literature to once again (poignantly) echo Lord Brown's all important point: that the nation's R&D agenda – between 'Pure' and 'Applied' must be better managed.
To re-emphasis, the correlation of 'value-added' technological solutions versus 'time' to exploitation, has rarely ever been so critical.
[NB investment-auto-motives titles this new era 'RADAR' : derived from the extension of the term R&D into R&D&R – the latter 'R' suffix highlighting 'Realisation'. RADAR is intentionally used as a metaphor given its role as an examplar of technological development and application which quite literally altered Britain's future at a critical juncture of its own history].
As Business Secretary Vince Cable seeks to address the innate problems of the country's productivity mechanism - and the 'value-added' nature of its output - a pertinent section from Jonathan Swift's “Gulliver's Travels” (circa 1726) is undoubtedly timely.
It is taken from Gulliver's 3rd adventurous trip, reaching Lagado, where he reveiws the role and manner of the indigenous sciences. Whilst Swift was overtly light-hearted in its case-studies, he importantly raises questions regards the less than wise deployment of resources.
[NB An innate irony presents itself given that Swift questions the role and delivery of Lagado's 'Acadamies' whilst his central sentiments are being presented by Lord Brown, who some 284 years later the President of the Royal Acadamy of Engineering. It is a small irony I'm sure both would enjoy].
Gulliver's Travels / Chapter 5
“The academy is not an entire single building, but a continuation of several houses on either side of the street, which growing waste, was purchased and put to that use.
I was received today by a very kindly warden, and went for many days to the academy. Every room hath in it one or more projectors [NB scientific developers]; and I believe, I could not be in fewer than five hundred rooms.
The first man I saw was of meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt and skin were all the same colour. He had been eighty years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put into vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw, inclement summers. He told me he did not doubt, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor's gardens with sunshine at a reasonable rate; but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers. I made him a small present, for my Lord had furnished me with money on purpose, because he knew their practice of begging from all who go to see them.
I saw another at work to calcine ice into gun-powder, who likewise showed me a treatise he had written concerning the malleability of fire, which he intended to publish.
There was a most ingenious architect, who had contrived a new method for building houses, by beginning at the roof, and working downwards to the foundation, which he justified to me, by the like practice of those two prudent insects, the bee and the spider.
There was a man born blind, who had several apprentices in his own condition: their employment was to mix colours for painters, which their master taught them to distinguish by feeling and smelling. It was, indeed, my misfortune to find them, at that time, not very perfect in lessons, and the professor himself happened to be generally mistaken: this artist is much encouraged and esteemed by the whole fraternity”.
Today, as perhaps never before, the nation's own 'RADAR' capability must be commissioned to qualify and quantify the output from the UK's public and private investment R&D agenda.