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Research Focus on Economic Benefit

The Irish government's focus on funding grants with an eye toward boosting the economy is being called out as "short-sighted" by some 900 scientists in a letter, according to Nature News. The researchers argue that basic research has been overlooked and underfunded.

This letter, Nature News adds, comes as the Irish jobs, enterprise, and innovation department seeks public input on a new multi-year science, technology, and innovation scheme.

While research and development spending grew in Ireland during the recession, much of that was aided by foreign investment and there was an emphasis on areas like computing, smart grids, and medical devices, where there are large markets or where Irish companies are competitive, Nature News notes. At the same time, direct funding to universities for research and teaching fell from €1.4 billion in 2008 to €940 million in 2014.

"The current policies are having a very significant detrimental effect on the health and viability of the Irish scientific ecosystem," Kevin Mitchell, a geneticist at Trinity College Dublin who helped organize the letter, tells Nature News. "Research that cannot be shoehorned into one of the 14 prioritized areas has been ineligible for most funding."

Mark Ferguson, the director of Science Foundation Ireland, the largest research-funding agency in the country, and the country's chief scientific adviser, says that Ireland, because of its small size, cannot be a leader in all aspects of science.

"But it definitely wants to be world class in as many fields as possible, particularly those of key relevance and opportunity for the future," he adds. 

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