Unlike companies, non-profit academic institutions deliver a paltry return on taxpayers' investments. In 2010, after spending nearly $3.1 billion of taxpayers' money on intramural research, the NIH received $91.6 million in royalties and was issued with 134 patents. By contrast, in 2009 IBM spent $6.5 billion on research and development, generated $15.1 billion in revenue and was issued with 4,914 patents.There's a lot to pick at here. First of all, NIH funded research versus IBM R&D? We could at least try to compare health research with health research if we want to attempt a fair comparison. Of course picking a pharmaceutical company might undermine the point. And nevermind the fact that patent production isn't necessarily the metric a non-profit academic institution would use as a measure of productivity. Or the fact that academic institutions also have other functions, like teaching the next wave of uber-productive, patent-producing scientists at for-profit companies (and the "wasteful" ones that stay in academia. But the worst part is the implication that basic research is a waste - that if you're not generating revenue or patents, it's not worth it. In my mind, Carl Sagan said it best (click the link for the full passage):
Cutting off fundamental, curiosity-driven science is like eating the seed corn. We may have a little more to eat next winter, but what will we plant so we and our children will have enough to get through the winters to come?I wonder how productive these model companies would be without that wasteful basic research to build on.