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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Marsden Fund: Superhydrophobic expenditure atrocious

Another round of Marsden Fund lolly has been awarded. Working out what is and is not valuable and necessary research is another issue.

There are always plenty of grants made that seem a total waste of money - more about cliquey, personal career-enhancement, funding for esoteric irrelevancies and the subsidisation of academia generally. The Marsden trough is part of the government's upper middle class protection and welfare racket as much as it is about scientific advancement.

Then there are the worthwhile ones - which to me anyway are usually more the hard science where I can understand where the material costs may be rather than just supporting a professor's retirement scheme and their entourage of pet students.

I'm glad to see a few earthquake-related projects included from GNS (like "Sticky or creepy: What causes abrupt changes in seismic behaviour along subduction plate boundaries?") and hope the millions on offer can do what I can't and get them to change their dogma that rigidly asserts that there is no connection between clusters of volcanic and seismic activity no matter how close in time and distance they are. Maybe they'll get their shit together one day.
But it's the social sciences where I can't work out why the research is going to be so expensive. These academics are supposed to be doing this research for a living at any rate - they aren't just being paid for teaching.
Inequality and Injustice: Deliberation, Power and the Nature of Public OpinionAUT1201Dr SkillingAUT University$345,000
Affective practice, identity and wellbeing in AotearoaMAU1207Assoc Prof Moewaka-BarnesMassey University$850,000
Harnessing the power of business: the contested involvement of corporations in community development initiatives in the PacificMAU1206Prof ScheyvensMassey University$890,000

The NZ governemnt spending $890,000 directly in the Pacific will almost certainly be more effective than spending it on Prof. Scheyvens I would have thought. A full study of identity and wellbeing in Aotearoa would probably take more resources than what has been allocated.  It's not just the cost it is the wankiness too:
Institutional change, path dependence and public transport planning in AucklandMAU1208Dr MuhammadMassey University$345,000

Shakespeare’s Theatre GamesUOA1214Prof BishopThe University of Auckland$535,000

Some seem useful, but why the big ticket price?
Mind the gap? Worker productivity and pay gaps between similar workers in New ZealandUOO1213Prof StillmanUniversity of Otago$800,000

And then there's the blatantly redundant:
Ecologies of Skill in Early Modern EnglandUOO1216Prof TribbleUniversity of Otago$485,000

And the unfathomable:
Making a Splash: Superhydrophobic Spacing, Symmetry and StretchIRL1201Dr WillmottIndustrial Research Ltd$345,000



At 25/10/12 5:04 pm, Blogger Graeme Edgeler said...

They're Public Universities - send them OIAs to find out!

At 25/10/12 11:31 pm, Blogger Geri said...

This post is a bit dissapointing - can you really judge the value of research on the basis of the title? I'm not arguing that there isn't crap research out there (and that it doesn't get public funding!) but I don't think its fair to pass judgement on the basis of a title. Are you sure this isn't just anti-intellectualism in disguise?

Also, I can't speak for any of the research projects here, but back when I did my MA (social sciences) I worked part-time at the Uni on a marsden funded project. It gave me valuable experience & was an escape from working in call-centres/telemarketing that I had previously been doing throughout my studies. I would expect that a lot of these projects will be utilising graduate students to help with the research. This work tends to be resonably well paid for what you can expect from part-time contract/casual work (we're not talking mega-bucks here, and is incredibly valuable work experience.
In other instances, the funding is sometimes used to fund PHD students to work on the topic area (great because it means more access to post-grad study for students without the back-breaking debt, and the research project benefits from multiple researchers working on the topic for 3+ years -which is pretty good bang-for-buck).
In my experience these funds don't pay for the academics personal retirement fund, but I can only speak from experience.

I would also imagine if you were interested in any of the studies, if you sent an email to the academics listed, many would be happy to tell you about their research.

At 27/10/12 12:53 am, Blogger slydixon said...

Don't confuse him with the facts he's made up his mind!

At 6/11/12 7:36 pm, Blogger Pete said...

I can't speak for the other recipients, but if you're interested I'd be more than happy to talk to you about my research. More than happy, also, to talk about how the money gets broken down on projects like these. If it makes you feel any happier, I can assure you that none of this is getting syphoned into anyone's retirement fund.

I mean, OIA it if you'd prefer, but an email might be easier.


Peter Skilling
AUT University


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