Don’t discount unprofitable technologies

Ross McBee

I was disheartened by Nick Spiller’s focus on the profitability of research in his recent column regarding the Horizon Fund. Undoubtedly, royalty payments on University-developed technologies represent an important (and probably underdeveloped) part of the UT System’s revenue stream. 

But to criticize the University by comparing total research funding to royalty revenue generated is misguided. For every successful new technology, there are dozens of failures; for every new drug candidate in trials, tens, even hundreds, discarded at the bench; and for every Newton or E = mc², a thousand who toil in obscurity on discoveries far less groundbreaking but no less important to the process.  

Science is an iterative affair, and to ignore those iterations that don’t have dollar signs immediately attached is to misunderstand how science itself works, and to disregard the importance of the 1,001 discoveries and failures that allow that one brilliant (and profitable) idea to be viable, or even conceivable, in the first place.

McBee is a Plan II and biology senior from Austin. McBee is also a Daily Texan opinion columnist.