Friday, November 13, 2009

The Science and Technology Advisory Group Must Do Its Job

The Science and Technology Advisory Group Must Do Its Job
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
November 13, 2009

The Executive Yuan Science and Technology Advisory Group was established 30 years ago. Last week the group held its annual meeting. It made a point of screening a documentary short commemorating the Godfather of Taiwan's Technology, Li Kuo-ting. Thinking back, we cherish the memory of this incomparably courageous visionary, who laid the foundation for Taiwan's information and communications industry. On the other hand, we bemoan the fact that the future of Taiwan's industries remains in question. As we examine the political landscape, no one emerges as a worthy helmsman to guide the future development of emerging industries and science and technology.

The public naturally understands that Taiwan's political environment is not what it once was. Chief executives are no longer the authoritative figures they once were. The legislature would not tolerate such dictatorial strongmen. If Li Kuo-ting were alive today, he would probably be harangued by the the Legislative Yuan and the media to the point of humiliation. Even if he was spared, he would not be able to summon the wind and rain the way he did. That said, the changed political climate is no excuse for inaction and incompetence. Nor can it be used to rationalize absurd and mistaken arrangements and practices. Compare the accomplishments of the current Executive Yuan Science and Technology Advisory Group meeting with the accomplishments of Li Kuo-ting back then. Clearly there is room for improvement.

The theme of the current Science and Technology Advisory Group Conference is Taiwan's six emerging industries. The Executive Yuan is asking its science and technology consultants to discuss, one by one, the industrial policies it is promoting. One wonders what Li Kuo-ting would think of such an arrangement if he were alive today. The Executive Yuan Science and Technology Advisory has about 20 members, including 10 from abroad. Among them are internationally renowned scientists and Nobel Prize winners. National consultants include the presidents of Academia Sinica, National Taiwan University, National Tsing Hua University, the Vice-Chancellor of National Cheng Kung University, and other elders of academia. Their research has been impressive, but most of them have no business experience. They may be familiar with upstream technology R&D, but are unlikely to understand the downstream realm of industrial production. Isn't inviting these elders from academia to discuss Taiwan's industrial policy irrelevant?

Some members of the Executive Yuan Science and Technology Advisory Group may understand certain industry practices. But what is asking ten foreign scientists to offer advice for Chinese cultural and creative industries, but an embarrassing imposition? The cultural and creative industries involve many issue that have nothing to do with science or technology, but rather wisdom from the humanities. Why should we hand these issues over to a group of technology experts for discussion? Many foreign IT consultants may never have purchased a butterfly orchid, or eaten a grouper. How can they contribute anything to a discussion on quality agriculture? They might ad lib by saying that "scientific research must not be divorced from industry." But of how much significance would this be in a meeting dedicated to the in-depth examination of difficult, substantive, industry-related issues?

What worries us the most is not the waste of three days of valuable time for these scientists. But to promote industrial reform in such a heavy-handed manner, really makes makes us break out in a cold sweat. To promote an unprecedented new industry or previously unsuccessful industry requires clear vision and a development strategy. Such a strategy is the result of examining the overall situation, studying industry feasibility, making critical breakthroughs, and creating new markets. To use the vernacular of the popular media, industrial strategy requires key breakthroughs in Blue Ocean Strategy. What is not required is minor tweaks to various revenue producing items within the framework of the existing Red Ocean Strategy. Unfortunately the information provided by the Science and Technology Advisory Group shows that although they are working very hard, they have no clear strategic direction.

Six months ago, the Executive Yuan was apparently under pressure from President Ma. It hastily promoted a new solution every week or two for Taiwan's six emerging industries. At the time outsiders were concerned that some programs were merely administrative staffers wracking their brains competing in an essay contest. Sure enough, the information provided by various sectors to the Science and Technology Advisory Group was almost identical to the programs promoted by the Executive Yuan six months ago. As we can see, the organizer's implementation of the programs over the past six months has been slow. The authorities responsible are unclear on their strategic direction, and are having difficulty making any progress to speak of. They must consider better means of implementation, rather than discussing old programs that have led nowhere.

Politicians make no bones about labelling someone a hero on the basis of his success or failure. Li Kuo-ting is widely respected by the public because he "created " Taiwan's ICT industry. It was not because he presided over so many conferences, made the front page so many times, or spent so many dollars on advertising. Li Kuo-ting planned the financing for Taiwan's Science Parks. But he did not meddle in cultural creative industries he was unfamiliar with, such as the cultivation of butterfly orchids or groupers, That was why he was successful. The achievements of the Science and Technology Advisory Group back then are legendary the world over. Credit is always given to the Science and Technology Advisory Group. But take one look at last week's science and technology advisors meeting, and one can't help longing for the "Good Old Days."

2009.11.13 03:46 am








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