Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Economics of large experiments part 3: maximizing public return on research costs


Expensive research with high lag times for return on investment are funded by public money because of private companies inability to pay the upfront cost and wait for a long time for the return on investment. However if public money is spent on the research, this research should benefit the public.  This however is rarely the case.

Computers are a perfect example of this.

The first electric programmable computer, colossus was built in England by the post office research Centre. (computerhope, 2016) (colossus-computer, 2016)

(computerhope, 2016

(computerhope, 2016)

The first digital computer ABC built in Iowa state College (now university) (Initiative Committee and Iowa State University, 2011)

(initiative committee and IOWA State University, 2011)

(initiative committee and IOWA State University, 2011)

First fully functional digital computer: ENIAC university of Pennsylvania (penn university, 2016)

Penn university, 2016

Penn university, 2016

First stored program computer: EDSAC university of Cambridge (university of cambridge, 2016)

(university of Cambridge, 2016)

(university of Cambridge, 2016)

First computer with ram (whirlwind machine), first transistor computer (transistorized experimental computer), Massachusetts institute of technology (MIT, 2011)

(MIT, 2011)

(MIT, 2011)

And then there are the IBM Computers, which were bought by the government because they were too expensive and useless to be run on their own. (Dossani, 2009)


(siwek, 2014)

(siwek, 2014)

So computers were developed by public money; however they are now completely dominated by the private sector, which makes enormous profits from public research.

The internet follows a similar pattern, being invented by the US government and the World Wide Web from CERN, and from there private corporations have taken control of it. (Cern, 2016)


My worry is that the same thing is happening with CERN, the benefits of billion dollar research are being given away to private companies to make a profit on it. Perhaps the public sector should not only fund the research when it isn’t profitable for the private sector to fund it on its own, but should also use reap the benefits by creating public companies that can enter the market and use these technologies to compete and turn a profit.

If the government generates a profit from the research, that profit can be reinvested into research. It is hard to estimate how much money was spent on developing vs how much would be made in profit, however considering that, for example, the US internet market is estimated to be worth 966 billion, it is a good guess to assume that this research would largely fund itself. (siwek, 2014)



Cern. (2016). birth-web. Retrieved 05 06, 2016, from home:

colossus-computer. (2016). collossus, the first large scale electronic computer. Retrieved 05 05, 2016, from colossus-computer:

computerhope. (2016). When was the first computer invented? Retrieved 5 5, 2016, from computerhope:

Dossani, S. (2009, 02 10). Chomsky: Understanding the Crisis — Markets, the State and Hypocrisy. (N. Chomsky, Interviewer)

Initiative Committee and Iowa State University. (2011). ATANASOFF BERRY COMPUTER. Retrieved 05 05, 2016, from

MIT. (2011). Project Whirlwind. Retrieved 05 05, 2016, from

penn university. (2016). ENIAC: Celebrating Penn Engineering History. Retrieved from

siwek, S. e. (2014). measuring the US internet sector. economists incorporated.

university of cambridge. (2016). The Relics Project. Retrieved 05 5, 2016, from









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This entry was posted on May 13, 2016 by in Burwood - Friday 11am, Uncategorized.

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