A test being conducted at a laboratory .
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The lack of coordination among government agencies,
the military, the universities and industry doing scientific research
and development has wasted precious resources and time, as Israel
struggles with inadequate funds in the race against scientists around
the world, says Prof. Oded Abramsky, chairman of the Israel National
Council for Research and Development (INCRD).
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last
week, Abramsky - a leading neurologist at the Hadassah University
Medical Center and a former chief scientist of the Health Ministry -
urged that the government give much higher priority to scientific
R&D to promote economic growth and improve medical care, plan
national science infrastructures, bring back outstanding young Israeli
scientists who have left the country due to the lack of research
positions and funding, and offer opportunities so that valuable local
scientists do not leave.
Abramsky said that many local scientists had more contact with
colleagues in their field abroad than with fellow Israeli scientists in
other institutions. In addition, there is a dearth of statistics and
other data on R&D that slows progress and coordination and leads to
duplication of efforts.
The INCRD chairman, whose job is to make recommendations to the
government and the prime minister on scientific R&D, said that
long-term policies - rather than "just putting out fires" - must be
Abramsky, who has appointed and received reports
from expert committees aimed at repairing the R&D system and
improving the tools for scientific advancement, recommends that fields
in which Israel lacks superiority or the potential to excel be
minimized or abandoned. Instead, Israeli researchers strained by
inadequate funds should focus on niches in which they have talents and
The INCRD became a statutory body under the aegis of the
Science and Technology Ministry, thanks to a private member's bill
initiated by now-minister Michael Eitan; until then, the INCRD was weak
and the government was not required to ask for or listen to any of its
advice, Abramsky said.
In a growing number of countries, including Japan
and Finland, the national council for R&D is formally chaired by
the prime minister, thus giving it the highest of priorities.
The INCRD would prefer to be put under the aegis of the Prime
Minister's Office, he said, but even if not, it should become an
autonomous body with a separate legal adviser, accountant and funding.
He related that a few months ago, the INCRD had not been
permitted by the Science and Technology Ministry to publish a paid
condolence message in the newspapers for the country's late fourth
president, Prof. Ephraim Katzir, who was a previous chairman, because
the ministry had already published such a notice.
Abramsky has asked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - who is
"very sympathetic to and interested in promoting R&D" - to ensure
that Israel's scientific research and development becomes "part of a
strategic plan and a long-term systemic approach," and has voiced the
INCRD's views in cabinet meetings.
One of the few ministries that has taken initiatives to improve
coordination, set national priorities for R&D and minimize
duplication and waste is the Health Ministry under outgoing
director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli, said Abramsky, who appointed a
committee headed by Prof. Ehud Razin, the former dean of the Hebrew
University Medical Faculty, to study the problems in medical research
and make recommendations.
Yisraeli managed to persuade the Treasury to increase its
funding of medical R&D and to find spare cash in the ministry's
budget that doubled the ministry's funding of medical research from NIS
4 million a year to the current NIS 8m. But Abramsky said that the
figure must be multiplied several times more for it to have an effect.
As a former ministry chief scientist, Abramsky said that the
people in those ministry positions had the power only to allocate
available R&D budgets, and not to set priorities or coordinate with
A Science/Health Page feature on science R&D will appear on Sunday, August 16.