Res.Funding and Congress

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Fri Dec 1 18:34:08 EST 1995

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 1 Dec 1995 18:13:45 -0500 (EST)
From: Alexander Berezin <berezin at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>
To: cfbssp at
Cc: biocan at
Subject: COMMENTS on "Basic Message"

Cheers to Senator George E. Brown ! He (contrary
to us, scientists) gives and excellent set of 
comments which:

(1) helps to identify the source(s) of the weakness
 of the scientific community at a bargining table

(2) gives starting point for the constructve
addressing of the problem

(more comments below) - Alex Berezin  

On 1 Dec 1995 cfbssp at wrote:

> Dear All,
>         Sometimes it is encouraging to see in print what many of us have
> been saying re science policy and the science community working to
> a common end.
>         In the November/December 1995 issue of an American magazine (the
> actual source was not indicated on the copy of the article of interest),
> Rep. George E. Brown, Jr. has a short piece entitled "Scientists and
> Engineers as Political Advocates".  George Brown is the ranking Democrat
> member of Congress from California, and the former chair of the House
> Science Committee.
>         The article is written with the American situation in mind, but the
> words apply equally as well to Canada.  Specific relevant quotes are
> provided below:
>         "Under federal budget procedure, science funding is lumped together
> with housing subsidies, prison construction, veterans benefits, dam and
> waterway maintenance, and a hundresd other items that fall into the budget's
> 'discretionary' pot of programs that must compete annually for funding.
> Science is at a disadvantage in this situation because its benefits are
> uncertain, unquantifiable, and long term.  

> And unlike the constituencies for
> these other discretionary programs, the science and engineering community
> does not have a history of strong political advocacy."

Because (contary to other professional communities and most
interset groups) scientific community is that Biblical
Kingdom which is doomed to fall because it divides itself
on antogonized parts through:

 (1) the "competition" of disciplines against one 
another. Example is the recent "realocation process" of 
tossing money between disciplinary panels at NSERC - "who is
more important". Of course, it can only lead to 
"me first" rope pulling and "take from him and give to
me" kindergarten.

 (2) inside the disciplines scientists are attacking
each other through the secretive (anonymous) peer review,
"the last bastion of slander and libel which is still
legal", as one of our colleagues recently said. 

No hope for scientists to achieve any gains externally
(more money from "them"), before these INTERNAL feods will 
be resolved or at least curbed to the point when a constructive 
COOPERATION (as opposed to a false ideology of "competition")
will become possible. 

Before trying to reconvince the government, scientists
first must reconvince THEIR OWN granting councils.  

>         "Researchers must not only do a better job of linking their work to
> a set of concrete national goals - of grounding that work in the present -
> but must also view their community as an integrated and politically
> sophisticated entity. 

> Otherwise, better organized interest groups will win
> the competition for sound government funding at both the federal and state
> levels."

The above explains why. Even lawyers (despite that their 
profession is by definition is based on the litigation
against each other) are much better organized as a guild
group than scientists.

>         "Splintered campaigns by narrowly defined scientific disciplines
> will not suffice.  Efforts that pit funding for basic research against
> technology development programs, for example, or biologists against
> chemists, will degrade the position of the entire R&D enterprise.  Without a
> unified message to government policy makers, federal money that used to fund
> high-energy physics facilities will be used instead to build high-security
> corrections facilities."

What a shame, that a Senator (apparently, not a scientist)
understands so well what we, scientists, don't want to see. 

>         "The idea is to make elected representatives who will be deciding
> the fate of federal R&D funding aware of the value of science and
> engineering efforts to the nation."

And as it stays now they will do much better job than
scientists. Places like NSERC, NIH need good accountants,
not more "stuff experts". (Should anyone requests I can
give more explanations why). 

>         Brown goes on to suggest several ways in which this can be done
> effectively:
> a) "..... to detail the short term impacts of unthinking cuts to government
> programs.  For instance, a little known fact is that the higher education
> community is one of the largest employment sectors in the nation ...."
> b) "The higher education community can also build awareness of its value by
> inviting elected officials to vist campuses and laboratories.  This will
> give researchers the opportunity to put abstract concepts into meaningful
> contexts and convey their excitement about their work and its implications."

Danger here that for the above reasons ("science as
competition"), such shows will be usurped by individual 
scientists and groups trying to sell THEIR goodies
instead of presenting common goals. For as long
as scientists are largely a flea market, rather than a 
community based on mutual respect and support, this is
what for the most part is likely to occur at such visits.
> c) "Inviting politicians to address groups of scientists and engineers is
> another effective educational and political advocacy tool that is not 
> lobbying."

OK, that's good, though it is likely rather difficult to 
achieve on a case by case basis. We are a low priority item
for the polititians and it's tough to convince them to 
spend time on us, or even show up on campus.   

>         "Whatever the specific approach to educating the political system
> about the value of stable science and technology funding - and the above
> suggestions are just a start - the research community must stress pragmatic
> and short term returns on our R&D investment rather than the loftier goals
> of expanding human understanding.  Given the pressures on legislators to
> address practical issues in the here and now, researchers' long neglected
> dialogue with the political system must first focus on more immediate concerns."

OK, this is not what many would like to see (esp. 
basic scientists), but this at least gives some start
to try. It may be about the shortest path for a
chance to re-assemble scientics as a common-goal COMMUNITY
and on that plane we probaly can even expect some coopertaion
from polititians. I would therefore suggest try to play 
a short range/pragmatic fiddle, to begin with. Win at least 
this game and build through this a cohesiveness of the 
research community. THEN import of "basic science"
and long- rangeism has much better chance to succeed.    

> a) I fully appreciate that Canada should develop its own approach, but it
> must be clearly understood that Canadian politicans take note of trends and
> thinking in the U.S.
> b) This article is one of the clearest calls that I have seen for the
> professional societies to really work together in defining goals, messages
> and in coordinating the approaches to government.
> c) If anything, the Canadian science and engineering community has even
> further to go than their American counterparts due to the relative lack of
> sustained advocacy in Ottawa and the provincial capitals.
> d) The government is not going to provide the means to bring the Canadian
> science and engineering community to work more effectively together - we
> must do it on our own!  And I would suggest that the time remaining to do so
> is becoming shorter and shorter.

Excellent, esp. point d). Change should start at NSERC, NIH, etc
NOT in finance ministry (they have nothing to offer, anyway) and
likely not even with politicians - they are not going to 
understand much of what we are saying for as long as we choose
to remain internally divided. 

>         Comments?  Reactions?  Suggestions?  Please send them along.  And
> please share this note with as many colleagues as possible.  Thanks and Cheers!
> Paul
> Paul Hough
> Executive Director, CFBS
> tel:  (613)  225-8889
> fax: (613)  225-9621
> e-mail:  cfbssp at

More information about the Bioforum mailing list