Basic Funding (reply to Bill Tivol)

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Fri Dec 8 19:29:12 EST 1995

Dear Bill,

I reply summarily to your last message for our exchange,
so the others can add if they wish.

It seems that we agree on the major item, namely that

"the basic grant of the order of 5-10 K$ should be a 
part of the package for the employing of any professor in
science and engineering. It should be subjected to only
a no-frill evidence of a continuing scholarly activity"

Who pays this basic grant (Geoffrey Hunter calles these,
still hypothetical, grants RBMG (Research Base Maintenance
Grants), funding agencies or universities distribute them
locally, is largely immaterial.

All build-ups over this scheme (how to apply for more, peer
review of proposals for "extra" funding, etc) are secondary
items and can be addressed after the RBMG are made reality.

For the rest, our disagreements (or not) are rather
metaphysical. Of course, we all know that Columbus made
it up for India and pushed for a smaller Earth (I am almost
certain, he new the right size) - this was his grantsmanship
trick to get through his "peer reviewers".

Cheers - Alex Berezin

On Fri, 8 Dec 1995, William Tivol wrote:

> Dear Alex,
> > In short the message is that good, well done proposals 
> > showed be given preferential funding. No, I don't believe
> > it is generally working any better than predicting that
> > the "nice looking girl will be the most happy one".
> > My next passage expalins more why not. 
> > 
> 	Although the nice looking girl may not be the happiest,
> one who takes care of one's appearance and shows respect for
> oneself probably is reasonably happy.  Thus a proposal which
> demonstrates that the researcher has thought through the ideas,
> identified those results which would test the hypothesis ade-
> quately, etc. is probably competant.
> > BEREZIN: Here the silent assumption that "clearly thought out
> > proposals" is somehow inherently better and/or have more
> > chance to bring the (promised) result than the "fuzzy"
> > proposals. I don't believe that the history of science
> > give any whatsoever confirmation to this.
> 	Since proposal writing is quite recent, I don't think
> that one can get evidence one way or another.  It is quite pos-
> sible that for every Leonardo DaVinci, who wrote out his ideas
> in full in his notebooks, there is an equally productive scien-
> tist who winged it.
> > Proposal game
> > rewards good writers, and this is not at all the same as
> > good dicsoverers.
> 	Granted (excuse the pun).  But good discoverers usually
> have a deep understanding of their field of study, and that will
> usually show up in the writing.
> > The "fuzzy" proposal (end on 15 century)
> > was "Sail to the West to find perhaps some land". It
> > worked pretty well althogh peer review would undoubtedly
> > defeat it.
> 	If for no other reason than that Columbus miscalculated
> the radius of the earth and reasoned that a westward sail to India
> was within the range of his ships.  He was wrong, and but for the
> unknown continent, he would have been dead wrong.  If you propose
> to fund those explorers lucky enough to stumble on unknown and
> unexpected discoveries, I would strongly disagree.  In fact, Col-
> umbus never got to India, so it is not at all clear that his sail
> "worked pretty well"; it was the work of later explorers which
> provided all the returns.
> >       
> > But certainly not in basic sciences. Here, unless
> > there are some warning signes (like misconduct, etc)
> > a competent and active researcher should be given some
> > funds to carry whatever he/she believes is important. Period.
> 	We agree here, and a minimal grant ($5K-$10K) should be
> a part of *every* research appointment.  If there is misconduct,
> the researcher should be disciplined, and if the misconduct is
> serious (s)he should be terminated, but until termination (s)he
> should still be funded.
> > No proposals are necessary at all (except of 1 page
> > for filing purposes, NOT for its "evaluation").
> 	For the minimal grant, only the CV and broad research
> interests need to be filed.
> > Evaluate
> > the RESULTS this researches has ACTUALLY  deliverd in the 
> > prior funding term, not the PROMISES s/he makes. You are not 
> > requesting a surgeon to apply every time for the funding to
> > get his/her tools to perform an emegency sugrery.
> 	But we *do* ask for this when a surgeon asks for an
> expensive piece of specialized equipment or for a commitment
> of a large amount of time from others.
> > But this 
> > is what proposal-based funding scheme requires from scientists.
> > With the present NSF/NSERC/NIH, etc scheme things will just
> > keep going progressively worse unless the fundamental principle 
> > "Fund Researchers, Not Proposals" (FRNP) will be reinstated. 
> > 
> 	Certainly if the present all-or-nothing NSERC system con-
> tinues.  I still think that FRNP can devolve to who-you-know with
> the political in-group grabbing most of the money.
> > Summation process can be worked out sensibly only AFTER
> > the need to return to the FRNP principle is passed.
> > Then several schemes can be explored for the optimization.
> >  
> 	Summation requires both researcher review and proposal
> review (since I applied it to bicameral review).  Perhaps FR&P.
> > I am sorry, I may be hypersensitive. But I unlikely
> > will come again for a party to a house where they have a 
> > habit of checking pockets of the departing guests for 
> > the silverware. No, thanks, not for me.
> 	If there is a need to check the departing guests for
> the silverware, that implies that some silverware must be
> missing.  I think that evaluating authorless proposals falls
> in a different catagory.  I have heard expressions such as
> "Well, this doesn't seem to make sense, but I know Dr. So-and-
> so's lab, and he probably can find a way to make it work."
> This faith in Dr. So-and-so may only indicate that (s)he hires
> creative postdocs, since most of the big-wigs do little of the
> actual lab work.  Maybe it is right to fund those who provide
> a creative atmosphere for others, but it is better to fund the
> post-docs directly and trust them to find the creative labs.
> > 
> > I strongly believe that the personality of the researcher
> > makes the difference.
> 	Yes, but not the part of the personality which gets
> large grants.  I do not fault the idea of funding everybody
> with a good track record as long as that does not lead to a
> situation where those without a good track record (or any
> track record) cannot get funded for good ideas.
> > I am quite sceptical about the
> > idea of "objective truth" and more on a side of "interactive
> > Universe" (John Wheeler, Henry Stapp and others).
> 	Maybe this underlies some of our differences.  I believe
> in objective truth, but not (of course) our ability to perceive
> it.
> > If we truly agree on this all the above might be
> > just periferal misundersatnding on the verbalistics.  
> > If so, we almost have a deal.
> 	I'd say we definitely almost have a deal, but our
> one difference is not merely semantic.
> > 
> > So, I beleieve, reliable concusions on FRNP can
> > be made in 2 - 3 years, not decades. 
> > 
> 	In order to evaluate the impact of the published research,
> sufficient time must elapse to see how that research stimulates
> other discoveries.  The case of Mendel took decades before it 
> could be resolved; the jury was in more quickly on endonucleases.
> In a physics context, some of the discoveries of the late 19th
> century could not be explained until the development of quantum
> mechanics; whereas, the discovery of the neutron and the positron
> could quickly be recognized as important.  Thus a researcher who
> merely extends the same basic project to another system may not
> be making a great contribution, but if not for the profusion of
> spectral measurements, Bohr would not have had the data on which
> to base his atomic model.
> > "Not enough money" is the #1 complain for the last 6000 years.
> > Of course, THEY (researchers) can say this. But resaerch is
> > not a bridge construction where no contructor will take to job
> > if the estimated cost is 5 millions and he is given 
> > only 2 millions. In research you have options and priorities.
> > "Less money than I need" means that you have to cut down
> > on lesser high priorities and the OVERALL quality is likely
> > to increase, not decrease (as all will be doing just the
> > best priority). Due to this effect ("funding paradox")
> > LESS money will means BETTER quality science. (Hope, this
> > is undersatndabel argument for the politicians).     
> >     
> 	A good argument.  Be careful, however, because if some
> funding cuts are good, many politicians will argue that more
> will be even better.  By all means, argue that tight budgets
> stimulate better consideration of priorities and lead to more
> discoveries, but be sure to make the point that the optimum
> is much greater than zero.
> >   "Improving science quality by cutting the budget" is
> > an excellent recommendation to sell to the politicians.
> > They should like it.
> > 
> 	I'd emphasize the savings from efficiencies in
> administration and from the idea that the existance of
> continued funding will avoid spending money unnecessarily
> now because it might disappear next year.
> 				Yours.
> 				Bill Tivol

More information about the Bioforum mailing list