Basic Funding: to Keith Robison
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Mon Dec 11 13:33:00 EST 1995
On 11 Dec 1995, Keith Robison wrote:
> Alexander Berezin (berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA) wrote:
> : "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.
> Hardly. Econ 101 says that if the granting agencies pay
> for them, the result will be an increase in the number
> of applicants.
No, not in the case Geoffrey Hunter and I are discussing.
We are NOT talking about the universal funding to "all
people with 'good ideas'". Perhaps, the key misuderstanding
here is that people somehow believe that we advoacting
"research for all" in the utopic environment (somebody
even wrote an article to this effect).
This is clearly not the case. What we are talking about
is related to the professional group of PhD scientists who
are hired by the accredited universities on tenure (or tenure
track) positions through the highly competitive and selective
process. They are thus HIRED to do teaching AND research and
to deny them any oprerating funds is equivalent to hire surgeon
to a hospithal and deny him tools to perform the operations.
This is an unexcusable and stupid waste of resources, not
talking about determental social aspects such as on the
ethics, esp. of younger generation of scientists, many of
whom find themselves unneeded and see their years of hard
and expensive training going to tubes.
> This might not be a bad thing in the
> name of science (more scientists being funded to do
> basic research), but it will drive up the sum of such
> funding significantly. Since almost all research
> funding is a zero-sum game (either the assets of the
> private funds or what the pols are willing to budget),
> ultimately you must raise the bar (i.e. stricter
> review standards), randomly deny applicants,
> or cut down the allotments per researcher.
Glad that you mentioned the latter. This is actually the
prime reason why ideas like sliding scale are fiercely opposed
and the "selectivity" model is insisted upon. If the system
will provide small grants to many more (who are presently
unfunded) it will soon become evident that many of them can
do a lot of good research on small budgets. People on
small budgets are very careful how they spend their money.
Dollar yield of many modeslty funded groups and researchers
can easily turn out to be much higher than of many big shots
grantsmanship mandarins of the present fund-controlling
"establshement". Therefore, a (mass) demonstartion that you
can do well on much smaller funds will quickly erode their
power base (they are not using their own money but taxpayers').
Therefore, the elite is keep insisting on the premiss:
"let's better keep well funded only the 'best' ('most
competitive') researchers [ ourselves ] and cut all the
Nothing will change untill this philosophy is defeated,
and of course it can only be done with political will
from the outside (not from within the present funding
> The idea of each institution guaranteeing such funding
> is a worthy one, but produces a question: Why haven't
> faculty demanded such things in labor negotiations?
Here you touch the theme which I already discussed in
one of my presvious postings, namely "why faculty don't
demand ... (the changes; whatever... ) ... ?"
The answer to that (and I am not claiming here the
originality, it is in several recent books) is that
(university) scientists as a professional group ("trade
guild") is one of the most disorganized in the world.
Plus scientists (paradoxically !) as a group have
one of the lowerest level of self-esteem. This is
an inherent part of our lot which comes from the fact
that any good scientist always have a lot of doubts,
almost never completely sure that he/she on the
right track, etc. In short, there is an inherent
deeply ingranted professional inferiority complex
described elsewhere. Add to this the fact that we are
splitted by the intenal feods of competition, professional
jealosy, peer review, fight for funds, fight for "me"
directions, etc (recall the recent battles around the
Superconducting Supercollider). So, how do you can expect
from such a divided bunch of people strong united actions ?
Even real estate agents can perhaps do better as a
professional guild than scientists.
I must admit though that the (perhaps the first ?)
encouraging example was shown recently by the
faculty strike at the University of Manitoba on the
issue of the abolishing tenure (Admisistaration backed
up by the provincial government pushed for this). I have
not seen conclusive reports on the results, but from
what I have read it looks like profs were (at least
particlly) on a winning side. (perhaps our colleagues
from Manitoba can clarify more on the results).
> Keith Robison
> Harvard University
> Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology
> Department of Genetics / HHMI
> robison at mito.harvard.edu
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