Funding: to Keith Robison

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Tue Dec 12 13:35:07 EST 1995

On 11 Dec 1995, Keith Robison wrote:

> Alexander Berezin (berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA) wrote:
> : 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.
> : (ROBISON): 
> : > 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).

> Out of curiosity, how will you determine which institutions
> are eligible for such funding? Is Rockefeller University?
> (no undergrads)  The Institute for Genomic Research
> (non-profit, no students).  The Instutite for Creation Research?

There are many ways to do it in a much more robust way
than it is done now (read, e.g. Rostum Roy's proposals). And 
places like Creation Research Institute won't score much, so your 
worries are ungrounded. Present process, no matter, what arguments
you present in its favor is self-referential, something which is 
already well funded keeps proliferating itself by re-stating itself 
the best. Glorious Lables like "Rockefeller University", 
"Harvard" (or whatever) are no longer a guarantee of content and 
in pubic eyes they much of former allure is getting deemer (same 
as already is happening quicky with physics - read recent Amer.Phys.
Society News).      

> : 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 operating funds is equivalent to hire surgeon 
> : to a hospital and deny him tools to perform the operations. 

> My point exactly.  Universities hire researchers, and any social
> contract to fund said researchers falls on them.  It is very
> hard to justify (particularly in the current political climate)
> the creation of entitlement funding for researchers -- which 
> like it or not, is what you are proposing.

I am sorry, your "right" on funding entitlement is in
no way superior than mine. And if you say that "it is
very hard to justify funding entitlement" the best
argument from your side is to volunteer yourself out.
Others may likely follow your lead.  

> : 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. 

> Of course (I happen be one such person).  But, it also means a lot
> of work can simply not be done.  Some lines of research have real
> costs associated with them -- lab animals, reagents, rockets to
> the moon, etc.  It may be a worthwhile tradeoff, but to dismiss
> it out-of-hand (as you have done repeatedly) is intellectually
> either naive or dishonest.  

I some way I agree with you on the above. I also for years
do a lot of (well cited) work on a very small budget and in a 
long run will likely to see it as a blessing in my career - I can't 
imagine publishing many of my recent original papers if I will 
be running a big gransmanship enterprise like some of my 
colleagues do. We have people with many hunderd papers, with
groups with dozens of people, but when I asked some of their
PhD (!) students "what you boss did discover ?" none could
say anything sensible (in short, about-to-graduate PhD student
does not know what his/her boss really discovered).   

I think the message of the present reality is clear - we have 
to keep doing our best on the (much) lesser money (and human)
resources, like it or not. Time of Big Science has gone and
clinging to 1960s nostalgia serves no good purpose now,
By accusing me in intellectual dishonesty (or naivity)
you simply try to say that the present mode of doing 
things - fierce "competition", grantsmaship, etc is here
to stay and, anyway, it is the best we can have. I am sorry
to disagree decisively - I certainly don't expect to convince
you on that, but the near future will make my points much
clearer. And people who have prepared themselves to run on
small budgets will be in the position of Darwinian advantgae. 
Good luck with adjustments.      

Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546
> Keith Robison
> Harvard University
> Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology
> Department of Genetics / HHMI
> robison at 

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