Basic Funding: to Keith Robison

Keith Robison robison at
Mon Dec 11 15:38:08 EST 1995

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.

: > 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?

: 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.

: 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.  

Keith Robison
Harvard University
Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology
Department of Genetics / HHMI

robison at 

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