Funding: to Tivol/Robison

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Dec 13 20:59:27 EST 1995

Word of correction - Alex Berezin

On 13 Dec 1995, William Tivol wrote:

> Keith Robison (robison at wrote:
> : : BEREZIN: 
> : : 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.  
> Dear Keith,
> 	You have hit on one reason I have suggested that additional monies
> over-and-above small basic grants should be connected to ideas (projects).

> The one disagreement Alex & I have is that he argues that those researchers
> with the best track records should get extra $$ regardless of what their
> projects are--just let them investigate where their minds and previous re-
> sults take them.


Dear Bill and Keith,

Whatever was said, but for the above passage I need to give
some correction. No, I am not necessarily stressing that 
"researchers with best track record should get extra $$ ...
regardless of the projects ...". I think the actual cost of the
the project does, of course, matter (some research is simply
much more expensive than the the other), but reward "good"
researchers with too much money is not what I am suggesting.

My prime concerns is at the lower end of the sliding scale.
This is where, due to the policy of "selectivity", many 
researchers end up been unfunded althogether (zero grants).
This is where the present scheme makes the greatest
distortion. When you talk about comparision of a step 
function with (whatever) smooth function, the comparison
looses any meaning whatsoever below the cut-off point of
a step-function (you can't meaningfully compare finite
values with zero).

What happens on the upper end should be capped 
(saturation). Actually, I would suggest as a first 
approximation funding scale like

F(x)  =  x/(1+x)  ,   where x  is some measure of

the impact parameter (ranked calibre of the researcher,
combined with the project importance assessment, etc).

Problem in advocating such (capped) scale is not so
much scientific, but largely psychological. Scientifically
good researcher will not become "better" if (after s/he
already has reasonable budget), the budget will be
increse even further. Yes, some bonus above average
(say 30 to 50 %), may be appropriate, but much beyound
this will actually be a DIS-SERVICE to the researcher.
Why ? 
More money means more people, more paper work, more
grantsmanship, more administartion and likely 
deterioration of research quality of this researcher.
(In my field I can give many examples of this effect).

Unfortunately, the above logic of restrain and
reasonablness is totally against the whole structure
of North American mentality, which always equates
the "best" with "more money". Correspondingly, if
somebody's results are really happen to be "good"
the next things happens is "give him even more 
money", and the whole process snowballs. I don't
think much will improve untill this effect is 
recognized and put under control.
{ This, by the way, was one of the reasons why I, 
despite all the complexity of PROs and CONs, on the 
ballance, felt satisfied when Suprcollider was cancelled
in October 1993. I think, it was one of the first 
(though indirect, and perhaps not clearly attributed
to it) indications that this effect has enterd the
picture (though, on the surface reasons, of course,
were presented very differently).
>  BTW there is a clear case where a line of research simply
> cannot be done--the superconducting super-collider.
> 	An intermediate position would be to fund core facilities for many
> researchers for lab animals and space shuttles, and then fund researchers
> according to track record.  I, myself, do my work within a biotechnological
> resource funded by NIH to be used by both in-house and outside researchers.
> Anyone with a project which requires our facilities can come and use them
> for free (of course, the researcher must pay travel and food/lodging costs,
> but we can do preliminary investigating before this to see if the project
> will be acceptibly served by the resource).

Shared funding is of course, the only viable option for
the future (coopreration instead of "competition"), however
the provision that each reasearcher maintains SMALL individual
budget (grant) is paramountly important for the maintaining
the integity of both research and, personally, THE researcher
(the second is even more important). Without this provision,
PI (Princ.Invest) will tend to take everything and turn the 
rest into serfs. (again, no shortage of observations). 

> 				Yours,
> 				Bill Tivol

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