Funding: Berezin to Tivol (Dec26)

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Tue Dec 26 10:52:16 EST 1995

On Tue, 26 Dec 1995, William Tivol wrote:

> Dear Alex,
> > 
> > (TIVOL): 
> > > 	Like other basic research, much of medical research is not aimed at
> > > something which will directly benefit either the researcher or the patient.
> > 
> > Here I disagree. It researcher does "basic research" it is
> > BY DEFINITION "benefits him" (what, aftwer all is the definition
> > of "benefit" for a fundamental researcher - isn't it comes
> > by the "in the eyes of the beholder" rule ?).  
> > 
> 	True, the process of doing research benefits the researcher directly,
> but the *results* of the research may never be of benefit.  If I do research
> on cancer, for example, I will be paid, publish papers to add to my track re-
> cord, etc., all of which benefits me; however, I may never get cancer, so, as
> I said, the research "is not aimed at something" which will directly benefit
> me.  The point is that, since the benefits of the results of my research are
> to as yet unidentified members of the community, no identified beneficiary
> can be found to pay for the research, thus the community as a whole will make
> the decision that my research is (or is not) in the interest of the common
> good.  This is the rationale for having the government pay for research.

Largely agree. My prime concern here was unduely emphasis on
paper production and other grantsmanship tricks of the present 
reward system.

> > (TIVOL):
> > > Like building roads, performing basic research is a suitable collective
> > > (i.e., government) task. 
> > 
> > No, I don't buy the analogy. When you build a road, the traffic on
> > it starts the next day you bulid it. But when you presume that a piece 
> > of "basic research" will deliver a benefit (even in a long run), this is
> > an article of faith which may or may not come true (negaive end
> > is predominant). 
> > 

> 	It is not necessary that any one piece of research be of benefit; it
> is only necessary that the overall benefits exceed the costs.  
> In fact, trying to identify and/or target research to societal needs
> seems to be less efficient than letting researchers follow their own 
> course. 

I was always for a healthy ballance between 'targetted' and 'untagretted' 
resaerech (with all the retorical uncertainty often attached to these
terms). Being (mostly) 'fundamental' researcher myself, I am generally
rathar sceptical (if not cynic) of much of 'targeted' research (on
the basis of numerous observations).

The problem though is that for as long as the present research grant
systeem lacks the mechanism(s) to bracket (hedge) peer review and lacks
the degree of oppenness minimally needed for the process, it can't
achieve proper ballance between both categories and chaotically
(often hysterically) jumps from one extereme to the other. It is 
bound to continue in this mode unless the brick wall of APR (anonymous 
peer review) and fallacy of 'expert model' will be broken. 
Fortunately, more and more people beging to undersatnd that this
is the prime source of the problem (not "underfunding").  

> The drive to maximize the output of research is, in fact, the 
> philosophical justification for
> the competitive grant situation which you have rightly condemned.

Like most best intended philosophies it works to the opposite.
>  				Yours,
>  				Bill Tivol

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