Research and Money

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Thu Dec 28 17:46:25 EST 1995

(previous stuff deleted - A.Berezin)

On 28 Dec 1995, Gregory R. Harriman wrote:

>      Whether this is Orwellian or not, I don't care to speculate on. 
> However, if you place a strict limit on how much funding a researcher 
> is provided, you most definitely place limits (by definition) on their
> research activities. 

No, not at all. In many jurisdictions universities have caps
on the salary of their professors. It does not limit their
performance as researchers and teachers for as long as thier
salaries are reasonable. Same with research. I can't think 
of any physicist for whom $ 100,000 per year (Can) would not
be sufficeint. Of course, there are large scale projects,
but they are not run by individual professsors, always by

> Yes, the person might be able to make up for some of
> it by being more efficient and resourceful. Nonetheless, sooner 
> or later you reach a point where the absence of funds precludes

What do you mean - 'absence of funds' ? I am not talking
that you are unfunded, you have funding, just distribute
it more wisely in your terms (rearrange priorities, etc).
Again, talking about capping I assume that your grant is 
reasonable for your circumstances, and if you can't manage
on what you have - your problem. There is no really lifetime  
growth model in science - this is a myth sold by the 
establishement. In reality YOUNGER people need more money
at start, and older people need LESS money as they gain
experience and can (or at least should) compensate dollars
by accumulated wisdom. In practice, however, the system
works in preciesly the opposite way - older (often
already Emeretus) people have the highest grants, employ
(often exploite) the most people and impede the young. 
If this is not around you than you live in the Lost
Paradise Island, which you may, but it is highly 
exceptional and you are very lucky.   

> him/her from being able to do something
>like hire another technician 

Another good option: start working more yourself

> or buy additional lab supplies

Pool resources with colleagues, if needed. This is
called 'cooperation'. If THEY (YOUR colleagues)
don't care of your research then why ANY-one else
should ? Find project which will be on interest to
others, not just to yourself. 

> This is what Berezin wants to happen. 

Fortunately, it is not just me who advocate capping.
By the reasons I have explained, it will be a healthy 
development for all science (I am talking on the university
based science - I don't talk on R&D in companies) - it
will let many more university professors to conduct
useful reasearch with much less stress than now.

> He believes that scientists are either corrupt or 

This is unduly distrortion. I am not saying that all
shoppers are shoplifters, although some are (about 10 %).
How many (what percentage) of scientists are corrupt,
I don't know and leave guess for others, althogh recent
trends likely point to the increase of it.

Scientists' 'incompetence' is somewaht more complicated
issue. Virtually no scientist nowdays, getting all years
of training, PhD, etc can be truly 'incompetent'. Usually 
people try to lable as 'incompetent' those who risk to 
venture to some less known (for them or generally) areas
and depart from what is usually counted as a 'safe science'.

Almost all great scientists of the past where seen 
(temprarily or permanently) by their contemporaries 
as 'incompetent' if not the worse.

> Thus, they either can't be trusted to use the funds they 
> receive in an ethical manner or they are incapable of 
> supervising more than 2 or 3 people.

Trust and supervisiorship are two different issues.
I am not saying that giving a researcher more than he/she
needs (well over the cap) will necessary result in 
abuse of funds in unethical manner (was a report few
years ago of a prof who managed to pay appartment for
the mistress with grant money as research expence). More 
likely scenario is that these extra money will be allocated 
in low priority projects or items ('just to have money 
spend' - I have seen this quite a few times).   
>      Not only does this represent an extremely cynical 
> attitude about the majority of scientists, but it is
>  demonstrably wrong.  

Again, you say this on a premiss that I relate this
to 'majority of scientists', while I am not.

> With regard to the competence of scientists; somehow managers, 
> executives and leaders of all sorts are able to effectively 
> manage large groups of people. Are scientists inherently 
> inferior to those leaders and therefore unable to manage more 
> than 2-3 people?  

Science (contary to business corporations) in not 
vertical (hierarchical) structure. It largely consists
of independently working minds, even if they are grad
students and technicians. This makes your analogy 
irrelevant. Yes, I could admit in truly exceptional 
cases groups of perhaps 5 or 6 people, but Gaussian
average is 2-3 people, so group of 6 is about 
double sigma (you can find all this in literature). 

> That may be Berezin's experience, but there
> are a number of successful large laboratories which are 
> run by one scientist.  

Double sigma probability about 7 % (by memory, sorry,
if wrong), so you may be right for 5-6 people groups, but 
certainly not majority and never can be.

> The impression seems to be that Berezin doesn't want to give
> scientists the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. 

What 'abilities' ? In collecting more money than they need ?
Well, at least I would like a double check on this. 

> Before reading more statements about what scientists are not 
> capable of, it would be useful to see some documented data 
> (not isolated anecdotes, but scientific studies) which support the 
> position that scientists are unable to manage research groups of 
> more than 2-3 people or that scientists who publish
> more than 3-4 papers per year produce inferior papers in comparison to
> those who only publish 1-2 papers per year.

You seem to be unaware of recent literature on this.
I can recommend, for instance, journal "Science,
Technology and Human Values". 

> Greg Harriman

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