Funding and Orwell

Gregory R. Harriman gregoryh at
Thu Dec 28 13:35:37 EST 1995

In article
<Pine.SOL.3.91.951228101500.12206A-100000 at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>,
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA (Alexander Berezin) wrote:

> > > BEREZIN: 
> > > OK, there is a way to mediate the above offerings. Yes, multiple
> > > source funding scheme is better by a number of reasons, PROVIDED 
> > > there is a mechanism to control the TOTAL funding for a given
> > > researcher (group). At the moment, there is none and research 
> > > funding system works by the principle 'grab as much as you can'. 
> > > If sensible limitations on how much professor can responsibly
> > > do (researchwise) per year are accounted for, than the above 
> > > difficulties are largely solvable. I think, as average,
> > > responsible research production, will amount to
> > > around 2 to 4 papers per year (anything above 5 is either 
> > > exceptional or publish-perish treadmill). 
> > 
> > That's a new one! Are you really suggesting the government or some other 
> > system overlooking research funding should have not only the power but the 
> > duty to impose limitations on how much work a scientist is allowed to do? 
> > This is George Orwell revisited, especially with your wish for a 
> > POLITICAL will to administer such scientific limitation. You scare me!
> You misquote Orwell.
> If you bother to carefully reaD what was posted on this earlier,
> you will see that what was proposed is NOT to limit your work, 
> publications, creativity or range of activitires you can chose to be 
> involved in as a scienist. This is entirely up to you and has nothing 
> to do with Orwell. What I am saying though is that reasonable 
> limitations should be imposed on how much (public) MONEY should be 
> availbalbe to you to pursue your academic activities. Sorry, we live
> in a world of limited means and have to trim the appetites.
> You are encouraged to learn how to do more with less.

     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.  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 him/her from being
able to do something (like hire another technician or buy additional lab
supplies).  This is what Berezin wants to happen.  He believes that
scientists are either corrupt or incompetent.  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.

     Not only does this represent an extremely cynical attitude about the
majority of scientists, but it is demonstrably wrong.  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?  That may be Berezin's experience, but there
are a number of successful large laboratories which are run by one
scientist.  The impression seems to be that Berezin doesn't want to give
scientists the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.  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.

Greg Harriman

More information about the Bioforum mailing list