Funding & Congress: to Bert Gold

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Thu Dec 28 21:18:48 EST 1995

(some prev. stuff deleted: A.Berezin)

On 28 Dec 1995, Bert Gold wrote:

> Greg Harriman,
> I agree that Alex Berezin's arbitrary choice of 2-4 papers per year
> and an equal number of scientists to manage is misguided .....

OK, OK, I am ready to relax a bit on all these numbers in view 
of the encouraging fact that you (Dr. Bert Gold) correctly 
indentified the MAIN source of all your/our ( and 
most other sciences) problems, namely (quoting you):

> ...  that too few World War II generation scientists are taking 
> up too much of the pie, leaving their baby boomer progeny to suck 
> mud for a living ...

> And, incidentally, too few at the top of biomedicine, are
> sucking too much from too many.  

In short, you (we) have a system somewhat akin to Brezhnevian 
gerontocracy of Politbureau (at one particular year, forgot 
which, none of Politbureau members, 16 of them, were younger 
than 70). In science, of course, this is not entierely an age
or gerontocracy (there are some younger wolfs as well), but 
the principle of 'invereted pyramid' (more money -> more power 
of control -> even more money to the elite .....[ St.Matthew 
principle: take from the poor and give to the rich ]) is 
largely an unshakable/unquestionable foundation.  

The question is where (and how) to start REALLY doing
something about it (grantsmanship, PhD overproduction, etc).
Here, I am afraid, you are somewhat too optimistic in dismissing
Congress as 'ignoramus' and believing that we (
are better handle this ourselves. Yes, (theoretically) I would
prefer 'WE' do it rather 'THEY', but all the evidence shows that 
the system can't change itself from the inside (by about the 
same reasons as Brezhnev's gerontocarcy could not). 

Correspondingly, the only likely hope to achieve less 
draconian, more fair, open and equitable funding system, with 
lesser pressure to conveyorbelt more and more PhDs can 
come from political side - Congress that is (is USA case). 

Unfortunately, this likely means going through measures
which I proposed earlier (or, rather, re-iterated earlier 
proposals of many other people): legislative capping of the 
total reserach funding per professor, disengagement of 
graduate students' stipends and posdocs salaries
from professors (should be employers of the University
directly, not through particular prof), no matter how 
unpopular these measures can appear to some (or even many).

Without these measures first taken, all the pleas to the 
Congress to 'give us more money and leave us alone' are 
pointless - they will not grant either.     

To summarize, your (biomedical community) PRIME problem
is money DISTRIBUTION system, not the total amount. 

> I don't need any detailed
> studies to figure this out.  My EMAIL box is filled with
> horror stories every day!

If so, you are in a very good position to start public impact
group of concerned scientists to initiate change. No change is
possible unless some critical mass of people's committment
is accumulated. I certainly would like to see it on a wider
basis of all academic research involved, not just biomedical.

Much more wider Internet groups (not just bioforum) are due,
plus perhaps some printed periodicals (bulletin ?).   
"Their" tactics undoubtedly will be 'divide and conquer", e.g.
to prevent common actions 'NIH/MRC' and 'NSF/NSERC' communities 
to weaken the common case.

> Bert Gold, Ph.D.
> University of California,
> San Francisco
> School of Medicine
> Program in Medical Genetics
> Department of Pediatrics
> > 

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