Funding: to Sami Kohan

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Fri Dec 29 23:12:33 EST 1995

Comments to Sami Kohan posting.
Alex Berezin

On 30 Dec 1995, Sami Kohan wrote:

> In article <4bv270$135n at> Bert Gold, bgold at
> writes:
> >
> Perhaps. Being an undergrad that plans to make a career of research, I
> can't comment on availability of funds etc, but I hope to provide a
> somewhat outside view.
> a. When was the last time more central control provide better results. If
> so, the Soviet Union or our major urban public school system our to be
> paradise.  Entitlements are only going to insure that many bad labs get
> more funding than they need. 

The above is likely a misunderstanding. What we are advocating
(basic grants on a sliding scale, more openness of the process and
[ gradual ]  transition to a formula 'fund researchers, not 
proposals') has nothing to do with cental control. On the
contrary, it will give researchers more indepandence, hence
enhance [ not reduce ] 'decentarlization'. Will funds come
from (nominally) one agency or several is largely irrelevant.

> b. What is the point of tenure in science? At my university you can see
> many profs who have barely functional labs that don't do much but take up
> space and money that could be used for younger investigators. In any
> place other than academia they would have been fired or forced to lay-off
> long ago.
The issue of tenure is too complicated and multi-sided to be
adequately explaied in a few words. Problem many people have
about tenure is that they try to 'explain it out' in the analogies
of other types of employment (in business corporations, etc),
forgetting that academic tenure is the institution belonging
to the UNIVERS-ities, where the notiion of 'usefulness' is
radically different from (most) non-university settings.

What is the usefulness of a professional philosopher in industrial
corporation ? - and yet will you advocate abolishing of philosiphy 
departments from the univeristies ? (despite thier almost total 
utilitarian 'uselessness' in the eyes of many, perhaps even
the majority). 

> c. Why is competetion necessarily bad? Granted it makes life for
> scientist harder but can you imagine another system where the
> consumers(namely the public and congress) could get more bang for their
> buck? 
> e. Instead of having grant proposals based on what you plan to do(which
> is how I understand things are done now, but I could be wrong on this
> point) why not have it reviewed on the totality of your work in the last
> funding period? 

Points c. d. : see my other posting with 2 articles

> f. Given the fact that it is unreasonable to expect exponential growth of
> Federal R&D money, isn't it true that any changes anyone here suggest,
> would only have modest effects?
We are now in a transition from exponential phase to a
steady state (almost constant level of reseearch manpower
and expenses). See on this an excellent book:
John Ziman "Prometheus Bound (Science in a Steady State)", 
Cambridge Univ.Press, 1994. Your concerns (point f.) are 
explained there. Brief answer: changes in a Steady state 
can be very radical (not necessary 'modest effects'). 

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