Funding: Alex's NY message

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Sat Dec 30 12:39:48 EST 1995

Dear Louis (Ferland), Bert (Gold), Keith (Robison),
Bill (Tivol), Greg (Harriman), Kathy (?) and all 
other colleagues participating in funding discussion:
(sincere apologies to those names omitted)

I think that we (scientists) often try too hard
to crash through an open door. My persistence in
continuing these postings at bioforum (the only
relevant e-newsgroup I know of), despite that I am
not a member of 'biomedical research community'
was largely driven by my firm belief that, despite
all the harsh words and rethorics (often overplayed,
and over-zealous - I admit part of the guilt), we (or 
at least most of us) do share the common fundamentals 
and, in fact, we largely argee on more than it may 
appear at first sight: (disagreemnt and disputation
is a part of our vocations as sciensts, after all).

Let me suggest a 'minimal package' which I believe
can (and should) be further iterated to make
it agreable to all but perhaps few 'me first' bigots.

I believe, that we reasonably agree on the following:  

1) that the overwhelming majority of us are highly
intelligent, dedicated, sophisticatedly and expensively 
trained creative and productive people who are motivated
by noble goals and almost invariably have capacity
and ability to identify and ACCOMPLISH original and
important research projects,

2) that despite that no system can make all people 
equally happy, and some tensions in funding distribution
are inevitable, it is pointless and harmful to call the 
whole process "Funding Selectivity", as it implies that
SIGNIFICANT fraction of us must be de-selected. An example 
of this fallacy is Canadian NSERC's term "GSC" (Grant
 SELECTION Committee). We all understand that funding is
not automatic and isolated cases of non-funding are bound
to occure, but we should drop the notion of "selectivity'
as guiding PRINCIPLE.
(same as failures on PhD exams/defences are inevitable, 
but yet we don't call PhD examination committees "Future 
Doctor of Philosophy SELECTION Committee").

3) That the juxtopposition of the 'funding system'
and 'us' (grantees) is largely rethorical, as 
'funding system' belongs to us and operated largely
by us (despite that some undesirable political 
interfering does occur), and it is up to us to 
improve it, or let it deteriorate further.

4) That it is not exclusively (and likely not 
even primarily) is a matter of 'not enough money' 
and a lot of improvement can be done BY US, regardless 
of the overall money situation (and such 'internal'
improvement with likely STRENGTHEN our leverage in 
the overall budget negotiations), 

5) that the Peer Review is a needed part of our operations,
but as far as the funding process is concerned, it need to 
be accounted for its inherenet uncertainty in a much more 
robust and impartial way that the current system usually 
provides (for instance, in case of mixed reports some 
funding should be provided on a sliding scale, or whatever 
scheme can be devised for this - and this should not be 
confused with assigning 'funding welfare').

These are the points I can think of reflecting on
recent postings. As Bert Gold noticed yesterday we 
need a program to agree upon to initiate the actual 

For all (and contrary to what may appear at first 
glance), the overdue reforms are NOT really that 
radical - what they call for is simply a better 
expressed respect of members of our community to 
each other.

I recently thought on the following 'paradox': why memebrs 
of several other highly visible interest groups have
recently gained singificant, if not admirable, social 
concessions in their positioning in our society - something
which we (scientists) seem to be unable to do with our own
cause and only let more and more kicks fall on us.
(And by all means we are not a group who seems to be
intelectually inferior to others !). So, what is our
problem ?

My brief answer to this 'paradox' is that members of
other interest groups have RESPECT TO EACH OTHER, while
we often (not always, of couse), have quite a shortage
of it. They (people from other groups) do not normally
write secretive reports on each other in order to knock
them out as competitors. They don't trim their data in
order to look more 'fundable' and don't (mis)use 
confidential information from grant applications, etc 
... (again, I don't want you to think I am saying we all 
do this, but our community is undeniably has more
problems on this side than other groups likely to have).

And above all, for them (members of other special 
groups) their common goals are much more important than
their personal interests. This is where we (scientists) 
have still a bit of homework to do. But taking into 
account our traditional (not fictional, I hope !) capacity 
to intellectually identify and SOLVE often very difficult
problems, I have little doubt that we CAN do it, if we put 
our will and commitment to it.

Wish you all happy and prosperous New Year.

Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546



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