Research and Money

Gregory R. Harriman gregoryh at
Sat Dec 30 17:42:21 EST 1995

In article
<Pine.SOL.3.91.951228162833.11587A-100000 at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>,
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA (Alexander Berezin) wrote:

> 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
> teams. 

     As we have discussed before but you conveniently ignore, biomedical
research (even performed on a small scale by single investigators)
frequently involves extraordinary expenses not usually found in other
areas of research.  Just the costs of maintaining a "knock-out" colony of
mice can run thousands of $ per month.  It would be helpful in these
discussions if you realized that some fields of research by their nature
cost more to accomplish than others.  

     I suspect $100,000 per year for a physicist (especially a theoretical
physicist) might be a very generous amount of money, since his/her only
expense would be a salary.  However, in biomedical research you have to
cover not only your salary, but also a technician's salary, laboratory
supplies, equipment, animal housing charges, etc.  $100,000 doesn't go
very far under those circumstances.  Again, we're not talking about large
laboratories with many graduate students, post-docs, etc.

     How many times do we have to go over the same points?  If you want to
argue that society shouldn't spend as much money on biomedical research as
it does, fine!  Let's argue that.  But don't keep recommending the same,
totally arbitrary, limits on the amount of funding for a theoretical
physicist as a biomedical researcher.  And don't make it sound like
biomedical researchers are greedy, just because their research costs more
to perform than some other fields.

stuff deleted.

> > him/her from being able to do something
> >like hire another technician 
> Another good option: start working more yourself

     Considering I was working over the Christmas holidays and routinely
work long hours during the week and most weekends, I'll try not to be too
insulted by this patronizing comment.  One can't help but wonder why you,
a physicist, spend so much time posting to the bionet newsgroups. 
Frequently in biomedical research, it is necessary to hire technicians to
perform certain tasks, eg. maintaining animal colonies, etc.  Perhaps as a
theoretical physicist, where no experimentation is involved, such concepts
are irrelevant.  However, biomedical research is an empirical science.

stuff deleted.

> > 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).

     I disagree.  While individual efforts by scientists are per se
independent, modern biomedical science is becoming more and more
integrated.  You, yourself, have made the point about scientists working
together more.  As a consequence, higher levels of structure and
organization are occurring in the realm of biomedical research.  Look at
examples, such as the human genome project, and look at the biomedical
research that goes on in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. 
Obviously, someone (a scientist perhaps) has to lead such groups. 
Ironically, individual biomedical scientists are finding it harder to
compete because they are often up against such large groups of scientists.

stuff deleted.

> > 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". 

     Thanks for your helpful recommendation.  Would you care to give me
any specific references?   I guess I could just start reading through the
issues of that journal, given all the free time you presume that I have. 
I'd still like to see some evidence for your assertion that scientists
can't manage more than a couple of people.

Greg Harriman

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