More $ for research ?

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Mon Jun 12 20:59:34 EST 1995


Dear Dr. Burton:

Of course, I agree with what you say about the public image of
science. However, I strongly believe that the prime guilt for
this is OURS, not the "public" or the politicians. We can't
too much succeed in promoting our cause unless we do 
something truly serious to mitigate the internal warfare
scientists carry over each other in the form of (unnecessary
brutal) funding competition, and amaizingly hostile 
(especially in recent years) anonymous peer review.
The latter done by us, not by public or politicians.
 
"No knigdom on war with itself with withstand". What PUBLIC
sees about us are the numerous cases of fraud, like recent
involving Baltimore, Imanishi-Kari and many others.
It is not my area, I am simply a unit of public as far as
this case is concerned - and this is what I see by surfing
the press. I don't really that care who have stolen from
whom (or what was stolen, if anything) in this particular
case, but cases like this make the best "advertisement"
of our public image.

Somebody just recommended over the Internet a new book
by Robert N.Proctor CANCER WARS about the US Cancer
establishement. I have not seen it, so can't really comment,
but won't be surprised if it something of that kind,
about the utterly unhealthy atmosphere which WE 
(scientists) have created for ourselves. Yes, of course,
"other factors" contributed too, but no-one ever made
a strong case by shifting the blame.  

Unless we stop (or at least significantly slow down)
the internal grantsmanship wars, we have very little
chance to improve our image and social lot, neither,
I believe, we deserve it should we fail to move  - at
least this is a common impression of most outsiders
of the so called public.

In physics, I can give you also quite long list of
the same effect - enough to mention (completely
undeserved, in my opinion) witch-hunt treatment which
Pons and Fleishmann have received for daring to
announce something (cold fusion) at odds with the
common paradigm (and the intersts of "hot fusion" 
establishment).      

Before we will work out OURSELVES (if we manage to
do it - and I am far from sure that we will) more 
equitable and respectful ways to treat EACH OTHER 
inside our community of scientists, I see little 
point to fight for "more money" from taxpayers.
More money for whom ? In the present system this
only can mean that the research underclass is lured
to fight for more money for some (already privileged)
patricians.

Your truly - Alex Berezin  

On Mon, 12 Jun 1995, Zachary Burton wrote:

> Dear Dr. Berezin,
>     Thank you for your note.  I believe that you are correct in stating that
> funding is more limited for physicists than for biological scientists.  In
> today's world, however, hard times are falling on us all.  I hope that we can
> publicize our plight, so that hopefully the public will begin to support us at
> reasonable levels.  Governments seem to think that if they have supported a
> scientist or two that that is enough.  But government takes the lead in
> science funding and how we are treated has consequences for education,
> industry, and our nation's souls.  It would be good if the public were more
> aware of science and more of a partner in discovery.  As things stand, the
> public appears to be only interested in immediate practical benefits of
> science.  Many of the benefits of science, however, are more nebulous and
> require a longer time to accrue.
> Best Regards,
> Zach Burton
> > > >
> Dear Dr. Burton: > > Thank you for your comments.
> Partial discepancies > in our views can be (to a large extent, I believe)
> > attributed to a significant difference
> > in funding systems in USA and Canada.
> >
> > In Canada the vast majority of professors in Science
> > and Engineering (NOT in medicine) are funded through
> > NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Reasearch
> > Council). Contrary to NIH, NSERC allows you to have
> > only ONE (individual) research grant. You can apply
> > for it only once per year and the grant (if awarded)
> > is, as a rule, for 4 years. Furthermore, you can NOT have
> > simulatneously individual and team grant and have to
> > chose to apply for only one of them. There are some
> > relatively small number of so called "collaborative"
> > and "strategic" grants, but they are not (in practice)
> > available for most of the people.
> >
> > During the period you held NSERC grant, regardless of
> > your progress, you can NOT apply for another grant
> > of for the increase of the current one.
> >
> > While for those who are at least awarded at a minimal
> > grant (average NSERC rgant is 27 K$ per year, about 22,000
> > US dollars), this situation is somewhat tolearble, but
> > for many those who are not awarded anything (NIL-awards)
> > the situation virtually means "salaried unemployment".
> >
> > Furtheremore, not having any NSERC grant gives people very
> > low chances to pursue industrical contracts (by several
> > reasons), cases of this happening are pretty rare.
> >
> > When you refer to NIH success rate of 20 % or so,
> > you, as I understand, mean the GRANT success rate. I.e.
> > if you file 5 applications you have very good
> > chances that at least one of them be awarded.
> >
> > This is NOT the case in NSERC. The current success
> > rate for NSERC grants is ca. 70 % , the figure which
> > often produces an envious reaction in USA colleagues,
> > BEFORE they realize that we don't have multiple grants
> > system in NSERC or (for the most part) alternative
> > funding channels.
> >
> > Success rate of 70 % in practice means that 1/3 of
> > ALL research active professors in Canada have no funding
> > whatsoever and, as I mentioned, for most profs no
> > alternative funding sources exist, at least in practice.
> > My university provides so called faculty allownces
> > which change from year to year and now are $ 1,100 per year
> > canadian (i.e. 2 US dollars per day !) - this is hardly
> > enough to cover long distance phone bills and photocopying.
> >
> > Moreover, our estimates show that singnificant number
> > of profs after few years of NIL-awards simply give up
> > applying and thus the above statistics is actually much
> > worse. So, it is not 1/3, but perhaps close to 1/2 who are
> > not funded. One of our collegues (chemistry) reports that
> > out of 21 faculities of chem.dept. only 4 have grants.
> >
> > And you should not think that those who are not funded
> > are always dead wood. Many are active and internationally
> > well known scientists. I don't know how this will appear
> > from the rankings
> > in your area by I, as a typical example of unfunded
> > professor, have 110 papers (3/4 singly authord) and
> > ca. 400 citations (without self-citations). And most
> > of my papers are published in the best PEER REVIEWED
> > journals like Physical Review, etc. Only my publication
> > and reprint costs amounts to several thousands per
> > year, which I have to pay from my personal money
> > (NOT tax deductable). My publication rate (3-4 papers
> > per year) may not appear outstanding, but it is
> > considerd as at least a solid average in my area
> > (theoretical physics with many interdisciplinary
> > connections). And yet I am considered a "dead wood"
> > from NSERC's point of view.
> >
> > Insanity of the situation of people like me is that
> > we only need sevearl thousands per year to have
> > efficient operations (say, $ 15,000 in case I have
> > a grad. student or 5,000 to 6,000 without). And yet,
> > the policy of NSERC is to DISCOURAGE applications
> > for small grants, correspondingly I have to
> > provide (totally faked, of course) budget of 3-4 times
> > what I actually need.
> >
> > Last year some of my colleagues (and myself) have
> > decided that enough is enough and have founded so
> > called CARRF (Canadian Association for Responsible
> > Research Funding) to address these matters in public.
> > We have published several (ca.10)
> > articles, letters [ one I have e-mailed you
> > yesterday ], and presently lobbing politicians.
> > (About 200 people expressed us their support,
> > including several who are WELL FUNDED). I hope,
> > I have explained rationel behind our activities.
> >
> > I trust that you find these clarifications useful.
> >
> > Yours truly - Alex Berezin
> > [ Assoc.Prof.]
> >
> 
> 



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