RESEARCH $$$: Reply to Diane Peapus

William Tivol tivol at
Thu Jun 22 16:01:26 EST 1995

Dear Kathy,

U27111 at wrote:

: I have to agree with Mr. Berezin... but only up to a certain point.

: The problem does indeed fall within the scientific community to
: move towards more of a cooperation attitude rather than one of
: competition.

: However, just as futile as fighting funding cuts is - so is the
: possibility that this community will 'clean it's own house' and on
: it's 'own terms'... this is grossly unrealistic.

	IMHO the scientific community--like every other--consists of both hon-
est and dishonest members.  If you go only by the behavior of those whose
houses are unclean, then it is grossly unrealistic to expect this community to
clean itself up.  However, when the honest members realize that the alterna-
tive is more government micromamagement (in the guise of "greater account-
ability"), then there is the possibility for constructive change.

: Why?

: 1.   There is too much politics, fraud, greed and egos within the
:      community to allow such changes:

	Unfortunately, there is too much PFG&E within most communities.  On a
more positive note, there are often leaders who can rise above these petty
difficulties, and we need to recognize and elect/appoint them.  Anyone who
thinks through the funding and leadership problems will come to the conclusion
that getting our house in order will be of collective benefit, so there should
be a lot of grass-roots support for this.  All that is needed is someone to
tap that support.

: ...the beginning of the Gold Rush in
: Biotechnologies at least, until present; which has left the
: community with the majority of people in positions of power who
: places politics and greed above the pursuit of scientific truths.

	There have been such people in power for a long time before 1980.  Such
people will always be in power to a certain extent.  The real problem is not to
eliminate them, but to have a counter-balance to mitigate their policies.

: 2.   You are also talking about a field which is extremely
:      apathetic and only care about the self-created dream worlds of
:      their own individual ivory towers:

	That's why we need honest leaders.  The arguments in favor of the kinds
of changes being proposed in this thread are fairly clear-cut--it doesn't take
a rocket scientist to appreciate them.  :-)  After a few years of seeing the
"reasons" some study sections use to downgrade some proposals and seeing what
gets funded instead, most researchers would be willing to support changes which
benefit the whole scientific field.

: No, I'm sorry, but I really think the only help in making the
: situation any better will have to come from the outside of the
: research community... ie. the federal government.

	And you thought a 50-page grant application was long!  By the time the
federal government gets finished with new rules, even more time will be spent
writing grants than is now the case.  I don't thing fighting politics with pol-
itics is the right answer.

: And the first thing they should do... is make biological/medical
: research a 'certified' field.  Require that only 'accredited'
: research labs with 'certified' techs would be allowed to compete
: for funding.

	Certification without politics?  I don't think so.  What of the smaller
colleges?  Are they all going to be certified (I hope so--they shouldn't be
discriminated against on the basis of size)?  Do you really think that the big
boys will somehow fail to be certified?  Is this to be at the federal or state
level--where colleges are accredited?  If one bad researcher is discovered, 
what do you propose for the rest of the labs in the institution?  If these 
kinds of question are not thoroughly thought out, the cure is likely to be
worse than the disease.

: ... no more of the 'who you know' rather than 'what you
: know' attitude of funding as we have today.

	One thing wrong with Alexander Berezin's suggestion to fund researchers
rather than proposals is that it is succeptible to the "who you know" problem.
Ideas are the entities which need to be funded.  IMHO, anyone with a good 
enough idea and a clearly presented procedure for testing the idea deserves a
shot--"what you know."

: ... the field would then be small enough to fund all
: of the 'best' researchers.

	Actually, the field would probably expand in good times and shrink in
bad times, so when budgets decrease, some of the "best" would not be funded.

: I can tell you right now that this notion of yours about
: "technically excellent work [being] unimportant in the long run" is
: flat out wrong!

	You and I agree.  I have to think Alexander really means that work
*perceived by contemporaries* to be technically excellent is often unimportant.
Also, not all important work is pooh-poohed by contemporaries.

: And most breakthrough work of the past (in the biotechnologies at
: least) have all been mostly by accident.

	Well, the study of that peculiar enzyme system in the obscure group of
micro-organisms wasn't really an accident.  The fact that the enzymes have a
practical application or two wasn't predicted, but the endonucleases were se-
lected because they were interesting.

: But, in the past, we also had ethical people who actually
: documented what they did (and actually did the experiments as
: well)... so that the accident could be repeated and thus
: breakthroughs eventually made.

: We also had people who cared and attempted to understand what it
: was they were doing.

: This is not so today...

	Here I disagree.  I think most scientists are ethical, document their
work and care about understanding.  Just as you will never see a headline
"Tourest Visits Florida; Car Not Highjacked!," you will not read about the
experiments which were not faked, etc.

: and one would think with all the sloppiness
: which goes on - we should have had millions of breakthroughs by
: now... instead of millions of 'presented' breakthroughs, which are
: really just not so.

	Sloppiness is a problem--especially where "publish or perish" pressures
lead to a preferrence for quantity over quality.

: Instead, what we have is a new science of the 90's; where the
: scientific process is so grossly abused - it's very difficult to
: tell exactly what is 'true' anymore.

	Except for the cheats, it is not all that difficult to read the litera-
ture and judge which studies are well done and which are not.
				Bill Tivol

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