Grantsmanship: Reply to Harriman

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Mon Nov 27 16:41:49 EST 1995

On 27 Nov 1995, Gregory R. Harriman wrote:

> One can't help but wonder whether Dr. Berezin reads what
> he has written or for that matter even knows what he has written. 
> He contradicts his position literally two sentences after claiming 
> that the "trend now is toward DE-skilling and DE-intellectualization" 
> when he says: " Fast advancing of the knowledge packaging happens 
> in many areas. Be your own doctor, lawyer or whomever getting more 
> and more familiar."  Obviously, to the extent that people want 
> to and do become more capable of performing tasks such as
> medically treating themselves or giving themselves legal
> advice, they must master new information or as Joe Teodora states
> "gradually becomes more educated".


Dear Dr. Harriman: 

Recent literature on theses issues (why there is NO contradiction 
between "de-skilling" and "packaging" notions, but rather they
are 2 sides of the same coin) is enormous. To give you just one,
rather early, reference:

V.V. Nalimov, "Faces of Science", ISI Press, 
Philadelphia, 1981.

If you won't get this book, a couple of hours of a library 
browsing, e.g. through the recent issues of "Science, Technology, 
and Human Values" (SAGE Press journal) will likely give you 
basis to reach a more informed position on this issue. Then 
you will be able to criticise your own words above.

> Certainly, there is a trend in some segments of our society 
> towards anti-intellectuallism.  However, this does not invalidate 
> the indisputable advance in knowledge which has and is occurring.

I agree with this and don't dispiute adance of knowledge.
Howewer, issues of grantsmanship, peer review and PhD
(over)production, publish-perish, etc  are fully valid concerns 
within these which all are very serious and need to be
addressed, as they affect all social and economic aspects
of science enterprise.   

> Lastly, Dr. Berezin's lack of understanding of biological 
> sciences is distressingly profound. 

I am afraid, you are slipping here on personal 
finger-pointing. I did not discuss any biological
issues on this group to give you grounds for this
statement (I am NOT saying, for example that "Dr.
Harriman is ignorant in theoretical physics").
So, please refrain from remarks on other's 
people understanding. We discuss issues here, not

> Perhaps one could dismiss the idea that kits for
> doing molecular biology will be sold in catalogue s
> stores as hyperbole. 

All right, will give it up to you. But not for
too long. My own estimate that it will take no more
than 5 years when (likely Made in Taiwan) kits will 
arrive. Wanna bet ? (the only thing which can stop
it that no-one will need Mol.Biol. for ANY-thing).
Than sorry - will loose my bet.

> But having read statements by Dr. Berezin, previously 
> posted, which argue that grant funding should be limited 
> to $20,000 per researcher belies a fundamental ignorance 
> about how biological research is carried out and
> what is required to do the research.


(1) You distort my words. I did not say that grant should 
be LIMITED to $ 20,000 per year. I said that the AVERAGE 
grant of $ 20,000 for some 80 to 90 % of all professors
in science and engineering is a prettey fair deal. 

(2) On the issue (again !) of my alledged ignorance
in biological research. Here are the amounts (in 
Canadian dollars = 0.75 US$ ) per-year grants for
the members of BIOLOGY department of McMaster 
University awarded by NSERC (Natural Sciences and
Engineering Reserach Council of Canada) this year:

  $ 13,800
  $ 29,500
  $ 19,000
  $ 15,000  

(and please note that in Canada NSERC is practically
the ONLY funding source for most of this kind of 

So, in awarding the above grants (all but one within
my above stated "average"), NSERC apparently believes
that such ammount is SUFFICIENT to carry out the
research program (otherwise, there is no point
to make an award at first place). Correspondingly, 
your statement, that "... [ Berezin ] is ignorant of 
what it takes to do biological research" should be 
re-addressed to Canadian NSERC. 
They should know better. 

> Greg Harriman

More information about the Bioforum mailing list