Research Costs (The Motives of Scientists thread)

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Sat Oct 28 17:26:00 EST 1995

Berezin'r reply to Michael Kagalenko
(personal obscenities removed)

From: Alexander Berezin <berezin at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>
To: Michael Kagalenko <mkagalen at>
Cc: bioforum at
Subject: Re: The Motives of Scientists

On Sat, 28 Oct 1995, Michael Kagalenko wrote:

> You wrote:
> ] 

> ] Your contention about prisons is more interesting. Suppose you
> ] are right and prison spending (and apparently, prison population)
> ] is rising. So, what are your conclusions ?
> ] For all the flaws of this (Western) society it does NOT appear 
> ] that here you can normally get to the prispon unless you IN FACT
> ] have committed a crime (yes, cases of mistaken convictions do,
> ] of course, occur, but they are rare). Therefore, putting 
> ] more criminals behind the bars may not be that socially 
> ] unreasonable. Yes, better to have fewer of them, but at least 
> ] for now all who should be isolated should at least have a room
> ] under the (protected) roof. Sad, but better than any imaginabe 
> ] alternative.  

>  Significant majority of prisoners are non-violent, first-time
> drug offenders who are serving mandatory sentences (while bosses
> plea-bargain out of mandatory sentences)

You have two alternatives: to keep them in prison (even if they
are non-violent, first-time offenders) or let them go. In short,
you are saying first time drug offenders should not be punished
(by imprisonment). So, when (and how) do you suggest to start ?
Second offence ? Third ? Tenth ? 

> ] Now go to your next premiss (reduce funding for research,
> ] technology and education). Pity that you bulk them all 
> ] together, because all 3 items are utterly different.
> ] (1)  "Education": I can perhaps agree with you. 
> ] (2)  "Technology": this is a much less clear cut - it is a 
> ] highly non-uniform term in many ways, primarily due to its 
> ] commercial aspects. (e.g. is IBM a technology ? If so, is
> ] Bill Gates also a technolgy ?, etc)
> ] (3) "Research". Disagree in substance. At least as far as the
> ] university ("academic") research is concerned, the system 
> ] is GREATLY overheated and OVERfunded. Overproduction of PhDs
> ] and oversupply of posdocs in almost all areas is obvious. 

>  "oversupply" ? You justify cutting the funds by the fact that
>  no sufficient funds are available at present ? I think you have
>  serious problem with your logic.

I justify cutting because in the present ethos of grantsmanship
significant (perhaps, the main) share of funding goes to well
posed (priveledged) groups, what is called old boys network,
mostly engaged in paridigm-confirming (incremental) research.
I advocate more equitable funding distribution ("fund researchers,
not proposals"), significant downplaying of the "anonymous
peer review" (which tends to suppress innovation) and propose
funding cuts [ of powerful, politically correct groups ] as 
a measure to achieve these ends.

> ] Grantsmanship and "emrire building" (working for my
> ] "boss") proliferates beyond any shame.
> ] Professors are hired by universities to do teaching AND
> ] research, not to be managers t hire cheap (mostly 
> ] imported) research labor to do the work thay are supposed
> ] to do themselves. Should there will be LESS overall funding
> ] available, researchers at least can concentrate on the top 
> ] priority projects and perhaps we would ALREADY have had cure 
> ] of AIDS and/or cancer.

>  And perpetuum mobile, too, you forgot this one.

Don't worry for perpetuum mobile. It runs non-stop
already for the last 10 billion years. 

>  In science more is the ENEMY (not an
> ] ally) of the better.
> ] Due to the OVERfunding the efficiency of
> ] science is, in fact, quite low (per dollar, per person). 
> ] Faraday did ALL electricity and magnetism with just one
> ] single lifetime technitian.
> ] If you NOW ask what physics, chemistry, etc did for the 
> ] last 20 years, than (despite few toys) you will find rather 
> ] little.

>  This is ridiculous. Majority of US industries would not be 
> possible without science. Semiconductor industry, to name 
> the most obvious example. 

I wish I could agree with you on the above. "High tech 
industries need science, etc..."
Unfortunately, this is (very common though) wishful thinking.
If this will be the case, IBM, DuPont, GE, Bells, etc, etc.
will be rushing to hire all the recent PhD harvest. In reality,
they SHRINK (not expand) their research programs (especially,
fundamental branches, not immediately related to marketing).
Ask Bill Gates how much (of his billions) he is willing
to put to (fundamental) semiconductor research. 

>  The best things (like chaos, buckyballs, quantum 
> ] nonlocalities, etc) 

>  These are by no means "best things", nor were they discovered recently
>  (apart from "buckyballs"). These are pop-culture icons, not science 
> mainstream.

Of course, it is just a matter of your tast to see chaos
and quantum nonlocalities as pop-culture icons. But so is
all the rest, molecular biology, DNA testing (on recent O.J.
comedy), to name just a few. 
And what do you mean by "science maunstream" ? 

> ]were found almost exclusively 
> ] in LOW funded areas.  

>  Scinece which can and will make contribution to the technology and economy
>  (such as laser trap, or atomic interferometry) are very labor-intensive
> and require costly equipment. You, quite simply, don't know
>  what you are talking about.

Not at all. And certainly not always. Many excelelnt groups 
run on quite modest budgets (less that $ 30 K US per year).
And still do produce impactful results.
Science is a highly value-added activity. A lot of costs (esp.
in biomedical) just artificially blown up by the suppliers
(due to their de-facto monopolies, patent laws, etc). 


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