Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Fri Apr 19 16:19:42 EST 1996

On 19 Apr 1996, Michael S. Straka wrote:

[ lot of prev. snipped ]

> How does one recognize which areas of research will be junk and of 
> no concern to anyone?  More importantly, how can one predict which 
> findings will be important and/or have far-reaching implications?  

These concerns can be very much helped if the present 
funding system will turn away from the idea of super-funding
of so called 'excellent' [ 'super' ] researchers and will 
turn to a more equitable scheme ('fund researchers, not
proposals' principle). Get away with archaic and contr-
-intellectual system of APR (anonymous peer review) and 
replace it by OPEN robust at-arm-lenght ranking. 
Drop such idiotic principle as 'triage' of proposals
currently practiced by NIH. In a present peer-review
selectivity scheme it is most cunny and/or most 
conformistic, not the most the most creative, who
get ahead and the funding system is bound to 
remain (largely) a megabilloin Fat Cat Feeder.

For as long as system retains APR, the flux of
(largely) junk is unstoppable.

STURGEON LAW: " 90 % of everything is crap" 

> I agree with Bert, Art, and Troy in saying that gov't funding is
> a very important and necessary source of support for the conduct of
> science in the US (a necessary evil, perhaps, but necessary 
> nonetheless), and that a realignment of priorities is needed to 
> maintain its vigor and productivity.

Only sliding funding principle can do it (satisfactory,
at least). Otherwise, what is meant by 'realighnemnt of
priorities' ? WHO can decide what is or is not a priority ?
'Experts' and 'peer reviewrs' are the last to be trusted
for this role. Randomly throwing a dart you are right  50 % of 
the time. Experts are wrong 90 % (perhaps, close to 100). 
"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently 
high plateau"
Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale, 1929.    
[ snip ]

>   and the way it's set up, things 
> CAN be changed, with enough effort.  There ARE things that could be
> done more efficiently and with more vision, particularly in science.

That's right. Bail out Heidi Fleiss and put her in
charge of NIH. You will see improvements in one year. 

> You already know that the gov't (via the budget process, and thus via 
> our representatives) decides how much money to throw at the various 
> issues confronting the US.  Keep in mind that it is scientists at NIH 
> and NSF who control how the dollars we do get are allocated.

That's why the above NIH/NSF directrorship needs 
a refreshed vision  (see the above proposal)

[ snip ] 

> Furthermore - do you think the
> US public will be willing to open their wallets for science when 
> many are barely literate and the rest have little comprehension of
> what we do?

My view that in reality it is more likely goes now
the other way round.

It is scientifically IL-literate public (politicians)
who were relatively easily bought into the science
omni-power megalomania. This was the dominant myth 
throughout 50s to late 70, perhaps even 80s. But is 
vanishing now at a pretty high speed as more and more 
people are coming to the realization that much of the 
claims made on behalf of sceince are empty promises, 
and at time a direct charlatanism. (Case of "Superconducting
Supercollider" opened many eyes for this matter).

Also, the notion of 'scientific illeteracy' of the 
public is much overstated, see M.H. Shamos,
'Myth of Scientific Illiteracy' (1994). 
[ snip ]

> You may laugh, but I am convinced that most of the public has 
> little or no idea what we do when we're at work

Unfortunantely (for us) they (public) now do (see above).
Now they (more and more) realize that the scientists is just
another commercially oriented interest group with unusually
high level of internal feuds. We (scientists) are at a
power to change this, but so far show absolutely no 
(collective) determination to do so and keep insisting on
the precicely the opposite (competition instead cooperation,
reliance on APR and expertocracy, etc). 
> Meantime, while we write that next grant

The problem that we should not do it at first
place. We should write (what we believe) are
important research papers, not 'grant proposals'.

Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546
> - Mike Straka, PhD
> Instructor, Dept Pediatrics
> UCHSC, Denver

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