Funding: Alex's NY message

Keith Robison robison at
Wed Jan 3 15:02:38 EST 1996

U27111 at wrote:

: Sorry guys... I've been out of the loop a while and am just jumping
: back in.

: >2) that despite that no system can make all people
: >equally happy, and some tensions in funding distribution
: >are inevitable, it is pointless and harmful to call the
: >whole process "Funding Selectivity", as it implies that
: >SIGNIFICANT fraction of us must be de-selected. An example
: >of this fallacy is Canadian NSERC's term "GSC" (Grant
: > SELECTION Committee). We all understand that funding is
: >not automatic and isolated cases of non-funding are bound
: >to occure, but we should drop the notion of "selectivity'
: >as guiding PRINCIPLE.

: I'm having a hard time trying to figure out your language here
: (sorry... but I'm best when at the 'See Dick run' reading level :-)

: Anyway, if I understand this correctly... then I do think funding
: needs to be 'selective'.  It's time to stop the 'who you know'
: mentality and concentrate on 'what you know' in order to receive
: monies.

: Under the current system of competition... those who are the best
: at presenting data [beefing it up and what-have-you], they are the
: ones who are floating to the top of the dwindling monies pool -
: pushing the better researchers with better ran labs (and more
: accurate papers) right out of the waters.

: I've seen too many good researchers leave the field while really
: bad ones just get more and more monies... and continue to put out
: more and more garbage.

: And I'm sorry... but it's not about finding a system which makes
: 'all people equally happy' - it's about creating a system which can
: find quick and efficient treatments/cures for cancer, aids, etc.
: ...treatments which *really work* in lessening people's pain and
: suffering this world!

: That's the goal which most people seem to forget in all of this!

: And if means closing down poorly ran labs and increasing the
: unemployment rate in our field - so be it.  Then at least we would
: have more money to go around to those who are indeed the best at
: what they do (without having to continue to raise the budget every
: year!).

: >3) That the juxtopposition of the 'funding system'
: >and 'us' (grantees) is largely rethorical, as
: >'funding system' belongs to us and operated largely
: >by us (despite that some undesirable political
: >interfering does occur), and it is up to us to
: >improve it, or let it deteriorate further.

: That's assuming there are more of 'us' then them?
: I say those with the most power and control in this current system
: are the same ones who personally benefit the most from it.

: They will not want to change it... hell, just look at the support
: Gallo gets and you can see what I mean.

: >These are the points I can think of reflecting on
: >recent postings. As Bert Gold noticed yesterday we
: >need a program to agree upon to initiate the actual
: >change.

: I say we look at the old space program model, combined with the
: current clinical model for that.

: We got men to the moon because everybody worked *together* on the
: same goal and everybody was considered important... from the
: janitor and the person who sharpened pencils, up to the PhDs and
: beyond.

: And that goal was not to make money and collect a paycheck... but
: to get a man to walk on the moon.

: We desperately need such a mentality in cancer and aids research!

Putting a man on the moon is comparatively simple in relation
to complex health problems such as cancer and AIDS.  You have
a few well-defined systems which must be built, straightforward
physics, etc.  In contrast, both AIDS and cancer can be 
described (to a first approximation) as malfunctions of
a poorly understood highly complex machine.  

: For if we could get a man to walk on the moon in such a short
: period of time... why is it 15 years into this pandemic and we
: still have little to nothing to show for it?

Hardly little-to-nothing.  In particular, a significant
cause of the spread of AIDS was quickly identified (the blood supply)
and dealt with.  AIDS also illustrates that medical solutions
are not all that we must consider: the transmission mechanisms
of AIDS are relatively well understood, and it is now
a matter of politics and sociology in dealing with them
(the latter of which the moon program was quite devoid of 
-- another reason it got done).

: One reason is because we have no standards in medical research -
: combined with very little ethics.

: Thus, we need to create a much more higher level of ethical
: standards within our field.

: Next, we need to create research laboratories where there are
: internal standards on how well the work is actually done and the
: data produced is as accurate as possible.

: To do that we need to standardized the field...

: Research techs and phd's need to become certified in their
: respected specialties and labs should become accredited.

How do you certify someone in scientific research?  If I am
using a technique which was invented 3 months ago, how
am I to be certified in it?

Certification is a good idea for fields where _the_ answer
is expected reliably (forensics, clinical settings); it is
entirely inappropriate in an experimental field.

Keith Robison
Harvard University
Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology
Department of Genetics / HHMI

robison at 

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