Funding: Alex's NY message

William Tivol tivol at
Wed Jan 3 12:41:24 EST 1996

Alexander Berezin (berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA) wrote:

: Let me suggest a 'minimal package' which I believe
: can (and should) be further iterated to make
: it agreable to all but perhaps few 'me first' bigots.

: I believe, that we reasonably agree on the following:  

: 1) that the overwhelming majority of us are highly
: intelligent, dedicated, sophisticatedly and expensively 
: trained creative and productive people who are motivated
: by noble goals and almost invariably have capacity
: and ability to identify and ACCOMPLISH original and
: important research projects,


: 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).

	The name is not significant; the process is.  One can call it whatever
one wishes.  If all researchers who met minimal standards of, e.g., publication
were to receive a basic grant, no one would care that this was decided by GSC.

: 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.

	Agreed; this is much more important than the name.
: (same as failures on PhD exams/defences are inevitable, 
: but yet we don't call PhD examination committees "Future 
: Doctor of Philosophy SELECTION Committee").

: 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.

	If not us, then who?  The answers are scary.

: 4) That it is not exclusively (and likely not 
: even primarily) is a matter of 'not enough money' 
: and a lot of improvement can be done BY US, regardless 
: of the overall money situation (and such 'internal'
: improvement with likely STRENGTHEN our leverage in 
: the overall budget negotiations), 

	Yes, showing that we can do a lot with a small % of the budget makes
a good case for continuing to support research.

: 5) that the Peer Review is a needed part of our operations,
: but as far as the funding process is concerned, it need to 
: be accounted for its inherenet uncertainty in a much more 
: robust and impartial way that the current system usually 
: provides (for instance, in case of mixed reports some 
: funding should be provided on a sliding scale, or whatever 
: scheme can be devised for this - and this should not be 
: confused with assigning 'funding welfare').

	Agreed, both as to the sliding scale and the basic grant as a hedge
against incorrect reviews and as to the need for accountability (nonymity).
Who would report data without being able to replicate the experiment and
determine the errors?  How significant is an error of 0.1 in the priority
score?  Easily the difference between $$$$ and 0.

: I recently thought on the following 'paradox': why memebrs 
: of several other highly visible interest groups have
: recently gained singificant, if not admirable, social 
: concessions in their positioning in our society - something
: which we (scientists) seem to be unable to do with our own
: cause and only let more and more kicks fall on us.
: (And by all means we are not a group who seems to be
: intelectually inferior to others !). So, what is our
: problem ?

	In the US we may not actually have a problem with this, only a per-
ceptual problem.  For several decades those who decide on the total research
budgets have consistantly said that research is an essential part of the go-
vernment's mission.  Even the present congress does not envision major cuts
in the research budget.  The money will not necessarily go to untargetted
basic research, so our problem is really to convince those giving us the money
that we can best decide how to get the most bang for the buck, and that micro-
managing the research endeavor leads only to inefficiency.

: My brief answer to this 'paradox' is that members of
: other interest groups have RESPECT TO EACH OTHER, while
: we often (not always, of couse), have quite a shortage
: of it. They (people from other groups) do not normally
: write secretive reports on each other in order to knock
: them out as competitors. They don't trim their data in
: order to look more 'fundable' and don't (mis)use 
: confidential information from grant applications, etc 
: ... (again, I don't want you to think I am saying we all 
: do this, but our community is undeniably has more
: problems on this side than other groups likely to have).

	Maybe.  But the disrespect, secretive reports, etc. are not the basis
for funding decisions in other groups.  There may be a lot of backstabbing,
data trimming, etc., but the groups present a united front when lobbying for
the money (e.g., farm supports, fees for govt appointed attorneys).

: And above all, for them (members of other special 
: groups) their common goals are much more important than
: their personal interests. This is where we (scientists) 
: have still a bit of homework to do. But taking into 
: account our traditional (not fictional, I hope !) capacity 
: to intellectually identify and SOLVE often very difficult
: problems, I have little doubt that we CAN do it, if we put 
: our will and commitment to it.


: Wish you all happy and prosperous New Year.

	And you.
				Bill Tivol

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