Funding: 2nd reply to Dr.States

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Jan 3 19:57:48 EST 1996


More comments on Dr. Stares points.
Alex Berezin


On Wed, 3 Jan 1996, David J. States wrote:

> Alex Berezin wrote:
> > What are the CONSTRUCTIVE proposals from YOUR side ?
> 
> While the current system is imperfect, it has produced 
> remarkable results over many years.  I would like to
> see:

Unfortunamely, defending system (even in general) on the basis 
"that it produced remarkable results" is often quite questionable,
if not a faulty logic. This was exactly what I kept hearing all
my early years in the USSR. "We are not perfect, but look at 
the results ..." (one of the favorite sayings of Comrade Stalin). 

Almost everything which works produces some 'good results'
(somehow), but this is not the pretext for complacency. 

> 
> 1) support for people and institutions - Institutions are 
> built on people and to my view are the primary vehicle through 
> which support for people as opposed to projects should be 
> channeled.  But our academic insitutions are under real
> stress and the future holds significant new challenges
> (the increasingly litigious field of intellectual property,
> competition from network based remote learning centers, 
> politicization of research funding, and a profound 
> anti-intellectual undercurrent to contemporary political 
> debate, increasing demands on charity for social services, 
> etc.).  Strong and diverse support for academic institutions 
> needs to be fostered.  Scientists must be active in 
> politics, broadly defined.  

If you generally mean "fund researchers, not proposals",
than I agree with the above, details notwithstanding.

And beside, 'intellectual property', despite that no-one
can discard it overnight, is a poor compass for the future. 
No matter, how lawyers can twist it, but concepts 
'intellectual' and 'property' are poor bedfellows.
Sooner or later (I'd rather have it sooner) things like
copyright, patents and 'intellectual property' will go
to drain. Archimedes did not patent his inventions, neither
Hippocrates his healing methods. Post-industrial (and
post-capitalist) society is hopefully return to less
egoistic motivations symbolized by these two great names.

> 
> 2) establish a biomedical research trust fund - the health
> care and biotechnology industry depends on basic biomedical
> science, but for good economic reasons it may not make sense 
> for a private company to devote resources to basic research 
> that will not payoff for many years or may even benefit 
> competitors as much as the company itself.  Just as our 
> national highway system is maintained and extended by a tax 
> on gasoline paid by all drivers, our biomedical research 
> infrastructure should be supported by an assessment on all 
> health care expenditures that is insulated from the vagaries 
> and fluctuations of day to day politics.

You won't get too far with the reform like this if you only
keep care about biomedical research. What we rather need
is a joint effort of ALL areas of research and ALL sciences

(and don't worry: we all recognize vast cost differences 
between the areas, and theoretical physicists are not 
about to eat up biomedicals). 

> 
> 3) move to earlier decisions on career development - we are 
> abusing young scientists by insisting on an extended doctorate 
> followed by one or more postdoc positions before considering 
> them for a tenure track position.  It is unreasonable to expect
> professionals to subsist at poverty wages and to delay marriage
> and family until their mid or late thirties.  Better to make 
> the hard decisions early while there is still time to develop 
> alternative careers.

Letter in one of the latest issues of Science (mid December)
argues very strongly why the position of PDF (postdoc) should
be eliminated as inherently exploitive under the present 
circumstances. Among other benefits, it will relieve pressure on
PhD (over)production.

> 
> Competitve peer review of research funding remains a corner
> stone of science policy, and I would not change that.

Unfortumately, by the reasons discussed by Forsdyke, Osmond,
Roy and many others this corner stone can remain functional only 
if fundamental corrections are made to account for its inherent 
uncertainty.

This likely means introduction of a sliding funding scale, so 
the winners-loosers competition model will be replaced by a 
sigmoid curve instead of the present get-or-loose-it cut-off 
principle. This is fundamental (discontinuous) difference. 
Don't downplay it. 

> 
> David States
> 
> 
> 



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