Science: Funding and Morals

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Mon Jan 22 13:00:37 EST 1996

On Mon, 22 Jan 1996 U27111 at UICVM.CC.UIC.EDU wrote:

[ snip ]
> >No, I am not necessarily buying that 'in earlier times
> >things were better'. People are always the same.

> No Alex.  In a span of 7 years I have personally seen how it is
> only getting worst.  Things were better just back in the mid-80's
> compared to now.  And it's not just because I have matured and lost
> my idealisms.  I can tell you how entire departments have changed
> as well as their goals... and it's not for the better.

Well, I don't disagree with you on this. I am just 
saying that PEOPLE essentially do not change, SYSTEMS 
occasionally do (improve or errode). The fact that your 
scientific opponets now (ANONYMOUSLY) reject your papers 
and/or grant applications instead of burning YOU
(physically) on stake is highly periferal for the argument.
It reflects NON of the (allegedly) science changed its
culture, but merely attributes to some social and cultuaral 
changes of the society at large.  

I have not a slightest doubt whatsoever that if
modern (secretive) peer-reviewers would have a box
in their review form with blocks like 
  - reject paper (grant)  [   ]    
  - burn author/applicant at stake [ x ]

and if they (reviewers) know they can get away with it, 
we will have plenty of crosses on the second line (and
magnificent entertainments on our public squares).

But, down from hyperbolas: yes, I agree with you that 
in last 10 or so years there is GREAT down-swing
in research ethics, I heard of this from MANY people
belonging to virtually all resaerch categories.   

[ snip ]

> Agreed!  Change the system to pick out the right 
> (*the* best).  

Here we have to be very careful. In thinking how
to select the 'best' it is much too easy to overplay
the selectivity card. The system does exactly this
and as a result those chosen are the most cunny,
not the most creative. The ONLY solution I can
think of is:

(1) Open all the books. No to ANY anonymity. The
whole process should be not only TECHNICALLY 
publicly open, but PRACTICALLY made so (i.e. to
find the TOTAL funding of professor XYZ should be
as easy as look in the phone directory).

(2) Make more equailabe funding system, DECREASE
(not increase) the total budget and bring more
people in a system at a lower funding level.
Don't worry, the research will NOT collapse, 
but will become MORE responsible, creative
and though-troough. People will start think
hard WHAT they can DO with AVAILABLE (let tight),
rather than thinking HOW TO GET EVEN MORE OF
THEM (dollars, pounds, etc).  

  We already discussed funding capping (TOTAL 
capping) and in spite of all pro and cons I still
believe this is a very good first step, especially
in combibation with (1) above.
> at the same time properly training (educating) the future ones.
> And I may not have explained that well in my last posting?
> But that was what I was referring to.  For not only are the worst
> getting rewarded, but the way they make it to the top is setting
> examples for our younger ones to follow.
> I can tell you about grad students I have trained who felt Gallo
> was stupid for getting caught in the first place and then admired
> him for getting away with it.  They looked up to him as a role
> model for how to pattern *their* career.

Not surprisingy in a country in which one porno-movie
script of ca. 100 pages (2-3 weeks of work, I guess)
can bring you more money than 3 professors in science can 
earn in their entire LIFETIME. 

> We need better education of our students... and that's where
> teaching ethics, and having *good* morale leaders, is at least a
> start.

Dear Kathy, do you really believe that in a country 
where the 'certified' moral teachers are Swaggerts
and Backers you can achieve a lot by moral lessoning ?
Given a choice beteen becoming next Bill Gates or
a future Nobel Prize laureate how many youths you 
think will choose the second option ?

[ rest snip (but agree) ]
> -Kathy

More information about the Bioforum mailing list