Funding: to Harriman

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Jan 24 19:43:40 EST 1996

On 24 Jan 1996, Gregory R. Harriman wrote:

>      I see some potential problems with your proposal.  

This is perhaps about the most often heard sentence in
the world. It is used for the last 6,000 years as an
excuse against anything going beyound the status quo.

'and they laughed at Christopher Columbus' 

(forgot whose quote). 

> For example, it might become biased towards "immediate payoffs" 
> and therefore be shortsighted.  

No, it depends on you. Don't pass responsibility on 'them'.
It is YOUR problem how to convince other people that your
work is important and is (was) worth the money spend. And
in the proposed scheme (layman's summary) your are 
are not resticted on how (with what arguments) you can 
present your case.   

> In other words, if a researcher doesn't demonstrate ongoing
> "productivity" (as judged by some perhaps arbitrary criteria 
> such as how many times his/her papers are cited), then he or 
> she will be at risk of losing funding.  

Again, it it is YOUR problem what parameters of your
work (citations or whatever) your choose to expose in
order to make your case sound as strong as you wish 
(or can). No-one limits you on this. Furthemore, in a 
sliding funding scale ('fund researchers, not proposals') 
risk of loosing ALL your funding is rather low - you have 
to be really very bad to hit the ground zero level.

> Yet, fundamentally important scientific breakthroughs can
> not be scheduled or predicted and may occur only after years of 
> work. Furthermore, some important discoveries by scientists in 
> the past were not recognized immediately, and in some cases not 
> until after the scientist's death.  

Will you die before your discovery will be recognaized
or not none of us can control. If you don't want face this
risk don't go to science at first palce, but choose instead 
occupation which will give you immediate rewards (e.g. 
medical doctor, dentist, real estate agent, etc). But, if 
introduced carefully, sliding funding scheme will greately
ENCOURAGE risk taking in science, instead of suppressing it
as the present 'selectivity' (actually, PRE-selectivity) 
system invariably does.

> Also, using the approach you suggest has the potential of 
> turning scientific funding into a popularity contest, or 
> a political issue.  

You have to face the fact that ANY scheme has inevitable
and un-removable component(s) of 'popularity contest' and
'political issue'. The present scheme (selectivity) certainly
not in any lesser degree that what I am proposing. On the
contary, sliding mechanism will greatly soften the 
'contest' and political overtones of the scheme. 
It is the PRESENT (selectivity) system  which is a typical
Olympic model (beauty contest, horse race, etc) scheme and
if you are not winner, you are looser by default. Sliding
scheme will eliminate this nonsense. 

[ shipped: on AIDS: have not much comments, but 
from what I see my gut feeling is that you go on 
it (AIDS) from the wrong side anyway ]

> Greg Harriman

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