Funding: to Berezin

Gregory R. Harriman gregoryh at
Thu Jan 25 11:19:24 EST 1996

In article
<Pine.SOL.3.91.960124185331.10780A-100000 at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>,
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA (Alexander Berezin) wrote:

> 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). 

     And this is the oldest form of polemics.  Don't address the issue
itself.  Rather make an indirect ad hominem attack on the character of the
other person, suggesting that they have some ulterior motive.  If you want
to convince me that your suggestions are worthwhile, try discussing the
issues themselves and avoiding these innuendos.  I'm as interested in
seeing science improve as you are.  We just might have different ideas
about how to get there.
> > 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.   

     You miss the point entirely.  If scientists will only get funded
based on their ability to demonstrate short-term productivity to laymen, a
likely consequence of this would be a decrease in willingness to undertake
high-risk, yet high-yield experiments.  They might also avoid projects
which lack immediate pay-offs.  In other words, long term projects that
don't yield tangible results for years would be discouraged in your
> > 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.

     Again, see above.

Stuff deleted.

> 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.

     Most people who go into science, myself included, are by nature risk
takers.  Otherwise, they wouldn't go into a profession where they are
constantly exploring new and uncharted areas, and where they are
constantly worrying about the next source of funding.  Scientific
institutions and funding mechanisms should encourage this willingness to
take risks.  That is the best way for scientists to test novel,
speculative and potentially paradigm-shifting hypotheses.  I simply was
making the point that IMHO your proposal might discourage rather than
encourage the willingness of scientists to take risks.

> > 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. 

     Nice debating technique there.  The issue of a sliding scale funding
mechanism, while worthy of debate, is irrelevant to the point we are
discussing here.  We are discussing your proposal to turn the funding
process into one in which "everyone" particpates in deciding who and who
does not get funded.  That is a separate issue from rather funding should
be on a sliding scale.  So, you still don't address the question of
whether your proposal would make the process even more politicized than it
already is.
> [ 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 ]

     I'm not sure how to respond to this since I'm not sure what your are
trying to say.  You know nothing of my views on AIDS, since we have never
discussed them.  It is remarkable to me that you are so concerned about
the abuses of anonymous peer review and how some scientists use this to
promote themselves and their biases.  Yet, you appear ready to draw
conclusions about my viewpoints on issues which we have never discussed. 
I guess I should be concerned about anonymous peer review if more people
like you are the reviewers.

Greg Harriman

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