Funding: Open the Books

William Tivol tivol at
Thu Jan 25 18:07:25 EST 1996

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


: Let's take more optimistic (and constructive) view.

: Attacks on many fronts (from Napoleon to Khrustchoff)
: is a rather pure approach. Also, we should not excuse 
: ourselves by complacent "there are no easy solutions". 
: There are, and many.

: Let me suggest just one specific measure which is
: technically VERY EASY to implement at virtually zero
: costs (couple of secretaries can handle it in several 
: weeks):

: Put all NIH/NSF info on PUBLIC pages on WWW. This should
: include CONVENIENTLY ARRANGED listings of ALL grants given 
: by NIH and NSF (in Canada by MRC/NSERC). This info should 
: include tiles, amounts and time frames of all grants and be 
: accessible by the researchers names' (bith PI and 
: co-applicants). [ so, by typing 'W.Tivol' I can find all
: your funding history, same as by typing 'A.A.Berezin'
: OTHERS ].  

	This would certainly be easy, and it would throw light on who gets
what, but it will make no progress toward the establishment of a mechanism
which funds all researchers on a sliding scale.  In fact, I can imagine hot-
shot graduate students and post-docs perusing the list to see which lab will
give them a leg up to establish their own large grant-getting lab.  Unless
there is some mechanism in place to prevent a few large labs from dominating
the grant process, the mere listing of totals will do nothing toward what we
both think is a more equitable and effective distribution of resources.

: (TIVOL): 
: > Thus, start to phase out exceptionally high grant support 
: > in favor of more broadly distribute support, teach ethics 
: > and start to make the system safer for whistle-blowers,
: > so that there will be some examples where unethical behavior 
: > was punished rather than rewarded with large 
: > institutes/salaries/etc.  [...]

: The above public database will likely help addressing all
: the above.

	I fail to see how.  There may be an aspect of shame if one scientist
sees his (at present it is very unlikely to be "her") name opposite a very
large total, but most likely the opposite phenomenon--pride--will occur.  The
list does nothing to protect whistle-blowers or punish unethical behavior.
In fact, it will do more to demonstrate that alleged unethical behavior can
bring great rewards.

: [snip] It will become easy (technically) to 
: reaise questions what people ACTUALLY did with their money.

	Only if another list of track-record evaluations is also published,
and this will require a lot of effort to produce, since it cannot be meerly
a count of APR publications.

: In short, people will be needed to keep (updated) layman 
: summary of what they actually achieved. This will likely
: develop greater respect to 'small' scientists (who are
: often beeing modestly funded, producing nonetheless a lot 
: of good science) and will lead to gradual (perhaps, quick ?) 
: errosions of old-boy networks.

	You or I might increase our respect for someone who produces a lot
from meagre funding, but since the "old boys" will still be on the study
sections, I doubt if your proposed list will erode the networks.

: Recent attacks by some politicians on so-called 
: "useless" research in universities could likely be
: avoided should we, researchers, care to increase
: public awareness of what we are actually doing.

	A good exercise is to try to write up one's own work in this fashion
every now and again.  It gives one a better idea of how the research comes
together coherently.  For example, my work in electron crystallography con-
sists of a mixture of experiment and theory, and putting together the results
of the experiments with the theoretical work I published showed me where some
other theoretical projects would fit in.
				Bill Tivol

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