A SEA CHANGE: Funding Caps

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Fri Jun 7 20:22:33 EST 1996

On Fri, 7 Jun 1996, Bert Gold wrote:

> I'm posting exerpts of my discussion with Art Sowers yesterday.
> We agree on much!
> From: "Arthur E. Sowers" <arthures at access.digex.net> 
> >    (FYI, inside info. -- these have been discussed inside NIH at a
> >     level of $ 500,000 per PI per year; it seems reasonable, however,
> >     having spoken to several inside study sections that $ 300,000 -
> >     $ 350,000 per PI per year might be sufficient, even for some
> >     of our richest investigators (after all, they all get Howard Hughes'
> >     and Macarthurs etc. as well...)).
> All a faculty member needs is his salary and one postdoc and one tech. At
> most that can average about 125K plus fringes, supply money (10-20K) and
> overhead, or another 60K roughly. Thats like 200K. If they guy wants more,
> then he can go out and "bite and scratch" for more. Or, cozy up to
> colleagues and pool resources.

I agree with the idea of mandatoring of funding Caps 
per researcher (professor) per year. However 2 comments:

(1) It is important that Caps apply to the TOTAL 
researcher has, not for each funding source separately.
Each reasearcher is just a human having (at best) not
more than 12 working hours a day. Correspondingly, if
he gets funding from industry, his NIH grant must 
be reduced or phased out (temporarily, at least).

Overwise, too many temptations to spend money 
unproductively (too many conferences, etc). 
Several funding sources --- > overcommittment --- >
loss of usefullness of research

When the research reachers 'really good' (by whatever
criteria) traditional American response ' give him
even more money'.

This is wrong. Exactly the oposite must be done.
Funding should be frozen or in cases even reduced.
Why ? - To let such 'good researcher' to better 
focus on the top of his/her priorities and not be 
detracted to low priority activities.

It might sound contr-logical, but it works.
Scarcity increases creativity - many testemonies
to this effect in the history of science.

"If God wants to destroy the Researcher, He will
give him ample funding (overfunding)"

(2) I agree that biomediacl researchers need 
a technician (one) and 1-2 graduate students
(once in a while, at least).

But why postdoc ? Why professor can't work
himself ?

Look, Michael Faraday has only one lifetime
technitian (!) and his is work eqivalent to at 
least 4 Nobel Prizes. He had NO postdocs.

I believe posdoc as a general requirement is
exessive, and so the tentative amount of
$ 200 K per prof per year is excessive too.

I would allow this level only in truly special cases
when the need for support of a particular project
is evident from the independent OPEN sources and
publication (NOT just by secretive 'peer review' 

(3)  $ 300,000 per prof per year in an outrageous
amount (even as a Cap, not talking average).

Imagine headlines

"University professor claims that he need 
$ 300,000 annually of YOUR [ taxpayers ] money
for his research"

This will straight go to Laughing America. 

(rest deleted)

Alex Berezin

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