Mark A. Friesel mfriesel at
Mon Jun 17 13:50:30 EST 1996

On Mon, 17 Jun 1996, Phil Koopman wrote:

> I recently came from an industrial lab where the funding allocation
> changed from "benign" dictatorship to a group-grope model.  IMHO
> productivity plunged as people spent most of their time chasing a pool
> of money that diminished with each downsizing (sound familiar?).

Very familiar.  My experience is with a national laboratory that took on a
mission around 1986, and began cutting available resources to all other groups
(except national security) and took allocated funds from in-place
programs.  The result was and is hell for research.  The trick to survival
is to be in a kingdom with good external funding and good prospects, to be
king of such a kingdom, or to be employed in the mission area.

> There are three problems with any such system:
> - How do you find and fund the important radical new idea (especially
> in the face having to sift through the chaff of poorly researched new
> ideas that are simply recastings of old tired ideas).  The best ideas
> tend to upset the entrenched Establishment.

The answer is that you don't.  People who seriously propose such ideas are
removed unless they get significant external interest - in the form of
a program.  Program development money however, to use the phrase of one
temporary group leader (temporary for 2 years - the department wouldn't
fund a permanent group leader and doubled up one, who took his option to
return to an industrial position), is 'precious' and generally not
available in enough quantity to make a difference unless you really don't
need it.  To me it appears that we do not do research in this country
anymore.  We engage in product engineering and examine whatever
opportunities arise during such programs to do research at home.

> - How do you break the feedback of a dead-end research topic that has
> gained momentum (and thus is supported by researchers all praising the
> others' work)?

You can't.  If you don't ignore the problem you will make internal enemies
and your place on the downsizing list will jump up a few notches.  You may
be required to join in the song, and to refuse is to risk the same

> - *ANY* system is capable of being "gamed", and will be so in the face
> of inadequate resources.  How do you minimize the resources spent
> gaming the system?  IMHO a system that tends to bring dirty laundry
> out into the open is the best way to go, although no system is
> perfect.

Dirty laundery doesn't exist.  Period. It doesn't exist.  If you insist on
finding it where it doesn't exist, you'd best have sufficient resources to
survive losing your job.

The problem for scientists with this entire system, as it exists in at
least one department of one national laboratory, is that if you work
within the system you will retain your position but it is unlikely that you
will do much worthwhile research.  To try to work around the system will risk
your job, and you still won't be doing much research.  To oppose the
system you will lose first your funding, then your job.  To perform good
research you only have one option: to have a strong and reliable external
funding source.  This will ensure top management support and their support
is sufficient to ensure your position.

> -- Phil
> Phil Koopman -- koopman at --

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