FUNDING: How change happens

Alexander Berezin berezin at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA
Thu Jun 20 16:36:25 EST 1996

Date: Thu, 20 Jun 1996 09:45:21 -0400 (EDT)
From: Alexander Berezin <berezin at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>
To: Patrick <patrick at>

Dear Patrick, 

it is refreshing to see that we are (hope ?) moving
towards argued DISCUSSION on the sliding scale
instead of barking on each other (and when people
do so they usually choose the wrong tree).

Most of your concerns below (actually, I think,
all concerns) about how to minimize the poor
design effect, trivial reseearch, etc. CAN be 
constructively addressed within the Forsdyke's 
bicameral review scheme (posted by Bert Gold a few 
days ago). It is certainly not to say that the 
scheme does not need more detailed elaboration; 
certainly it does, but this can be done in the 
interactive process, on the basis of gained 
experience after (the first version of the 
sliding scheme) is implemented.

The implementation of such a system will
undoubtedly face enormous resistance of the
granstmanship establishemend by all the 
reasons I and others have discussed earlier.

The following points, I beleieve, are the

(1) Funding Caps. Unless there will be some
reasonable AVERAGE of the TOTAL funding per
researcher (may, vary, of course, from area
to area) and than cap will be, say, triple
the aveage [ and bottom, say 10 % to 20 % of 
the avearge ], it is highly unlikely the scheme
can take off.

I can't be sure about biomedical, but for
typical resaerch is physics, my rough
suggested funding brackets (in US dollars)
would be:

Average:  $ 30,000
Cap:      $ 90,000
Minimal (basic) funding:  $ 5,000

Others can suggest pro-ratings for their areas.

(2) The most critical aspect is to move
the system away from 'proposals' towards
the track record/recent activity assessment.
This is were the most entrenched prejudices
are. The NIH/NSERC+ system was for too long
based of the proposls model, that many
(I fear, most) people simply can't imagine
that any alternative to it can work better.

I practice, I don't think 'proposals' can
be eliminated in one step, I would suggest
rather a gradual dephasing scheme.

(3) Drop from the top of agenda (at least temorarily,
before the sliding/bicameral changes are introduced)
the notion that the system is 'underfunded'. It is not. 
The unfair distribution funds among the scientists is
far more important issue to addrss and solve than the 
total funding.

Playing 'underfunding' card is largely a decoy
used by the (over)funded establishemnt to grab
even more for _themselves_ (not for those presently
unfunded or low funded). This is the famous 
St.Matthew principle which many sciensists have 
recalled recently in the funding context.

Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546
On Tue, 18 Jun 1996, Patrick wrote:

> >From patrick at howard.genetics.utah.eduTue Jun 18 12:22:27 1996
> Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 12:21:00 -0600 (MDT)
> From: Patrick <patrick at>
> To: Bert Gold <bgold at itsa.ucsf.EDU>
> On Sat, 8 Jun 1996, Bert Gold wrote:
> > With great indebtedness to Alex AND Patrick.
> > 
> >  Bert Gold, Ph.D.                         "Seeing much, Suffering much,
> >  University of California, San Francisco   and studying much,
> >  School of Medicine                        These are the three pillars
> >  Program in Medical Genetics               of learning." -- Benjamin Disraeli
> [...]
> > 
> > On Sat, 8 Jun 1996, Bert Gold wrote:
> > 
> > > Alex,
> > > 
> > > I've edited your note to me quite a bit.
> > > 
> > > You are trying, in this letter to me, to make some important points.
> [...]
> > > If what we've written together below (with Patrick) meets with your
> > > approval, I will post it.
> [...]
> Sorry for taking so long to reply.  I have finished my qualifying exam 
> and am more available for other pursuits as well as research.
> I am pleased by what has come of the discussion and I certainly 
> understand Alex's frustration venting (closing down NIH, etc) as I am 
> certainly no less prone to such (my personal political opinions 
> concerning the totally unrelated topic of confederation states and 
> effectiveness).  
> I have discussed the ideas offered for changing the funding system posted 
> in this group with one of my fellow researchers and he agrees in 
> principle with the idea of "sliding scale".
> His reservations, however, mirrored mine:  How to control for poorly 
> thought out proposals.  We both continue to agree that there MUST be some 
> means of correcting poor experimental design.  What if a researcher 
> seeking funding has a proposal with 3 specific aims yet the second 2 rely 
> totally upon success of the first?  A potential waste of funds results.  
> In some cases, if the research is compelling, such a setup may be 
> excusable but not in every case.  
> What if the ideas are mundane and practically nothing but scientific 
> "makework"?  SOME science must address relatively mundane, simple 
> concerns as this can bolster an underlying body of knowledge upon which 
> other research is based but some could merely be a waste of funds; a near 
> repeat of previous research with a slightly different approach or slant 
> which promises to offer nothing new.
> We like the idea of all good researchers getting some sort of basic 
> funding but still see a practical need for some control.  Otherwise, much 
> money that could otherwise be spent doing brilliant science, or making 
> truly important gains, will end up suffering less-than-required )or 
> deserved) funding.
> patrick

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