NIH, RESEARCH FUNDING, etc
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Jun 26 18:33:43 EST 1996
please see some comments inside your letter.
Sorry for reposting the whole thing, it will
take me too long to remover the attachements.
On Tue, 25 Jun 1996, Robert White wrote:
> Alexander Berezin wrote
> : Dear Robert White and others:
> : Please don't go too harsh on Bert Gold. He IS trying to
> : accomplish something and, yes, he (as well as I) are
> : very frustrated by the passivity of the [most] of the
> : research community about the deplorable situation with
> : the secretive old boy system of research funding
> : in Canada and USA.
> : This passivity is quite natural. No matter what
> : cause is up, the majority almost always sits on the
> : fence waiting for 'others' to do a dirty job for
> : them. What depressess me personally is not that
> : there is no mass movement behind the funding
> : reform, curbing peer review, etc, but that there
> : is not even a visible minority willing to support
> : the cause. (actually, minority is often enough
> : to make the difference).
> Dear Alex,
> Bert had plenty of opportunity to enlist me in the cause, but
> when I saw his patronizing comments about Canadian research
> and funding I decided he was simply yet one more American
> protectionist! Moreover, I have the needed talent to undermine
> whatever I choose to undermine and Bert knows this, but he
> did not want to play the game my way and reciprocity was not
> part of his intent. Clearly, had Bert helped me when I asked for help
> I would have reciprocated in kind. Frankly, I do not believe he
> is a fair man and I resent his attitude towards mentoring of students
> such as myself.
I was NOT (and am not) apprecuative of Bert's comments
about some fraction of NIH budget goes to Canadain researchers.
I think, the research systems in both countries are
sufficiently integrated to consider them for the most
(if not all) practical purpose a single system (sorry
the patriots at both ends).
The differnces do exist but they are rather secondary in
comparison with MAIN problems both systems are fascing
(selectivity, winners-loosers, overcompetition, grantsmanship
mafias, etc). I'd rather see _these_ problems be addressed
as prime instead pointless Canada-USA skirmishings. The
letter is PRECICESLY what grantsmanship mandarins wants
us to do.
I frankly think this Bert's passage on $ 20 mil (?)
NIH dollars going to Canada was a goof.
I am leaving to Bert to rectify his position, if
he wishes (I am certainly ready to give him a benefit
of doubt, if he wants to take it).
> Frankly, I see no real logic in alignment and
> appreciate your sincerity, but do wonder what is in it for Canadians
> such as myself? Moreover, why should I help without any sort of
> compensation whatsoever and in turn must pay out-of-pocket to enlist
> any help from Bert when it comes to my own cause?
Well, we have founded (see below) CARRF which is
CANADIAN Association for Responsible Research Funding.
I don't know if Americans have anything similar.
But people should not expect others to do a job
> warmest regards,
> : I once again repost some of our previous
> : posters on a research funding, perhaps few more
> : people may consider joining the campaign.
> : Some of these posters 2 years old and I don't
> : have time to re-edit/revise them. Obviously, not
> : all people will agree with all the points below,
> : neitherI propose that it is the ultimate truth.
> : However, I suggest it a starting point for the
> : discusssion.
> : Please feel free (all the readers) to repost
> : this stuff at whatever newsgroups you feel
> : appropriate. I have little doubts that unless
> : the research (especially, university) community
> : will be serious about continuing and unfolding
> : this discussion, most of all research funding
> : problems in these countries will disappear by
> : default, as most of it (including NIH core
> : budget) will rather quickly follow the same
> : trail as Superconducting Supercollider went
> : 2 or 3 years ago.
> : We (Canada and USA) already largely gave up
> : manufacturing to other countries [ those in
> : doubt can check nearest shopping mall to see
> : where the goods are coming from ]. Our
> : science is about to go next.
> : REPOSTINGS:
> : ---------------------------------------------------------
> : IMPORTANT INFO ON RESEARCH FUNDING !
> : Please, re-send this message to your correspondents
> : as we can reach only a limited number of nodes. The
> : following is of importance to ALL canadian researchers.
> : However, when re-sending, please generously include also
> : your foreign colleagues - we have numerous evidences that
> : many of them (in particular, in USA) ARE also interested
> : in our activities. Additionally, when feasible, please
> : also outprint and post/spread this message for the benefit
> : of your non-email collegues.
> : -----------------
> : Messsage:
> : [ to those affected by MRC/NSERC/SSHRC funding scheme ]
> : CANADIAN ASSOCIATION FOR RESPONSIBLE RESEARCH FUNDING
> : Inaugural Meeting:
> : Tuesday, May 17, 1994, 10:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
> : York University, North York (Toronto),
> : Chemistry & Computer Science Building, Lecture Room 115.
> : The aim of this new Association is to initiate and develop
> : a wide, openly critical, and unsuppressed public discussion of
> : the current funding policies of MRC/NSERC/SSHRC and their
> : negative impact on the Canadian research climate, university
> : education, the development of technology and technical
> : expertise, job creation and other pressing national problems.
> : The future of Canada is in jeopardy; if we are to survive as a
> : nation of civilized people dedicated to the advancement of
> : human life and knowledge, fundamental changes in the policies
> : of MRC/NSERC/SSHRC are imperative.
> : Current policies are rooted in the classic political
> : stratagem of "divide and conquer"; the system maintains
> : a privileged clique of well-funded (over-funded) grantees who
> : naturally acquiesce in current policy. This clique controls
> : the awarding of research grants and serves its political
> : masters to suppress criticism from other members of the
> : research community. The rest of the research community
> : consists of about equal numbers of people who receive small
> : grants, and those who receive no grant whatsoever. Fear of
> : being cut off from research funding silences the concerns of
> : the majority, and coerces many researchers into safe avenues
> : of productive data collecting, as distinct from truly creative,
> : original research. The climate of fear discourages collaboration
> : and innovation, and encourages dishonesty in reporting research
> : results, and generally it is counter-productive of the alleged
> : purpose of the policy: "to support excellence in research".
> : Due to the lack of democratic control from the whole
> : research community (grant committees are NOT elected, but
> : self-appointed), the MRC/NSERC/SSHRC system (one-party system)
> : has naturally usurpated powers which should not belong to it at
> : first place. From a funding agency at the SERVICE to the
> : University community, it evolved to a system of research
> : censorship and suppression of dissent. Canadian researchers
> : don't need Big Brother to tell them what to do and how to think.
> : The system proliferates a wide spectrum of "research
> : programs" justified politically rather than serving the real
> : needs of the research community. This multiplicity of research
> : programs imposes a colossal bureaucratic overhead on researchers.
> : The business-management game of "grantsmanship" rather than
> : doing research per se, has become the modus operandi of many
> : ostensible "researchers".
> : Contrary to MRC/NSERC/SSHRC's pretext for inaction, the crux
> : of the problem is NOT overall "underfunding", but discriminatory,
> : undemocratic policies and the mishandling of many millions of
> : taxpayers' dollars on OVERfunding of politically preferred
> : projects and research groups. The refusal to provide even
> : minimal research support to a large number of active researchers
> : is morally deplorable and socially harmful. To hire lengthly
> : and expensively trained professors to do research (!) and then
> : deny them ANY (!) operating funds for their work is an
> : irresponsible waste of human talent and public funds.
> : Erudite efforts to initiate a constructive dialogue with the
> : granting agencies by many individuals have invariably been
> : brushed aside with platitudes supporting the status quo.
> : Equally futile have been similar attempts to approach those
> : members of Parliament supposedly responsible for research
> : funding. All we hear is that "this system is the best in the
> : world and need not be changed". What we see around us sharply
> : contradicts this complacency.
> : Following publication of our "Open Letter to Canadian
> : Researchers - funding system needs reforms" in the CAUT
> : Bulletin (February 1994), we have received numerous letters of
> : support from all across Canada, many of which have strongly
> : advocated the formation of an Association of concerned scholars
> : as the best way to persuade the Government to correct the
> : current, deplorable situation.
> : We are therefore hereby announcing the inception of the
> : CANADIAN ASSOCIATION for RESPONSIBLE RESEARCH FUNDING. We invite
> : all concerned Canadians to join us in this crusade to restore
> : civility and rationality to scholarly research within our
> : Universities, and thereby ensure the future prosperity of Canada
> : as a nation built upon human intelligence and knowledge.
> : Interested individuals who are unable to attend the inaugural
> : meeting on May 17 are invited to send us a written submission to
> : be read at the meeting. To R.S.V.P., for further details and
> : supplementary materials please contact:
> : Prof. Alexander A. Berezin, Department of Engineering
> : Physics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, L8S 4L7.
> : tel.(905) 525-9140 ext. 24546; email: BEREZIN at MCMASTER.CA
> : Prof. Geoffrey Hunter, Chemistry Department, York
> : University, 4700 Keele street, North York, Toronto, Ontario,
> : M3J 1P3. tel. (416) 736-5306; FAX (416) 736-5936; email:
> : FS300022 at SOL.YORKU.CA
> : ====================================
> : ------------------------------------------------------
> : MYTH OF COMPETITION AND NSERC POLICY OF
> : "SELECTIVITY"
> : Alexander A. Berezin and Geoffrey Hunter
> : (published in "Canadian Chemical News",
> : March, 1994)
> : A widely held misconception about science it
> : that its quality can greatly benefit from the so
> : called "competition for excellence" which is externally
> : "coordinated" by funding agencies. Scientific and
> : engineering research in canadian universities is
> : supported almost exclusively through the Natural
> : Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).
> : The basis for the present NSERC funding philosophy
> : and practice is the idea of "selectivity", i.e.
> : the policy of NOT funding all the applicants.
> : This is done in the name of the alleged "excellence"
> : of research and its "competitiveness".
> : This is reflected both in the adopted NSERC terminology
> : (terms like "grant SELECTION committee", "next
> : COMPETITION") and the explicit instructions (!) to
> : committees to recommend a significant fraction of
> : applicants for non-awards ("NIL" awards).
> : Notwithstanding the best intentions of its designers,
> : the present NSERC funding system leads to a highly
> : detrimental effect: instead of being IDEA AND
> : OPPORTUNITY DRIVEN which is the true path to
> : excellence (1), the research is GRANT DRIVEN,
> : GRANT LIMITED and GRANT SEEKING. The only real
> : concern of any applicant to NSERC is how to optimize
> : all his/her research along a single (!) criterium :
> : fundability.
> : The net result of this system is that truly innovative
> : research is often suppressed by the censorship of
> : the peer-review process (2). The present NSERC policies
> : encourage prolific productivity of routine (but
> : easily publishable) results along well established
> : mainstream research directions. Peer-reviewers are
> : invariably drawn from the scientific establishement.
> : They will be supportive of the established (their)
> : projects rather than truly innovative projects;
> : innovative projects are by definition not
> : established (3). How supportive was the scientific
> : establishment when Boltzmann presented statistical
> : mechanics ?
> : Stressing the very idea of "competition" is based
> : on the illegitimate transfer of a business model to
> : science. This is a case when a model is used beyond
> : its actual range of validity. The so called "competition
> : for excellence" has long ago passed all reasonable
> : limits needed for a healthy stimulation and turned
> : into a ferocious rat-race and Darwinian fight for
> : survival based on a principle of confirmity to
> : the mainstream. Often really innovative research can
> : only be maintained by its careful concealment behind
> : the mainstream facade. This dilemma is especially
> : acute for many interdisciplinary studies and for the
> : research which challenges the accepted paradigmas and
> : the established dogmas.
> : While it is undeniable that many NSERC-supported
> : projects are of a very high calibre, they became so
> : largely IN SPITE of the system rather than because of
> : it. Their continuing support does not offset the highly
> : damaging implications of "NIL-awards" for the morale
> : and research ethics of the entire university community.
> : Also, a NIL-award to a researcher has a devastating
> : effect on his/her graduate students, many of whom will
> : consider dropping a research career altogether. This
> : means a potential loss of the most valuable of all
> : resources - a human talent.
> : In terms of canadian research output and international
> : competitiveness, NIL awards to active researchers
> : leave a significant fraction of highly (and often
> : uniquely !) trained scientists FUNCTIONALLY UNEMPLOYED
> : (even though they are paid salaries TO DO RESEARCH !).
> : Our (very concervative) estimate is that at least a
> : thousand (!) full-time faculty members in science
> : and engineering departments in canadian universities
> : have no external funding whatsoever. On the other hand,
> : a significant number of well established mainstream
> : research groups ("departmental empires"), often with
> : little real innovation, are clearly OVERfunded.
> : Furthermore, the overselling the notion of research
> : "underfunding" is in the interest of such super-groups
> : experienced in the game of Grantsmenship.
> : It is a very common stand for almost any group, including
> : the research community, to attribute all their problems
> : to the underfunding. "Just give us more money and
> : everything will be OK". It is always easier to blame
> : somebody else than to look inside your own
> : household - this is the reason why the underfunding
> : mythology is so universally attractive and popular.
> : However, despite that Canada indeed falls behind some
> : other developed contries in terms of its total R & D
> : expenedure, the crux of the problem is NOT so much in
> : the bulk underfunding as in the MISMANAGEMENT of the
> : available resources. Contrary to what may seem obvouis,
> : under the present funding system "more money" from the
> : government (even if lobbing for extra funding will
> : succeed !) will EXACERBATE rather than solve the problem,
> : as almost all gains of new public money will go to the
> : already well funded groups and NOT to NIL-funded
> : researchers. This is a well known "Matthew effect" in
> : science "give to those who have and take from thos who
> : haven't") (4).
> : We believe that the real roots of major flaws of present
> : NSERC system lie in its UNDEMOCRATIC nature. Presently the
> : membership renewal in committees is NOT discussed publicly
> : and no electorial process is in place. Instead, we have an
> : oligarchic system in which "committees are simply
> : designated by previuos committees". Apart from some
> : scattered letters in the public press from individual
> : researchers, there is no sound democratic feedback
> : mechanism to NSERC from the entire university research
> : community.
> : The ineviatble result of any oligarchic structure is that
> : it proliferates for its own sake. In NSERC case the
> : consequences are the overblown and overcomplicated (and
> : resource-draining) funding structure of many dozens of
> : discipline and program committees. To justify their very
> : existence the multiple NSERC committees require unnecessary
> : lengthly proposals and multistaged process of "proposals
> : evaluations". The latter process is de facto largely
> : consists of a second peer-review of already peer-reviewed
> : (!) published papers.
> : Present NSERC trend to even more tighter peer-review
> : "quality control", even greater "selectivity" in funding
> : (more NIL-awards) is a step in a precisely THE OPPOSITE
> : direction to what is required to forster the real
> : excellence and innovation. Paradoxically it may sound,
> : but agencies like NSERC need LESS (!) (and not more !)
> : expertise to improve their operations. The bottomline
> : performance of a complex decision-making system (like
> : NSERC) is NOT a linear function of the overall "expertise"
> : it has. In fact, it is an inverted U-curve with a maximum
> : (optimum) beyond which the system LOOSES its efficiency.
> : This is a known effect of an over-controlled system - too
> : many strings damage the adaptability. Like with vitamines,
> : the overdose turns stimulation into a poison. In our
> : opinion NSERC presently suffers from a severe
> : "OVERexpertisation".
> : To alleviate the damaging aspects of present NSERC
> : functioning for the canadian university system, canadian
> : economic competitiveness and better management of
> : financial and human resources WE PROPOSE THE FOLLOWING
> : REFORMS:
> : 1. Numerous "grant selection committees" should be
> : amalgamated to just a few. Their present activity is
> : largely in "peer-reviewing" of proposals which are
> : almost invariably based on already peer-reviewed
> : published papers. There is no need to do peer-review
> : twice. This simply imposes an unfair "double taxation"
> : on the ideas, work and time of the researchers.
> : 2. Out of 3 present NSERC criteria ("excellence of the
> : applicant", "excellence of proposals" and "need for
> : funds") only 1st and 3rd should be left. "Excellence
> : of proposals" is largely a Red Herring. For all practical
> : purposes, the presently used 1-page form (NSERC form 180:
> : "intent to apply") is FULLY SUFFICIENT IN ITSELF, i.e.
> : as a rule no "longer" proposals should be written AT ALL.
> : This will not only save many truckloads of paper, but
> : millions of hours of a highly qualified professional
> : labor (at $ 30 per hour at cheapest !) to write AND read
> : the typewritten compilations of already published papers.
> : (Longer proposals can be left as optional only for some
> : special cases, e.g. for group grants in high-energy physics,
> : or for the first-time applicants yet without published
> : papers).
> : In short: FUND RESEARCHERS, NOT PROPOSALS.
> : 3. The rat-race terminology (grant "selection" ; NSERC
> : "competition") should be eliminated from the documents
> : and actual policies. Its continuous use is harmful for
> : the morale of the entire community and sends a damagingly
> : wrong message, especially to young scientists, forcing
> : many of them out of profession and/or out of the country.
> : Science can not and should not operate by the rules of
> : beauty contests and wrestling games. ALL university-based
> : researchers whose active status can be sensibly
> : demonstrated, should be funded at some (basic) level using
> : a SLIDING FUNDING SCALE rather than NIL-awards (5). These
> : basic awards (we suggest to call them RBMG - Research Base
> : Maintenance Grants) may not be great but they should cover
> : such fundamental expenses as any serious researcher has:
> : publication and reprint charges, conference travel,
> : computing and software, electronic networking, etc. The
> : gradaute student support can be much more efficiently met
> : through the direct grants to the departments where the
> : students are being trained. We also note, that personal
> : research expenses which professors squize from their
> : personal salaries are NOT TAX DEDUCTABLE !
> : In any case: NIL awards to ACTIVE researchers should not
> : be tolerated. This practice is based on an ill-conceived
> : philosophy of the alleged efficiency of a rat-race
> : "competition" in science when only peer-review defined
> : "excellence" is to be rewarded. In reality, NIL-awards
> : amount to wasteful and irresponsible mismanagement of the
> : scientific and intellectual resources of this country.
> : 4. It is imperative to obtain the views of the scientific
> : community on whether NSERC officials should be elected by
> : all those eligible for funding, and if found to be so, the
> : electorial process should be instituted. Nomination to NSERC
> : bodies (including the President) should be discussed PUBLICLY
> : and in advance, perhaps through a special bulletin. The
> : candidates should provide their platforms and be open to
> : public questioning and criticism before they are elected
> : to the office. They should be regularly publicly accountable
> : during their entire term in the office. It is also critically
> : important that the minority and dissentering views are duly
> : represented.
> : To conclude, contrary to a misleading similarity, the
> : terms "competitiveness" and "competition" are quite
> : different. The real competitiveness of research comes
> : from open opportunities and NOT from the enforced
> : "competition" which in many cases directly detrimental
> : for the very spirit of the reasearch. We believe that
> : a wide and open public dialogue on the above issues is
> : highly desirable for the strengthening of the economic
> : efficiencey, international competitiveness and social
> : responsibility of the canadian research enterprise.
> : Alexander A. Berezin,
> : Department of Engineering Physics,
> : McMaster University, Hamilton,
> : Ontario, L8S 4L7; (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546
> : email: BEREZIN at MCMASTER.CA
> : Geoffrey Hunter,
> : Chemistry Department, York University,
> : North York, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3;
> : (416) 736-5306 email: FS300022 at SOL.YORKU.CA
> : References
> : 1. A.K. Vijh, Canadian Chemical News, 42 (# 10), 14 (1990).
> : 2. A.A. Berezin, American Journal of Physics, 57, 392 (1989).
> : 3. L. Hocker, Physics Today, 46 (#8), 13 (1993).
> : 4. R.K. Merton, Science, 159, 56 (1968).
> : 5. D.R. Forsdyke, Nature, 312, 587 (1984).
> : --------------------------------------------------------------
> : ==============================
> : The follwing article is published in "Physics
> : in Canada", March/April 1995, pp. 72-73.
> : RESEARCH FUNDING MYTHS
> : Alexander A. Berezin (1) and Geoffrey Hunter (2)
> : (1) Department of Engineering Physics,
> : McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario,
> : Canada, L8S 4L7
> : (2) Chemistry Department, York University,
> : Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M3J 1P3
> : World-wide network of univeristy research is one of
> : the major pillars of the modern civilization. Despite
> : that research and intellectual potential is, of course,
> : not entirely confined to university campuses, the
> : economical, social and cultural progress of today is
> : unthinkable without an open forum for new ideas
> : facilitated and validated by the international community
> : of university scholars. Therefore, the problem of balanced
> : support for university research within the realm of available
> : means, despite its appearence as a "local" problem, gains
> : the level of international significance.
> : Numerous critics, speaking primarily of recent
> : evolution of the North American model of university
> : research funding, have indicated damaging consequences
> : of ferocious competition for funds which are externally
> : "justified" by the presumption that such strategy fosters
> : "excellence" in research. At first glance the idea of
> : "excellence through competition" seems reasonable. It is
> : easy to sell to politicians and general public. After all,
> : if it works for business deals or Olympic games why it
> : should not work for science ? However, as it often happens,
> : the argument fails by extension. The problem is that the
> : currently practiced regulating mechanisms of the externally
> : monitored competition in science ("grant selection") are
> : based on several underlying fallacies (myths) briefly
> : discussed below.
> : MYTH OF "EXCELLENCE". Despite a nice sound, a careful
> : scrutiny of this term turns it to an empty clause. The true
> : measure of the long range impact of research is its
> : originality, NOT its apparent "soundness" and conformity to
> : currently dominant paradigms. A truly innovative research
> : proposal is unlikely to attract a smooth approval by grant
> : awarding committee or get high peer review marks. By the
> : very way these judges are presently selected they tend to
> : be "paradigm keepers" rather than genuine innovation
> : searchers. Of course, no defence system is perfect and some
> : truly innovative reasearch "slips through" and gets funded,
> : especially if the applicants use proper decoys in their
> : grant applications. Nevertheless, many academic critics,
> : e.g., Nobel Prize laureate Albert Szent-Gyorgyi , have
> : pointed out that such fortunate occurences happen AGAINST
> : the dominant gradient of general suspicion (and often open
> : intolerance) to new ideas which is typical for almost any
> : committee of pre-appointed "experts". The viable alternative
> : to it is to fund RESEARCHERS (not proposals !) on the basis
> : of their overall record. Such a reform, however, will be
> : at odds with the present American project-oriented funding
> : model and also it will diminish the power of the
> : paper-shuffling bureaucracy and grantsmanship elite.
> : Therefore the idea "fund researchers, not proposals"  is
> : fiercely resisted by the research bureaucracy.
> : MYTH OF IMPARTIAL PEER REVIEW. "Impartial peer review"
> : was, for example, recently stressed in the policy document
> : "Partnership in Knowledge" issued by the Natural Sciences
> : and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). By
> : definition, peers are those who are themselves activly
> : involved in the area. Consequently, they are never free
> : from vested interests in it. While it is, of course, true
> : that not all of them are evil or dishonest, with all good
> : will in the world they can't be "impartial". The benefit of
> : the doubt, therefore, should be with an applicant and a
> : reasonable implementation of it is a sliding funding scale
> : , not a policy of sharp cut-offs (pop-philosophy of
> : "winners and loosers") which is presently the basis of
> : funding ideology of NSERC and other federal funding agencies
> : in Canada and USA. The social purpose of funding agencies
> : is to ASSIST the university research, they SHOULD NOT have
> : de facto mandates of directing or controlling the paths of
> : free inquiry. Their present trend, however, is towards
> : precisely the latter - a direct result of the bureaucratic
> : takeover in any unjustifably blown-up agency.
> : MYTH OF "SUPERFUNDING FOR SUPER-RESEARCH". This is
> : another, seemingly sensible, but in essence perverted,
> : extrapolation of a business model to science. This myth has
> : two components:
> : 1) the "most promising" research with the best future
> : "impact factor" CAN be correctly identified (by peer
> : reviewers, expert panels, boards of directors, or whatever),
> : and
> : 2) putting "more money" into the so identified "excellent"
> : research is bound to make it even "more excellent".
> : The first item is wishful thinking based on a presumption
> : of a "collective wisdom" of expert committees, the second is
> : based on traditional american aberration that "money can buy
> : everything". This is not just plainly naive, but also very
> : costly socially as it leads to an unwarranted overfunding of
> : many "polically correct" research activities like targetted
> : mega-projects, "centers of excellence", etc. This myth
> : bluntly ignores all crucial non-monetary constraints of any
> : genuine research. In reality, even Albert Einstein, whose
> : grant is suddenly increased from, say, $ 50,000 per year
> : to $ 200,000 per year WILL NOT produce "four times as many
> : discoveries". On the contrary, his real productivity will
> : likely drop due to additional paperwork, new commitments,
> : etc. Yes, some modest bonus of, say, 30-50 % above average
> : for a "really good" (by whichever criteria) research may be
> : quite appropriate. However, the systematic policy of
> : preferential (over)funding of some "selected" groups at the
> : expense of zero "awards" to scores of other equally decent
> : researchers is nothing short of an arbitrary ideological
> : apartheid. Its consequences are especially damaging for
> : the moral of the younger generation of university
> : researchers.
> : The typical university research program normally evolves
> : as a result of complicated ("nonlinear") interaction of
> : personal motivations of researchers and a web of social,
> : micro-political and financial aspects of a specific research
> : case. Rich spectrum of personal motivations can range from
> : the pure humility of research curiosity and selfless quest
> : for truth to a pragmatic (but socially still quite
> : acceptable) aim of personal career gains and attaining the
> : sizable level of authority, influence and institutional
> : weight. In the present university reward system it is not
> : that rare that the latter traits detrimentally degenerate
> : to the obsession with power control or personal enrichment
> : schemes.
> : It was mentioned earlier by E.Chargaff , the present
> : university system is based, to a large extent, on the
> : exploitation of the young: graduate students, postdocs,
> : assistant professors. So far, the major currency unit in
> : science is a "solid" peer-reviewed paper in a well acclaimed
> : mainstream journal. The more such units are accumulated, the
> : better is the bargining position in obtaining new funding,
> : hiring new postdocs, attracting even more new Ph.D. students,
> : etc. This vicious circle is self-serving and self-propelling.
> : The role model in today's academic science is "the boss" -
> : the head of a departmental mini-empire with 10 to 15 (above
> : listed) members of cheap research labour force with a net
> : output of some 20 to 40 papers per year. Though they are not
> : always entirely useless, the per-capita, per-paper
> : (and per-dollar) innovation effect of such super-groups is,
> : as a rule, much lower than of small groups, or even of many
> : sole researchers.
> : In reality, the philosophy of "winners and loosers" has an
> : overall effect of a coercion of research into the avenue of
> : established paradigmas ("safe science") to satisfy the peer
> : reviewers and hence to assure the "fundability" of research
> : proposals . At the end of the day, it is the very idea
> : of the peer review-enforced "excellence" through a brutal
> : "selectivity" which is a sure route to a mediocrity, NOT THE
> : OTHER WAY AROUND. The bulk of historic data suggests that it
> : makes more sense to fund MORE researchers at LOWER level to
> : maintain their research base - many important discoveries were
> : made with quite modest funding. What history of science
> : clearly DOES NOT show it that the overfunding of
> : super-research is a guaranteed roller coster to
> : super-excellence . On the contary, numerous case studies
> : show that in accord with the universal Peter principle ,
> : super-funded research usually quickly gears to its level of
> : incompetence.
> : To make the whole process less hostile and more time- and
> : resource-efficient, the awards of research grants should
> : be based exclusively on the long-term track record of the
> : applicant. Special provisions of a small bona fide grants
> : can be left for the junior applicants. Under the present
> : rat-race "competition for excellence" a university professor
> : with, say, one or two well thought-through papers per year has
> : virtually no chance to obtain funding at ANY level.
> : Implementation of the scheme "fund researchers, not proposals"
> : not only will make the process of funding more democratic and
> : socially responsible. It will also greatly reduce the paperwork
> : and raise the overall efficiency of university research.
> : However, such reform will ALSO reduce the power base of the
> : grantsmanship elite. This is the prime reason why several
> : constructive proposals of this kind (e.g., [2,3] were bluntly
> : ignored by research funding bureaucracy.
> : While some ranking of applicants and grant amounts is, of
> : course, appropriate, the policy of mass "zeroing" of active
> : university scientists is not only anti-intellectual in its
> : essence, but also is clearly contrproductive socially and
> : economically. It is time to re-orient the university system from
> : the obsolete idea of "competition" (it fails to deliver anyway)
> : to the cooperation and "win-win" science game. But so far, in a
> : search for winners the system still follows an old prescription:
> : "The mass trials have been a great success, comrades. In the
> : future there will be fewer but better Russians." (Greta Garbo
> : in "Ninotchka", 1939).
> : References
> :  A. Szent-Gyorgyi, Science, 176, 966 (1972).
> :  A.A. Berezin and G. Hunter, Canadian Chemical News,
> : 46 (#3), 4-5 (March 1994).
> :  D.R. Forsdyke, Nature, 312, 587 (1984).
> :  E. Chargaff, Persp.in Biol.& Medicine, 23, 370 (1980).
> :  B. Savan, Science Under Siege, CBC Enterprises,
> : Toronto, (1988).
> :  L.J.Peter and R.Hull, The Peter Principle, Bantam Books,
> : 1969 (many other editions).
> : ==========================================
> ----------------------------------------- Carleton University ----------
> Robert G. White Dept. of Psychology
> Ottawa, Ontario. CANADA
> INTERNET ADDRESS ----- rwhite at ccs.carleton.ca ------------------- E-MAIL
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