Cost of Research, Tenure, etc

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Mar 20 15:24:39 EST 1996

Dear Gavin,

Actually I don't disagree on much of what you are
saying. I add some few comments below though.
Alex Berezin

[ lot of prev. deleteed ]

On 20 Mar 1996, Gavin Fischer wrote:

> Tenure system already doesn't exist at several schools- so what
> (BU is one of them). In every other field of life the same thing
> is happening right now. People are being layed of at a great rate-
> and they are complaining about it too. Why should we be different?

Being a tenured prof and having 13 years till retirement it
is rather tough to say 'no I don't want [like] tenure'. But 
looking from the distance, I believe system in its present form 
is unsustainable for much longer (my wife does not have
tenure and hates the idea of it). 

[ snip ]
>  Contrary to what some optimists are saying, I don't
> : see too much use of all these Big Biomedical Studies 
> : for real medicine and, what IS done on this side could 
> : almost unexceptionally done 10 times less expensive.
> Nonsense. Reagents for work in biomedicine are expensive. 
> Your choice is either don't do any work in those fields with
> expensive reagents (and once you throw everyone out of the field
> and decrease the usage- the reagents will get more expensive).

Here I disagree. Reasearch (ANY) research is supposed to be
a highly value-adding activity. The main componet is, of
course, to pay salaries of researchers. But apart from this
most (almost all) costs are artificially blown up 10-fold
(or often more) precisely because the suppliers know that 
the present grant funding structure makes these prices affordable
for the researchers. TV set costs $500 (to produce paerhaps,
$ 100). Same TV under the name of osciloscope of frequency
analizer (not much technically different) may easlily go   
for dozens of thousands. 

> This I beleive would shut down most of gene therapy- most of the 
> lab our labs work in signal transduction- and probably a million
> other fields. No- we are not a big lab- 9 people only (PI included).
> Your previously stated $10,000 would fund us at current spending levels
> for about 8 weeks and we are thrifty.

That's precicesly what I want to question. Michael Faraday
made (by the recognition of biographes) enough for at least
four Nobel Prizes. He has only one lifetime technician.
And don't tell me he was in a better position than your PI. 

> : Yes, I would close (or at least greatly reduce NIH),
> : stop luring young people in non-existent job prospects
> : and leave it all (that is medical research funding) up to 
> : practicing doctors.
> X-rays never would have been found. How many doctors do you
> know that stay on top of the basic research fields? They exist
> but are much rarer than those who don't. Therefor- how can they
> be expected to run research. They don't have the knowledge to 
> do that- and I for one would rather have my doctor good at
> healing me than at the signalling pathwayts in a cell that 
> may or may not be important. 

I am not saying there should be no 'untargetted' research.
I am saying that the present level is highly inflated.
Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) what I saw around for the
last 30+ year tells me that the rule "More money - less ideas,
less money - more ideas" largely works. And for most good
ideas you need SOME money to implement, but often much less
than people claim they need. 

> The Job statement. Please name a field that young people can
> go into where they are guarenteed a job. Please name anything
> in life that is guarenteed (other than death). 

I am sorry, I can't take up Nostradamus role. I simply
don't know, and unlikely will trust anyone who says he
does. Computing ? - No, I don't believe in it is a long
run, its getting so reproducible and cheap that it can't
hide too much of a promiss (I wish, I could be wrong).  

> I am a second year student and do not think that I am 
> the exception when I say
> that I know the job situation (I was a tech for 3 years first) and
> am willing to accept the risk. Any young student who hasn't figured
> out the risk early in the carreer needs to talk to post docs more.

Well, at least we can both settle on risk taking.

> How do they know which leg of basic research is going to pan out.
> The need a cure for B-CLL. How are they going to get it? They can
> fund work only on that- and maybe get it- or they can continue with
> the current system and maybe get it. 

Again, it all may be true, but I remain highly suspicious
to the 'research is SO expensive' mantra. I believe it is
largely a myth perpetuated by those who personally benefit
from it.

> You have to admit that science is only reflecting society right
> now. Jobs are tight everywhere. "It is not like it used to be"
> is the statement that I hear out of older faculty a lot. The reply
> is "Deal with it". Yes there is uncertainty and no job security.
> That is a thing of the past in every field. 

Well, looks we are all in the same boat. Perhaps the
the only viable common agenda for all of us is to
reconsider the idea of 'competition'. I think it is
the most detrimental aspect of the modern society
(fallacy of competition, that is). In science this
essentially means stop spying (peer reviewing) on
each other and turm from 'competition' to coopertaion.
Then we PROBABLY can have some breathing space. 

> Gavin Fischer
> BU program in Immunology

More information about the Bioforum mailing list