SMOKE, FIRE and MIRRORS

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed May 1 15:47:19 EST 1996



On 1 May 1996, Gregory R. Harriman wrote:

> 
> In the previous post, I didn't criticize a sliding scale 
> proposal. I criticized a proposal made by you that 'all 
> professors [ in a given area ] get equal grants'. Those 
> are very different proposals.  

I counted that the readers have some imagination 
to say a hyperbole from the manual instruction. 
I used the form 'all profs get equal grants' as
a METAPHOR to argue that EVEN THIS (obviously, 
very primitive) scheme has some strong advantages 
in comparison with MASS-ZERO funding for many 
deserving researchers. What I, of course, have
in mind is a continuous funding scale based on
roubust assesment of track record. Zero funding
will be exceptional, only for the most out-of-luck
cases.

>  A sliding scale scheme, if it were based at least 
> to some extent on what was proposed rather than simply 
> on who was proposing it, would deserve a closer look. 

Well, if you really mean it, than we may be on
a path to some consensus.

> However,in your previous arguments, you have suggested 
> that anyone who purports to be a researcher should be 
> funded regardless of how good their proposal is.  

The wrong word in the above (I did NOT use it)
is 'regardless'. Sliding scale (ranking) is 
certanly mean regardING, not regardLESS.

> 
> You are very naive if you think funding the researcher rather than the
> proposal is going to do away with bias and vestiges of the "ole boy
> network".  What you suggest already occurs. It shouldn't be surprising to
> you to hear comments in study sections referring to how many publications
> the investigator has or how prominent he/she is and this becomes the
> rationale for funding the person, regardless of the validity or merits of
> what they propose to do. 

Because the question the study sections address in wrong.
It is NOT important how many papers this-ot-that has
published (or even in what journals) but what s/he
has REALLY DISCOVERED in a course of, say, last 5 years,
last 10 years, etc. Though, it is also not fully free from
some sujectivity (nothing is), it is much more clear-cut
and robust question than weighting how many pounds been
published.

> Conversely, a young, or not so young, investigator 
> without an "established record" has a harder time regardless
> of the quality of their proposal. 

Again, if the 'track record' is assessed as I propose
above, I don't see too much problem with it.

> To some extent there is validity to
> this, since it rewards people who have previously proven themselves. 
> However, this can easily be abused and become a way of funding your
> friends who have been around with you awhile and excluding new
> investigators or outsiders.  

You can (to a large extent, at least) offset this 
by using much wider and OPEN ranking plus use of 
some OBJECTIVE parameters of impact, such as Science 
Citation Index (there are known schemes how to correct 
for the self-citations, for the 'the first author' 
effect, etc).

> The funding of researchers rather than
> proposals is no panacea to the problems of research funding.

In a dual scheme (which is the most fair of all)
SOME part of grant comes from the assessment
of the researcher, and SOME part comes from the
competitive process (yes, perhaps, proposals).
This (blended) scheme is what actually exists
in some countres. But again, we come to the
problem of first solving the BASIC funding for the 
presently cut-off portion of the distribution. 

> > Likewise, your exapmle on the basketball players
> > misses the point. Yes, many of us may be 
> > outraged by the multimillion pays to top players
> > (as well as to movie stars or top fashion 
> >  models, etc), but nonetheless all professionals
> > in this categories get SOME pay if they do
> > their activities. Not all make as much as
> > Linda Evangelista or Naomi Campbell (sorry,
> > I am not familiar with names in sport),
> > but even girls working for catalogue stores
> > flyers are making SOMETHING. But by some
> > (irrelevant, in my view) reason you deny that
> > same principle be applied to researchers.
> 
> To the contrary, the same principle does apply to researchers.  To
> extrapolate from your analogy above, ALL scientists do get SOME funds to
> do research.  At a minimum they have their salary paid, either by grants
> or the university. Otherwise, they wouldn't be able to pay their bills
> (except for maybe the rare person who is independently wealthy and does
> research as a hobby).  However, the ones that are more successful (whether
> basketball players, models or scientists) are able to get more money.
>

I can't buy the above analogy. Salaries are paid as
COMPENSATION for the work done (teaching AND research).
You do not expect factory workers to buy tools from
their salaries or you departmental secretary to buy
office supply from her salary. If people (like
university professors) are hired to do teaching AND
research basic research funding MUST be provided on
top of their salary.

 
> Greg Harriman
> 
> 




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