Comment on NSERC
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Mon Apr 21 10:56:53 EST 1997
Below is a letter from a senior Canadian professor
Re: NSERC funding policies. It confirms what we are
saying all along - that we are dealing with
self-centered, self-propelling, self-funding inner
club (... some more precise terms can be used here
but I refrain ...).
Because this letter came as a private mail I have
to remove identifying info, all the rest is left
"as is". Alex Berezin
Dear Dr. Berezin,
Congratulations on your letter to Nature (March 20,
1997, p. 212 - A.B.). So many of us feel concern
about the way in which the grant selection committees
operate. It was gratifying to see the issues brought
out in your letter and to have them spelled out
for all to see in Nature.
I agree that an alternative arrangement is needed for
handling of research funds. An "arms length" arrangement
should be established for the distribution of NSERC funds.
My concerns over the years about the present arrangements
are as follow:
i. The way in which new members are invited to fill
vacancies on the grant selection committee. It seems that
former research students and research collaborators join
the committee at the bequest of those leaving. This results
in a collective memory which continues from one committee
to the next. How are new members voted onto the
committee ? - just what are the procedures ? If we stick
to the present system, should we have a national vote on
who is elected to the grant selection committees ?
ii. There seems to be a tendency for the recycling of old
committee members onto the committee. This is a very
dangerous precedent. I shall soon be asking NSERC to provide
me with a listing of the members of the (... discipline
named - AB...) grant selection committee for the last fifteen
years. I know that old members have rejoined the committee
but the extent to which this happens is not too clear. What
about Engineering or the MRC committees ? Perhaps you can
comment on this.
iii. Who actually chooses the external referees for the
individual proposals ? It would be interesting to find out if
procedures are consistent from one committee to another.
iv. There seems to be a very parochial attitude to science,
at least within the (... discipline ...). A colleague of
mine, whose NSERC grant was actually cut to zero, was told
by a member of the visiting site committee that some of his
papers were only letters to Nature !! I've had my name on
eight papers to Nature, I've written two News and Views
articles, I've a standing invitation to review any book
for Nature, but this doesn't seem to cut any ice with any
of the selection committees.
v. Are there objective criteria that are used to evaluate
the grant applications ? These should be public information.
Before your letter appeared in Nature I was thinking of
composing a letter to the head of NSERC asking for some
clarification about the Grant Selection Committees, - how
they operate, how members are chosen, etc., etc. and
overall expressing my concern about the way in which
monies are given out. I suspect that there are many
Canadian researchers who feel as we do, that the Grant
Selection Committee has a vested interested (and not for
the right reasons) in the distribution of research funds.
I wholeheartedly agree with you that those who distribute
NSERC research funds should not be beneficiaries
An interesting excercise might be to find out if any
members of the Grant Selection Committees have ever had
their grants cut. I somehow doubt it.
I wonder how your letter was received by the rest of the
Canadian research community. Did you have any feedback ?
Perhaps something can be organized that would spell out
the concerns of the Canadian researchers directly to the
head of NSERC. Your letter was an excellent first
start. Where do we go from here?
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