Sorry and Lets Move On? What do we do about this?

Dr. Paula J. Schlax pjschlax at JHUVMS.HCF.JHU.EDU
Tue Aug 19 10:21:43 EST 1997

In some ways I am sorry I made my original posting, I am actually pretty
damned depressed reading all of these postings.  

(I keep reading though!) 

I think that most everyone who is still working in science does it
because they love science, although I suspect that there are probably
some of us who got tracked in because as children we decided we wanted
to be like the Professor on Gilligan's Isle and never really drifted
from the goal to explore other options. 

It seems as if most posts are suggesting that we need to either
-reexamine our personal goals and probably bail out of our chosen
direction (because we aren't in the top 5%)

-restructure science so that there will be less people in it (triage is
a great word!) or create positions with less responsibilities so that
the responsibilities are spread more evenly and I can continue this run
on sentence indefinitely.......

I think that most posts are pessimistic that science could be
restructured- however, frequently, lunchroom conversations drift to
restructuring grant review (and paper counting in particular),
restructuring science education etc...., I think, at least among younger
un established (I mean people who are not key note speakers) there is a
call to restructure funding, and in general, the way science is done. 

One idea that I have heard bantered about (in the lunchroom) is the idea
of setting up institutional type grants;people would apply to work on
those grants (for example, most Ribozyme funding would be on an overhead
grant at Boulder, and other people wanting to work on ribozymes would
need to either go there, or get their money from the grant
adinistrator).  These block grants would then be the major sources of
NIH funding. 

Obviously this idea has a lot of holes in it (favortism, people having
to conduct specific goals outlined in the grant that may not be their
own ideas or perhaps even very interesting to them, a biasing of results
from limiting competition, administrative headaches), but I suspect that
there could be some real benefits from this (redundancy would decrease,
as would "scooping", competitors could be essentially forced to do the
experiments to differentiate between the models which fit their data
(and forced to recognize each others existence)).  The current system
does a lot of these things with peer review. It has a lot of the same
problems as well- I am not saying one is better than the other, but I
think it is the only really concrete suggestion I have heard for
changing the structure of funding (at least drastically changing it).
It seems as if it would require a series of scientist manager type
positions to develop as well. 

One potentially nice component would be the ability to set up a truly
multidisciplinary team to work on a project (structural biologists,
geneticists, chemists and maybe even a few biochemistry types).  

What do people think- 
How could science be restructured to answer questions more effectively 
and to retain the creativity and originality required to make
outstanding discoveries? How can it be restructured so that a reasonbale
number of people are trained and employed? (Would the institute model
allow training? Would you be trapped working on the subject you received
your training in?) We're all entrenched in the current system, can
anyone see other ways to change things?


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