Monthly Archives: May 2014

WHY IS SCIENCE SO VERY EXPENSIVE? WHY DO RESEARCH EXPERIMENTS COST SO MUCH?

Why are Science and Research so Very Expensive? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Why are Science and Research so Very Expensive?      (http://dr-monsrs.net)

            Modern scientific research each year costs many billions of dollars in the USA, and over a trillion dollars in the entire globe [1,2]!  Research studies are supported by money from taxpayers, industry, and some dedicated group associations.  Even a casual look at scientists working on laboratory experiments shows that their activities always have a high cost.  Why exactly are science and research so very expensive? 

            There are many separate reasons why modern research always is costly.  First is the cost of salaries.  Research scientists deserve a good salary, due to their very long education and advanced training, specialized job skills, and previous lab experience in science.  Doctoral scientists have spent at least 4 years working on their graduate thesis, and then usually spend another 1-5 years as a postdoctoral research associate (see recent article in the Basic Introductions category on “All About Postdocs, Part I: What are Postdocs, and What do they Do?”).  When academic faculty jobs are scarce, some researchers spend 5-10 years, or even more, working as Postdocs, before they finally land a beginning position in academia or in an industrial laboratory.  This means that most scientists really find their first career employment at around 30-40 years of age.  Other lab personnel also have special training, and thus must also receive a good salary.  All the payments for salaries of the Principal Investigator, Postdocs, research technicians, and graduate students add up to many dollars each year. 

             Second is the cost of special research supplies and materials.   Laboratory experiments frequently involve usage of special supplies for the preparation and analysis of research samples.  Even the water used to prepare simple buffers and solutions must first be processed to a very high purity level before it becomes suitable for research usage.  Unusual chemical supplies are expensive because they must be custom-synthesized or specially isolated; only after final purity assays do these become suitable for use in research studies.  Special materials in high purity are essential for many lab experiments and inevitably cost many dollars. 

             Third is the cost of special research equipment.  Typical lab research at universities requires at least several pieces of expensive research instrumentation (e.g., amino-acid analyzers, automated analytical chromatography systems, facilities for cell culture, light and electron microscopes, mass spectrographs, polymerase chain reaction machines, temperature- and pressure-controlled reaction chambers, ultracentrifuges, etc.).  Even after their purchase, there are further expenses for annual service contracts or repairs, adjunctive support facilities, and add-on accessories; in addition, salaries for research technicians trained to operate these special research instruments must be included here.  Special research instrumentation always costs lots of money. 

             Fourth is the cost of time.  Good research typically takes much time to be completed.  Conducting research is always an exploration of the unknown, and never progresses in an automatic manner.   Many non-scientists have heard about the so-called “scientific method for research”, wrongly leading them to view experiments as cut and dried exercises that always work as planned; nothing could be farther from the truth!  Not all experiments work, and many of those that do work proceed in a different manner than expected.  Acquiring one unanticipated result sometimes necessitates undertaking several new experiments in order to pin down the whys and wherefores of the earlier new data.  All research results must be repeated at least once in order to have confidence that they are bonafide and statistically reliable.  Modern experimental research studies typically take about 6 months to 2 years to reach the stage of being able to publish the results in a professional journal.  The long time needed for conducting research work costs lots of money. 

            Fifth are the adjunctive costs of conducting research studies.  Where certain samples are used for the research studies, a number of special adjunctive costs arise.  Use of laboratory animals for experimental research is increasingly costly, due to the rules for animal care regulations and required veterinary oversight/support.  For cases where clinical research is conducted in a hospital setting, there are considerable costs for associated patient care, clinical and research chemistry, professional support services, etc.  For cases where clinical samples are researched outside hospitals, work in special bio-containment facilities with safety monitoring is required.    These required extra costs are in addition to all the many usual research expenses. 

             Scientific research costs lots of money because all he many different experimental operations require use of special supplies and instruments, salaries for specially trained research workers, specified safety measures for certain specimens, specified measures for use and disposal of radioactive materials and  toxic substances, and, many other adjunctive expenses.  All these different costs are needed for a time period typically measured in years.  As the saying goes, it all sure does add up! 

 Concluding remarks

             I have tried to give enough details here so that non-scientists will readily see how modern research studies necessitate substantial total expenses in the USA.  All of these perfectly usual costs for one individual scientist then must be multiplied by the number of research professionals, in order to arrive at the total national costs being spent annually on research.   That is a huge figure, but sometimes one must add the large sums paid for those research projects involving Big Science (e.g., space probes, oceanographic surveys, clinical trials of new pharmacological agents, etc.), and for use of special research facilities at one of the national laboratories (e.g., Brookhaven National Laboratory, Sandia Laboratories, advanced photon source at the Argonne National Laboratory, etc.).  The grand total costs for annual research expenses thus become a truly gigantic number of dollars. 

             This valid realization about the huge costs of doing scientific research in the USA sets the stage for a big follow-up question, asking whether the value obtained for science and society is worth this total cost?  I will discuss this difficult question at a later time. 

 

[1]  Hourihan, M., for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014.  R&D in the FY 2014 omnibus: The big picture.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aaas.org/news/rd-fy-2014-omnibus-big-picture . 

[2]  Battelle, and, R&D Magazine, 2013.  2014 global R&D funding forecast.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.battelle.org/docs/tpp/2014_global_rd_funding_forecast.pdf?sfvrsn=4 . 

 

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ALL ABOUT SCIENCE MEETINGS

 Scientists Love to Participate in Science Meetings!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Scientists Love to Participate in Science Meetings!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

           

            Just about all scientists happily attend at least one science meeting every year.  Week-long annual gatherings are organized by national science societies.  Since their membership can be large (i.e., many thousands of scientists), these gatherings are a big circus of activities.  The annual USA meeting organized by the Society for Neuroscience attracted an attendance of over 30,000 in 2013 [1].  Both graduate students, Postdocs, professional researchers from academia and industry, and, Nobel Laureates are found among the attendees.  Very general science organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science [2], also hold large annual gatherings. 

            Yet other types of science meetings have a somewhat different and distinctive character.  International science congresses for various disciplines are held every 2-4 years [e.g., 3,4].  Unlike the national gatherings taking place each year around the world, most international meetings are conducted in English.  For attendees, they offer both a chance to meet and talk to scientists from other countries, and to visit different parts of the world; scientific research truly is a very global endeavor.  Various topical research meetings and technical workshops typically are organized every few years for researchers working in a discrete area of science; often they are centered on a certain subject, specimen, or methodology, and so attract around 25-200 attendees.  These more intimate gatherings are very intense, and are invaluable for having access to unpublished new research findings; I found them to be particularly valuable for witnessing open debates between several scientists, and for getting to personally know colleagues who are actively researching in the same or similar areas.  Publication meetings are organized at irregular intervals for the purpose of summarizing research advances and controversies in some specialized area, and then publishing a book with edited chapters composed by the invited presenters; typical attendance is similar to that of the topical research meetings. 

Where are science meetings held? 

             The answer to this question depends upon how many persons will attend, where are there many scientists residing nearby, what rates are available from hotels or other accommodations, and what are the air transportation facilities.  Meeting management companies will do all of the necessary organizational work for the science societies.  Some larger societies are trapped by their very size, and so can meet only at the same very large convention centers every year.  Other societies meet at a different city each year, which enables attendees to visit many different locales.  Regional groups commonly meet at some central location.  Smaller meetings can be held at universities during the summertime, which enables much lower costs for lodging and conference rooms.  International meetings usually move around the world; this enables attendees to have a wonderful combination of science and vacation pleasures.  Over the years, I have participated in international gatherings at such locations as Kyoto, Hyogo (SPring-8), and Sapporo (Japan), Grenoble and Paris (France), London and Oxford (U.K.), Caxambú and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Toronto and Montreal, Canada, Davos (Switzerland), Brno (Czech Republic), and, Cancun (Mexico).  Of course, some international congresses also take place in the USA! 

Who pays for these science meetings? 

            For participation in the yearly national meetings, each attendee pays a registration fee (e.g., at least several hundred dollars) in addition to their annual dues for membership in that science society.  In addition, attendees must pay for their travel and hotels.  All these costs do add up, and have become substantial in modern times, particularly due to the annual rises in travel and registration costs.  Some meetings are able to offer free registration and special rates for accommodations of graduate students and Postdocs.  Many faculty scientists stop attending science meetings unless they are invited to give a presentation, in which case they receive free registration and/or reimbursement for their expenses; the commonly stated rather phony reason for not attending without an invitation is that, “I do not have any extra travel money in my grant(s)!”.  I myself am unusual in this regard, since I have paid my own way to attend some meetings; I feel that I was simply investing in my own research efforts and career. 

What is it that attracts so many scientists to attend science meetings?  

            In general, annual science meetings typically feature: (1) invited special oral presentations by research scientists who are famous leaders in their area of study, (2) contributed brief oral or poster presentations given by members of the society at many different topical sessions , (3) technical workshops about research instrumentation and experimental methodology, (4) roundtable discussion sessions where several well-known scientists have an interchange with each other and the audience about some research controversy or new feature of interest, (5) social events, such as a meeting opener and a banquet, (6) a commercial exhibition by manufacturers of research instruments and supplies, (7) evening cocktail parties with unlimited free alcohol are sponsored by some of the larger commercial concerns and are open to all meeting attendees (i.e., as potential customers), and, (8) opportunities to actually meet and talk with very famous researchers, competitors in your field, and graduate students seeking a suitable postdoctoral position.  Thus, these gatherings are enjoyable, educational, interesting, important, and sometimes inspiring.

            All of the above official activities are valuable, but sometimes can be considered as  being secondary to a variety of certain unofficial meeting activities, including: (1) greeting old friends, such as former classmates and science teachers, (2) conversing with many other research scientists, (3) restaurant dinners sponsored by department chairs or laboratory heads, (4) meeting others who  work on the same research subject as the attendee, and discussing common issues or technical problems, (5) informal social activities, and (6) a chance to see a new geographical location.  Clearly, there always is a lot to do at science meetings, and they constitute a major career enjoyment for many scientists (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What is the Fun of being a Scientist?”). 

            Although I have met only one or 2 scientists in my life who dislike going to science meetings, most do so enthusiastically.  The success of annual meetings such as that of the giant Society for Neuroscience is paradoxically lessened by the sheer giant number of attendees; this makes it simply impossible to find certain persons you are eager to talk to, and all the session rooms are utterly packed with other participants.  I thus developed a large preference for the smaller and more personal topical meetings, because: (1) they are much more intense, (2) you can find and converse with everyone else, even Nobel Laureates, (3) the very latest research results in your particular area of interest are presented and discussed, and, (4) everyone participating has a direct or indirect interest in the same research subject(s). 

Are there any science meetings for non-scientists? 

            The answer to this question is a loud “yes!”.  All the larger national and international science meetings have one or more free sessions designed to inform the public about their area(s) of science and recent advances in research.  These special sessions last for 1-3 hours and can be targeted to children, teachers, media reporters, or the general public.  They often feature dramatic videos showing amazing findings and research endeavors, along with explanations for non-scientists about what is being shown.  Usually there is time reserved for questions from the audience. 

            Readers are urged to check on the internet to find out which science meetings will be held nearby, and what free public sessions are scheduled.  I assure all readers that they will be welcomed to participate in these special public sessions designed for non-scientists. 

Concluding Remarks

            I hope this introductory article explains to all readers the important usefulness of professional meetings for scientists.  Please let me know if you have any questions about science meetings via the Comments button below.

 

 [1]  Society for Neuroscience, 2013.  Neuroscience 2013 attendees share science from around the globe.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.sfn.org/news-and-calendar/news-and-calendar/news/annual-meeting-spotlight/neuroscience-2013-spotlight/neuroscience-2013-attendees-share-science-from-around-the-globe .

[2]  American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2014.  2015 annual meeting.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aaas.org/AM2013 . 

[3]  Czechoslovak Microscopy Society, and, International Federation of Societies for Microscopy, 2014.  18th International Microscopy Congress, 2014, Prague, Czech Republic.Available on the internet at:  http://www.imc2014.com/ . 

[4]  XII International Conference on Nanostructured Materials, Moscow, Russia, 2014.  NANO 2014.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nano2014.org/ . 

 

 

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INDIVIDUAL WORK VERSUS GROUP EFFORTS IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH


Individual Researchers  versus Group Efforts in Science  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Individual Researchers versus Group Efforts in Science   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Ultimately, progress in science depends upon the work of many individual scientists.  Even where important new concepts or dramatic new research advances arise over a long period of time, one individual researcher with insight, determination, and innovation usually has a central role.  The importance of individuals as investigators and inventors in modern science becomes very obvious when the career efforts of certain giants in research are examined; new readers should refer to my earlier articles briefly presenting Thomas A. Edison and Nikola Tesla (see article in the Basic Introductions category on “Inventors & Scientists”), and, Edwin H. Land (see article in the Essays category on “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”).  All 3 of these renowned researchers were extraordinary individuals, both in science and in life.  It is interesting to note that when these 3 continued their pioneering experimental studies and commercial innovations, all formed large research groups so as to be able to carry out their many complex and extensive research activities. 

Any one individual scientist can only conduct and complete a few experimental studies in a given year of time.  To really be able to work to a larger extent, more than 2 hands are needed!  The simplest way to do this is to win a research grant that pays for salaries of technicians, graduate students, and Postdocs.  Another good approach is to form research groups.  Research scientists often associate with others for collaborative studies, either informally or formally.  Small successful research groups easily can grow larger.  For the complex and more extensive research work needed by projects in Big Science (i.e., the Manhattan Project during WW2 [1,2], and the projects of NASA in space research [3], are typical examples of Big Science), very large groups of research scientists are essential. 

Research groups of any size have certain general advantages over isolated individual scientists: (1) larger financial resources, (2) more lab space, (3) more brains, (4) more hands, (5) better ability to apply multiple approaches to any one project, (6) more flexibility, (7) greater efficiency of effort, and, (8) increased productivity.  This essay examines the general roles of individuals and of groups for working in scientific research. 

Individual Scientists and Small Research Groups

The early research scientists all were very strongly individualistic.  Classical science recognized that individual researchers are the primary basis for creativity, new directions, inventions, and research breakthroughs; this has not changed even in today’s science.  For research conducted in universities, one still finds many individual scientists pursuing good laboratory projects.  However, with the modern system for grant-supported research studies, an increasing number of individual scientists now are moving their experimental investigations into group efforts.  Small research groups in universities typically have around 5-20 members and staff (i.e., faculty collaborators on the same campus, faculty collaborators and visitors from other universities, graduate students, postdoctoral research associates, research technicians, etc.); small groups typically work within several laboratory rooms.  At the other end of the scale are giant research groups working under one Director, having over 100 scientists and research staff, and, occupying several floors or even an entire separate building.  Some medium- and large-sized research groups fill the interval between the small and giant associations. 

For studies in industrial research and development (R&D) laboratories, both individual scientists and various research groups are utilized.  Individual doctoral researchers often function as leaders or specialized workers in small or large groups.  Larger groups in industrial research often extend between different divisions and locations of the company.  Several or many small industrial research groups can be networked into extensive research operations in different states, nations, and continents.   Since many research efforts in industry pursue coordinated applied research and engineering studies targeted towards specific new or improved products, group activities are very appropriate for these R&D operations.

Large and Giant Research Groups

Since success breeds more success, there is a general tendency in universities for flourishing small groups to become larger.  All large research groups have greater capabilities for producing extensive results within a shorter period of time.  They also minimize the impact of the hyper-competition for research grants upon most members within the group, since one large award or several regular awards provide for the group’s experiments.  In academia, one even can find some entire science departments where almost all faculty members, other than those working exclusively with teaching, are organized to function as a single large research unit. 

In very large groups of researchers, group-think often becomes usual.  Most decisions are already made and each worker generally is concerned only with their small area of personal work.  Thus, individualism of everyone except The Director is squelched.  In many cases, the role of doctoral scientists within the large and giant groups at universities devolves into serving only as very highly educated research technicians.  The Big Boss is happy when everyone does their assigned tasks well, and thus there is little need for any individual input, creative new ideas, questions about alternatives, or self-development.  In my view, this group-think situation is very consistent with the new trend for academic science to now be just a commercialized business entity (see my earlier article in the Big Problems category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  One can even think here about an analogy of giant research groups to the assembly lines of commercial manufacturers; indeed, giant groups operating in universities commonly are referred to by other scientists as being research factories.  In those factories, it is doubtful that the Big Boss even can recall the names of all the many individual scientists working there. 

Nevertheless, giant groups can achieve notable successes in scientific research.  As described above, they also have some disadvantages for lab research studies.  It seems to me that the Chief Scientist in a research factory mostly functions for expert planning, integrating the many different experiments and diverse results into a cohesive whole, and, shielding all group members from the distractions of dealing with the research grant system and bureaucracies; these activities all are both difficult and important for research progress, and, therefore are deserving of praise. 

Small versus Large Research Groups

 Each of the differently sized environments for laboratory research at universities has both advantages and disadvantages.  The degree of positive or negative features for any given research endeavor must be evaluated in order to determine which situation is best.  It seems obvious that the different group situations will appeal to different types of personalities, and will be more productive for certain kinds of research studies.  Most of the classical and modern breakthroughs in scientific research have been brought forth by individuals or small research groups, and not by large or giant groups.  Research scientists working today as individuals in academia usually are dedicated to highly specialized niche studies, and are extremely careful to select a subject for their research which has no likelihood of competing with investigations of any large research group.  Such competition would be the instant kiss-of-death for any individual scientist, since it would be analogous to one mouse attempting to outdo a huge grizzly bear. 

 I have always researched as an individual scientist, whether all by myself or in a small group.  I also have known several other scientists in academia who were both very productive and quite happy to work within very large groups.  I view small research groups as being mostly good, but large and giant groups often seem problematic with regard to creativity and individualism; these qualities are vital for the success of scientific research (see my recent article in the Essays category on “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”). 

The large federal agencies offering research grants now seem to favor giving awards to larger groups.  This probably is done because those groups always provide a much, much firmer likelihood that all their proposed studies will progress as planned, everything will be completed on time, and the anticipated research results will be validated by the “new” experimental data.  Interestingly, these capabilities often come about because the giant research operations actually conduct, analyze, and finish all the planned studies during the period of their last funding; thus, any of their proposed experiments and anticipated results can be almost guaranteed.  Small groups and individual researchers simply are not able to do that, and therefore their proposals always seem somewhat chancier to evaluators of grant applications. 

With the present hyper-competition for research grants at universities, very large groupshave the easy capability to completely overrun everyone else.  They can very easily pick up any new study, start researching immediately, and, complete everything in a much shorter time period than could any individual scientist or small group.  The overwhelming strength of very large research groups necessarily has an inhibiting influence on individuals and small groups; this seems to be the price that must be paid for obtaining the beneficial functional advantages and strong output of larger research groups.  Even some brilliant individual scientist inevitably will find that they are at a strong disadvantage if they directly compete with large research groups for funding of a similar experimental project.

Concluding Remarks

Small research groups often form naturally in universities.  As soon as several individual faculty scientists in one or several departments discover that they have some common research interests, new small group efforts often can arise.  Scientists love to talk and argue with other scientists, and this often encourages the formation of these smaller associations.  Small groups can retain many of the advantages of single research scientists, along with having some of the good characteristics of large research groups.  However, successful small research groups must try to avoid growing too much, such that they do not acquire the negative features of very large research groups; successful small groups should recognize that growing into a much larger research group will not necessarily make the former better. 

 Smaller research groups can be viewed ass hybrids having some of the advantageous features of both individual researchers and giant research groups.  Small groups thus seem to me to be a very good model for the organization of future university research activities in science.

[1]  Los Alamos Historical Society, 2014.  Manhattan Project.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.losalamoshistory.org/manhattan.htm .
[2]  U.S. History, 2014.  51f.  The Manhattan Project.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.ushistory.org/us/51f.asp .
[3]  NASA Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2014.   Science@NASA.    Available on the internet at:   http://science.nasa.gov/.

 

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THREE MONEY CYCLES SUPPORT SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

 The Research Grant Cycle at Universities   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

The Research Grant Cycle at Modern Universities   (http://dr-monsrs.net)


            Modern research with laboratory experiments is very costly for universities, research institutes, and industrial centers (see my earlier article in the Basic Introductions category on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”).  Without financial support, research investigations are either impossible or severely limited.  Most funding for scientific research in the USA comes from commercial companies and the taxpaying public (via grants from several agencies of the national government).  If one steps back and looks at the overall processes whereby funds to support scientific research activities are generated, several different money cycles become apparent.
                    (1) The Business Profit Cycle provides funds for research and development (R&D) in industrial settings.                                                                                                                                             (2) The Soft Money Cycle supplies funds to support experimental studies at research institutes, and, some large universities and hospitals.
                    (3) The Research Grant Cycle generates funds for laboratory investigations at modern universities. 

             All 3 money cycles have the general features that a relatively small input of money starts and maintains the cycle, which later produces an output of research findings (i.e., science) and additional money (i.e., profits).  The scientists function in these cycles as a catalyst to make this conversion from input into output.  An amazing ability of these 3 cycles is that all grow with time and become self-supporting.  I now will briefly describe and explain how each of these 3 cycles operates, so that both the general public and employed scientists will have a greater understanding about how modern laboratory research is being funded.

The Business Profit Cycle

            Large industries must develop new and improved products through research and engineering efforts, so as to increase their financial profits.  A portion of their total annual profits is designated for R&D work by scientists and engineers, and is used to pay for the needed personnel, instrumentation, and supplies.  Marketing of the new or improved commercial products then generates increased sales and additional profits; this output enables both rewards for the private or public owners, and an enlarged pool of money to pay for an increased amount of future R&D.  Thus, for a successful company, the profits and the number of investigations both grow bigger with time, and their Business Profit Cycle becomes self-supporting.  History clearly shows that money from this ongoing cyclic operation is very successful for enabling industrial R&D activities. 

 The Soft-Money Cycle

            Research institutes, large universities, and some hospital centers have full-time staff scientists who receive a salary exclusively from their research grant(s).  This is termed a soft-money salary, and differs from the hard-money salary of most university science faculty (i.e., their salary is guaranteed by some source, such as a state government).  Typically, staff scientists with soft-money positions are not eligible to receive academic tenure, and do not have teaching obligations.  In general, these scientists work in a circumscribed research area (i.e., as part of a focused group effort), have very specific job duties (e.g., operation of a complex special research instrument that provides data used by other researchers), or are successfully investigating some very hot topic.  The input for The Soft Money Cycle is research grant money, and the main output is science (i.e., published research results).  Scientists function to convert the input into the output via their research activities.  This soft-money cycle works quite well for supporting scientific research activities at some prominent research institutions. 

            In all cases, scientists with soft-money salaries enter their job with full knowledge that their continued employment directly depends upon their success in obtaining research grant renewals.  Due to the present hyper-competition for research grant awards (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “Why Would any Scientist ever Cheat?”), a certain number of soft-money researchers each year must terminate their employment as a scientist.  Not everything in this situation is bad, since soft-money salaries more frequently are not so restricted as hard-money salaries, and even can include some bonuses.  The soft-money scientists that continue to produce good research results and high quality publications actually do have some job security without needing to be tenured. 

The Research Grant Cycle

            Modern universities mostly now have become just another business (see my earlier article in the Big Problems category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  University profits are cold hard cash, and traditionally are obtained from several quite different sources: donations by alumni and corporations, income from endowments, ever-increasing tuition fees obtained from enrolled undergraduate and graduate students, and, portions of research grant money brought in by their science faculty.  For The Research Grant Cycle, the input is research grant money, and the output is science (i.e., published research reports) plus university profits (i.e., awarded grant money that has not been spent).  The Research Grant Cycle is successful because it both supports research by the science faculty and provides universities with profits. 

             The greater the number and size of research grant awards acquired, the larger are a university’s profits.  To fully understand this statement, it is necessary that readers comprehend what is meant here by “profits”.  University profits include the total funds entering a university,  which are not fully needed and used to pay for salaries and expenses of some designated group of employees (e.g., administrators, housekeeping staff, librarians, police department, secretaries, teachers, etc.), or for some specific activities (e.g., advertising and publicity, bookkeeping, painting, receiving deliveries of new purchases, safety office, etc.).  In other words, if total income exceeds actual expenses, then there is a net positive profit. 

            University profits in any single year include the following typical examples. 
                        (1) The sum of all tuition fees minus the actual expenditures for classroom maintenance, course handouts, faculty instructors, heating and air-conditioning, printing of course examinations, teaching assistants, etc.  Any net positive balance here is a profit. 
                        (2) Income from investments of endowed resources, minus all the costs for administration, bookkeeping, brokerage services, financial consultants, money transfers, etc.  Any net positive balance here is a profit. 
                       (3) Total research grant awards, minus actual payments for approved expenses with direct and indirect costs, financial bookkeeping, grant administration, purchases, salaries, travel, etc.  Any net positive balance here is a profit. 
All these profits initially are transferred into some special institutional budgets (e.g., Dean’s slush fund, fund for new building construction, fund for special programs, institutional emergency fund, reserve fund for future usage, unencumbered funds, etc.).  

 Can the Profit Level of The Research Grant Cycle be Increased? 

             Operation of the Research Grant Cycle at universities is diagrammed in the figure shown just under the title of this article.  This now has been expanded by the incorporation of certain features described above for The Soft Money Cycle.  By hiring some science faculty as soft-money appointments instead of into the usual hard-money positions, universities save very much money because they no longer need to provide salaries.   The reduced expenses readily enable the generation of greater net profits by The Research Grant Cycle. 

             I suspect that another new source of additional profits involves that portion of research grants awarded to pay for indirect costs (i.e., expenses for cleaning, heating and air conditioning, painting, safety, etc.).  For the necessary background, please see my recent article in the Money & Grants category on “What is Going on With the Indirect Costs of Doing Research?”.  Any profits coming from unused indirect cost awards can be used to enlarge the standard operation of The Research Grant Cycle, and/or diverted to pay for other university activities.  If I am correct about the use and misuse of indirect cost awards, the amount of extra profits could be quite large.  Universities undoubtedly have several responses always ready to counter any inquiries or allegations about whether their actual expenses are much less than the costs in their approved budget: (1) black and white documents giving work schedules and listing the activities performed, (2) entries in official accounting documents showing that all indirect cost funds were spent completely and exactly as planned, and (3) a signed agreement with the funding agencies about approved costs, coming from the earlier negotiations establishing a university’s indirect cost rate.  However, a paper document does not necessarily mean that listed work actually was done, or that the actual service activities described really do cost as much as their stated values.  Based upon my personal experiences, I simply say “bunk” to such “proofs” for their stated indirect expenses! 

How do the Money Cycles Actually Function? 

             All 3 different money cycles produce profits that support scientific research activities.  The 2 money cycles at research institutes and universities can be initiated as soon as the available institutional funds become sufficient to permit hiring only one new scientist on a soft-money salary.  This faculty member then wins a new research grant and also gains his or her new salary.  After initial success, this faculty researcher then is encouraged to obtain a second grant, publish many research reports, and submit strong applications for competitive renewals.  The total profits generated from this initial employee will enlarge the pool of unrestricted university funds, thereby ultimately permitting the hiring of some additional soft-money faculty scientists.  With time, this cadre grows further and the Research Grant Cycle becomes self-supporting (i.e., research grants of the employed scientists provide enough income to give a net profit level that more than pays for all the costs of operating this cycle).  The use of soft-money salaries also means that the universities never have any worries about what to do if a research grant unexpectedly is not renewed; any time that an annual soft-money contract is completed, the employing university simply can discharge the now unfunded scientist, and then hire a replacement. 

             Once any of the 3 money cycles starts operating, they then simply go around and around while generating more and more profits.  With good administrative management, the number of people generating profits grows each and every year, and the cycle gets bigger and better!  In some cases, the speed of cyclic rotation even gets faster!  For all 3 money cycles, profits and the size of the cycle become larger and stronger with time! 

            For modern universities, a self-sustaining and growing new source of money profits has been discovered!  Once functioning, only minimal further expenses are needed to maintain this ongoing cycle!  The universities surely are overjoyed!  Since universities have become just another business, the financially productive Research Grant Cycle now is strongly embedded within modern university operations.  The success of The Research Grant Cycle in generating profits explains why medical schools often are the very largest unit at modern large universities; this condition has little directly to do with diseases, new therapeutic treatments, public health, or clinical research, and everything to do with obtaining larger profits. 

Does The Research Grant Cycle Actually Operate at Modern Universities? 

             What is the evidence that this cyclic profit-generating system really exists in universities?  Although there are several pieces of suggestive evidence, definitive proof remains lacking because so much is kept hidden and/or is off the record.  Recent conditions suggesting this operation at universities include: (1) the number of soft-money science faculty holding positions as non-tenure-track employees in universities is increasing, (2) at any time, there now are quite a few individual doctoral scientists available for hire in the USA as soft-money employees, (3) new very large programs (e.g., clinical genomics research initiatives, participation in extra-terrestrial space science studies, nanoscience research institutes, etc.) now have been developed in universities, and many have received substantial funding support with very large research grant awards, and, (4) even though every year there always seems to be only limited funds available for federal support of science, new government-mandated projects and mission-based research efforts continue to be announced along with special funding programs to support them.  Any new initiatives and funding programs all engage The Research Grant Cycle fully, and actually stimulate its functioning. 

 Concluding Remarks

            All 3 of the money cycles do provide the financial support needed for modern scientific investigations in the different employing institutions.  The Research Grant Cycle certainly is considered to be totally good by the many parties benefitting from it.  After the recent period with declining income due to economic downturns, universities must be especially delighted to have found a new very fruitful profit-generating mechanism to fund their many activities and services.  

             With all those positive features of The Research Grant Cycle, why then do I have a negative opinion about it?  There are 3 main reasons for my viewpoint.
                    (1)  First, my biggest reason is that this type of profit-driven money cycle subverts scientific research by making getting research grant money the chief goal of the science faculty, rather than producing new knowledge and new concepts from their experimental investigations.  The money is made to be more important than the science.  This shift in values directly stimulates the current abominable hyper-competition for research grant awards. 
                    (2)  Second, it forces scientists to become business entities, rather than professional researchers and scholars trying to better the world through their investigations.  Basic research especially is affected negatively, since it initially has no obvious commercial importance. 
                    (3)  Third, it amplifies the increasing commercialization of university science (see my earlier article in the Big Problems category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  The Research Grant Cycle reinforces the new identity of universities as businesses, rather than as centers for academic scholarship, scientific research, teaching, innovation, and public service.  That new identity in turn encourages corruption and downgrades the traditional role of universities in society. 

 

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