Monthly Archives: December 2015

IS MORE MONEY FOR SCIENCE REALLY NEEDED? PART II.

 

What research gets federal support? Many other recipients are not shown here, and slices of this pie chart do not total 100%! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What research gets federal support? Many other recipients are not shown here, and slices of this pie chart do not total 100%! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Every year there is a storm of activity in Congress and the public media about how much money should be appropriated for federal support of science. These activities result in a never-ending upward spiral demanding more and more dollars for research grants. My opinion is that there already is plenty of money for science, and additional funding is not needed!

Since almost nobody except all the taxpayers will agree with my position, this essay examines this critical issue. Part I considered arguments about whether increased funding is, or is not, needed (see: “Part I” ). Part II now discusses several possible changes to increase the amount of dollars available for research support without needing to mandate any increased taxes. Yes, that is feasible! Throughout both parts of this essay I am referring specifically to faculty scientists researching in universities. Background can be found at “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”, and “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities”.

Introduction!

It is a simple fact that there is not sufficient money today to fund research by all the science faculty members at universities. Taxpayers should not be asked to pay higher taxes since they already are paying too much! The only solutions considered for this annual financial problem always are centered on increasing the dollars available for research grants. No-one seems to be examining any alternative and unconventional ways to generate more dollars for scientific research! This article examines 2 direct and effective ways to do that.

The amount of money available to support research can be increased by (1) greatly reducing waste in research grants, and (2) progressively reducing the number of new scientists!

Wastage of research grant awards now is solidly built into both the current research grant system and the universities receiving grants. On the surface, all expenses for any grant-supported project are officially scored as fully justified; in practice, many expenditures either are not spent for actually doing research, or are duplicated, excessive, and unnecessary (see: “Wastage of Research Grant Money in Modern University Science” ).

Another large waste of research grant funds is found in the indirect costs. These expenses are very necessary to pay for cleaning, garbage service, painting, etc., but somehow can be more than 100% of the direct costs for buying test-tubes and running experiments.  Indirect costs are uniquely paid by science faculty with research grant awards; non-science faculty in the same universities usually are not asked to pay for the indirect costs of doing their scholarly work. Thus, my view is that payment for indirect costs by research grants to university scientists is not warranted and wastes grant funds. Nevertheless, the federal granting agencies and universities both approve of this! This peculiar arrangement arouses suspicion that its real purpose is not research support, and must be some hidden objective (see: “Research Grants: What is Going on With the Indirect Costs of Doing Research?” ).

Although everyone can see that there are too many university scientists to be supported with the funds now available,  the production of yet more new science PhD’s every year  directly increases the number of applicants for research grants! In my view, this is crazy, and there now are too many faculty scientists (see: “Does the USA Really Need so Many New Science Ph.D.’s?” )! The number of grant applications submitted is further increased by the hyper-competition for research grant awards, causing many faculty scientists to try to acquire 2 or more grants (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ). Both these increases make the shortage of research money worsen each year!

My position about wastage of grant money is let’s stop this nonsense so the many dollars freed from being wasted can be used to support the direct costs of worthy research. My position about producing more doctoral scientists is let’s decrease the number of new PhD’s, so the supply/demand imbalance between number of applicants and the amount of dollars available is removed; this reduction will later decrease the total number of faculty scientists.

Discussion and conclusions!  

The policies of both the research grant system and the universities create and encourage the present mess!  Instead of crying out for even more money for science, I sincerely believe it would be much better to increase support funds firstly by stopping the very large wastage of funds awarded by research grants, and secondly by decreasing the number of university scientists applying for research grants.  Both these changes can be accomplished now without disruptions! They will directly remedy the seemingly unsolvable Malthusian problem with needing more and more money for research grants every year.

Why aren’t alternative possibilities being evaluated and discussed? The answer to this unasked question is very easy: the universities and the research grant system both love all their current policies and practices, even though these are very destructive for university science. University scientists are silent and afraid to protest because they will do anything to get their research grant(s) renewed. The research grant officials at federal agencies are silent because they are afraid to challenge and try to change the status quo. This financial situation now is locked in place (see: “Three Money Cycles Support Scientific Research” ).

Two effective models to support scientific research without needing external research grants are available. The ongoing success of self-funding of industrial research works well, does not depend on external research grants, and might have some usable practices that would help the financial problems for university science. Whether further commercialization of science at universities would help improve their financial operations remains to be seen. The very successful internal funding system supporting basic and applied research projects at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research (Kansas City, MO.) provides another good alternative model for escaping from the current malaise (see: “Part II: The Stowers Institute is a Terrific New Model for Funding Scientific Research!” ). Yet other systems for funding scientific research at universities also are of interest here, but are not being actively considered.

My conclusions for Part II are that: (1) the present conditions for federal support of scientific research at universities are very destructive and not sustainable without killing science (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ), and, (2) alternative and unconventional means for providing the large pool of dollars needed to pay for scientific research should be more closely examined and discussed.

 

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IS MORE MONEY FOR SCIENCE REALLY NEEDED?  PART I. 

 

Where does federal research support go to? Many other recipients are not shown here. Segments of this pie chart do not total 100%! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What research gets federal support? Many other recipients are not shown here, and slices of this pie chart do not total 100%!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Every year there is a storm of activity in Congress about how much money should be appropriated for federal support of science and research.  These yearly debates in Congress are accompanied by focused media campaigns in the public arena.  The total annual appropriation is some billions of dollars (see:  “Federal obligations for research and development, by character of work, and for R&D plant: FYs 1951-2015” ).  Of course, for all the liberals it is never enough!  As long as national taxes are collected, the taxpayers provide this huge pile of dollars.  All of these activities result in a never-ending upward spiral of more and more dollars.

My view is that more funding is not needed!  Since almost nobody will agree with my position, this essay explains and discusses the issue.  For beginners, please first get some background by reading “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”, and “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities”.  Throughout this essay I am specifically referring to faculty scientists researching in universities.

Reasons why more money seems to be needed! 

There are several well-constructed reasons why many more dollars appear to be needed to adequately support and promote scientific research in universities.

(1)  Many good projects now cannot be supported by research grants since there are not enough dollars available in the budget appropriated by Congress (see:  “Trends in Federal R&D, FY1976-2016” ), meaning that some good studies proposed by university scientists cannot be conducted.  All research by all university scientists needs to be supported!

(2)  Some approved projects receive only partial funding since there are not enough dollars available to pay for all portions of the budgets requested; this prevents completion of all the specific aims and limits the progress of scientific research!

(3)  Since research grants by their nature are competitive, the present shortage of research grant funding results in the very best applicants being fully funded, but most of the others are out of luck; we need more money in order to support all our dedicated university scientists!

(4)  New PhD’s are bestowed upon graduate students in science every year; this annual increase in the number of new scientists must be supported by a corresponding annual increase in funding of research grants just for them!  More scientists means more progress!

(5)  The United States (US) needs to improve its science education for children so we will be able to compete more successfully with the better education provided in some foreign countries (see:  “Asia tops biggest global school rankings” ); it will be a disaster if our students are not adequately educated about science, so much more money is required to improve our math and science education!

(6)  The most important questions for scientific research (e.g., cancer, water purification, remediation of pollution, solar power, etc.) need to be solved as quickly as possible, so we must selectively fund investigators in these areas; much more money to fund the very best scientists working on these questions will speed up the progress of science for these targets!

Reasons why more money is not needed

Although all of the foregoing are well-intentioned and some are based on true facts, each reason listed above is strongly disputed!

(1)  Not all doctoral scientists conduct research, not all work at universities, and, not all proposed projects are worthy of being funded and conducted; thus, the wish that all should be funded by research grants is just a utopian dream!

(2)  The handicap of partial funding is very real, but is an inherent consequence of the competitive nature of the research grant system; some partial support undoubtedly is an attempt by the federal granting agencies to spread their awards to more applicants, thereby keeping them quieter than those receiving no research funds at all.

(3)  Competition for research grant awards no longer is a valid term; instead, this must be termed a hyper-competition (see:  “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  It is a vicious and destructive arrangement, which distorts and disrupts the true aims of science and research.  Fully funding all applicants with research grants is impossible, unless and until the streets will become paved with gold!

(4)  Increasing money for research support in proportion to the ongoing annual increase in the number of applicants and applications for research grants is another impractical dream; its proponents never state where funds for all the new awards will come from.  Generally, more dollars means more taxes!

(5)  More money will not necessarily improve science education (i.e., look at what all the money already spent has not accomplished!); instead, what is needed are better teaching, improved students, less memorization and more learning to increase understanding, instruction about problem solving, instruction to counter the false Hollywood message that science and research are entertainments, teaching children and adults how scientific research is very important in the daily life of all people, etc.

(6)  Progress in research is always chancy!  There is no guarantee whether and when an important research question will be answered.  Research grants can be targeted, but it is not predictable which faculty scientist will make the most outstanding discovery.  It is unrealistic to throw tons of money at a few scientists, since it is very unclear whether those faculty scientists acquiring large piles of grant money by virtue of their non-science business skills also are the best researchers.  Instead, reducing the present emphasis on applied research, and increasing the training of student scientists to investigate basic research within the large areas related to the most important research questions, will increase progress towards these goals.

Brief discussion for Part I. 

Examination of the arguments listed above denies the validity of the traditional annual proposal that more and more money is need to support scientific research.  In utopia, funding all university scientists certainly would be nice; in the real world, there is not enough money to do that!  Also needed are major rearrangements in the priorities and operations of the present system for science in US universities.  What is particularly needed are new ideas and changes in the status quo for interactions between research grant agencies and universities; this will be examined in detail by Part II!

 

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SCIENCE AND THE GOVERNMENT: WHAT’S RIGHT AND WHAT’S WRONG? PART II. 

 

US national government interacts with everything and everyone, including science, research, and scientists! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
US national government interacts with everything and everyone, including science, research, and scientists!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Science in the United States (US) directly interacts with people, small and large businesses, education, the health system, engineers, students, media, etc.  One of the very largest and most extensive interactions of science is with the US national government.  This 2-part essay takes a critical look at the many involvements of our government with science, research,, and scientists.  Part I introduced the means and purposes of the government’s interactions with science (see:  “Part I” ); this Part II will examine the positive and negative features resulting from governmental policies and actions for science and research.

What are government research grants doing to university scientists and to the conduct of their research studies in 2015? 

Billions of dollars are spent each year by our national government to fund research grants to university scientists for their investigations in all branches of science [1,2].  In 2013, over 5 billion dollars were awarded by the National Science Foundation to support research and education [3]; the National Institutes of Health dispenses even more money for health-related research and clinical studies  Since everyone benefits from progress in science, the US federal government should be praised for financially supporting so many university researchers and research projects.

Unfortunately, it also is true that there are some very serious negative features and counterproductive outcomes of the present research grant system in the US:

(1)  there is huge wastage of grant funds for university research  (see:  “Wastage of Research Grant Money in Modern University Science” );

(2)  basic research is less emphasized and funded than is applied research, thereby decreasing generation of new concepts, technologies, and research directions;

(3)  the chief goals for becoming a university scientist have changed from discovering new knowledge, conducting innovative experimental investigations to answer important research questions, and developing new technologies, to acquiring more dollars from more research grants;

(4)  due to the enormous number of scientists and applications for research grants, many approved studies only receive partial funding, thereby preventing full completi0n of their specific aims;

(5)  the extensive current hyper-competition for research grant awards directly causes and stimulates corruption and dishonesty in science;

(6)  composing many new research grant applications now takes up more time for many university science faculty than does doing research experiments in their laboratories;

(7)  the present hyper-competition for research grant awards means that postdoctoral research fellows increasingly are expected to obtain research grants, instead of doing advanced experiments under the support from their mentor’s grant(s);

(8)  the epitome of becoming a famous scientist has been changed from a researcher who makes major discoveries, establishes new directions via breakthrough experiments, achieves new understanding, and innovates new technology, into a scientist-manager who sits at a desk, rarely (if ever!) enters their laboratory rooms, and acquires some gigantic amount of research funding that enables employment of over a hundred research associates working inside a new research building;

(9)  money is absolutely everything for US universities in 2015, and their science departments are only business entities to generate increased profits (see:  “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ); and,

(10)  items 1-9 produce degradation and decay of science and research in US universities, which explains why fewer college graduates now enter a career in science; their places in graduate schools now are filled by numerous foreign students, most of whom later find employment as science faculty and researchers in the US.

Some governmental interactions with science are good, but others are very bad! 

Among the good results, we can include that scientific research in the US  continues to produce new discoveries, issues many publications in science journals, creates some new directions, and makes some important progress.  US scientists continue to win the Nobel, Kavli, Lasker, or Breakthrough Prizes, and certainly are very deserving of being honored for their outstanding research achievements.  It is good that  governmental agencies regulate medical and laboratory research activities for reasons of safety, economy of expenses, and accountability, but this also can restrict creativity, innovation, and research freedom.  The US government should continue to support scientific research because that advances science and technology, and thereby leads to benefits for everyone in our society.

On the other hand, the quality of science and of the too numerous modern research publications both are going down.  The entire purpose of becoming a doctoral scientist working in universities has changed, and it is not surprising that this has resulted in the decrease of quality!  University science now is only a business where money and profits are everything, and faculty research scientists now are businessmen and businesswomen (see:  “What’s the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” ).  The federal research grant system fully supports all of this!  Obvious wastage of research funds continues to be accepted as an endemic problem in the research grant system (see: “Research Grants: What is Going on with the Indirect Costs of Doing Research?” ), making a mockery of the annual crying for more money to support science.  All these changes are obvious to most doctoral science faculty!

Hyper-competition for research grants could be the very worst feature of the status quo! 

The vicious and destructive hyper-competition for research grant awards degrades, distorts, and perverts scientific research at universities (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  This situation is directly caused by policies of both the funding agencies and the universities.  Both organizations approve and like the financial effects of the hyper-competition, and neither seems to understand how this  diverts and undermines scientific research.  Corruption and dishonesty in science are increasing every year, due in large part to the enormous pressures generated by this hyper-competition for research dollars (see:  “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” ).  Hyper-competition now causes many university scientists to spend more time composing grant applications than they do working on research in their lab.

Why don’t the science faculty at universities speak out and take action? 

An obvious question is why faculty scientists tolerate the current degeneration in science and research at universities?  Several answers can be given.  First, university scientists in general are increasingly dissatisfied with their employment (see:  “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job?  Part I” , and, “Part II” ); every year some university scientists do move out of academia (of necessity, or by choice), and find a better job in industrial research, science-related companies, or non-science employments.  Second, most university scientists holding research grants do recognize the problems caused by the present system, but are too frightened to complain or criticize the research grant system since that could reduce their chances for renewal of their research funding; it seems safer and easier to simply keep quiet.  Third, US college students increasingly reject studying to get a PhD for a career in academia; increasing attention by graduate schools now is given to better preparing their science students for employment outside of universities or even outside of research.  Fourth, postdoctoral research fellows are organizing and announcing their misgivings about academic science in general and about abuses of their position as researchers in training.

My sad conclusion! 

Many of the problems I have described and discussed here are widely known to science faculty, but these issues are only rarely discussed in public or addressed by science societies at their annual meetings.  It thus appears to me that universities and the research grant system will have to get even worse before they can change to become better!

My foremost conclusion, based upon having personally seen how things used to be before the hyper-competition for research grants started and expanded, and, before the ongoing conversion of faculty scientists and postdoctoral research trainees into slaves, is that university science now is dying (see:  “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).  I am not the only one to come to this sad conclusion (e.g., see:  “Science has been Murdered in the US, as Proclaimed by Kevin Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts!” ).

 

[1]  National Science Foundation, 2015.  Table 1. Federal obligations for research and development, by character of work, and for R&D plant: FYs 1951-2016.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2015/nsf15324/pdf/tab1.pdf .

[2]  American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2015.  Trends in federal R&D, FY 1976-2016.  Available o the internet at:  http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/DefNon_1.jpg .

[3]  National Science Foundation, 2015.  TABLE 4. Federal obligations and outlays for research and development by agency: FYs 2013-2015.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2015/nsf15324/pdf/tab4.pdf .

 

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