Most people are not at all concerned with science, so they presume that everything is just fine for scientific research at universities. This is utterly wrong! Just because science journals continue to publish myriad new articles by faculty scientists, and the government agencies spend billions of taxpayer dollars each year to support research studies, does not mean that all is well! In fact, many faculty scientists are very dissatisfied with their job (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job? Part I” )!
In this essay I briefly summarize the present status of the biggest problems causing me to conclude that university science is being so distorted and so diverted from its true aims that it is headed for collapse (see: “Could Scientific Research Now Be Dying?” ). My purpose in today’s article is to encourage awareness of this critical situation, stimulate forthright discussions and debate, and, emphasize that much more attention to this problem is badly needed.
A brief background!
There are 2 main causes for the decay and degeneration of scientific research at modern universities: (1) the academic institutions, and (2) the research grant system. Both of these are happy with the resulting consequences of their bad policies and actions.
Why do these bodies operate like that? All the many expenses of doing research must be paid by someone. For academic institutions, research grants are the usual source for funding their scientific studies. In recent times, that reality has expanded into the rule that getting and renewing research grants is the main job for members of the science faculty. Research grants provide a very welcome solution to the financial woes plaguing modern universities. The overwhelming importance of research grants has transformed universities into businesses where money is everything. Research accomplishments are only the means to increase financial profits at these businesses (i.e., getting more money is the true goal, and research is not directly valued).
The current research grant system is very happy to be awarding billions of dollars every year to support scientific research. By sponsoring all these research studies, the large federal agencies issuing research grants achieve: (1) approval from the both the public and scientists for supporting research, and, (2) acquisition of ever increasing power to control, influence, and regulate which investigations can be done and by whom. On the surface, everything with university science and the research grant system seems quite fine, but if one peers more deeply then hidden problems become apparent (see: “Science has been Murdered in the United States, as Proclaimed by Kevin Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts!” ).
How does the university money system work to cause such bad effects?
A previous dispatch examined details about how research grants are used in modern universities (see: “Three Money Cycles Support Scientific Research” ). Study that article and you will then comprehend how the causes and their effects lead to the degradation of university science.
Getting a research grant renewed involves winning a competition between all faculty scientists. Many applications from science faculty are not successful! The resulting struggle to win funding is so deep and so time-consuming that I term it a hyper-competition (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ). I believe that the vicious effects of this hyper-competition bothers faculty researchers more than anything else in their job environment.
What happens to individual faculty scientists who are ‘temporarily between grants’ (i.e., not funded!)? Lab space assignment soon is cancelled and graduate students must leave. Teaching assignments often are increased. All work time must be spent on trying either to get funded again, or to find a new employment in a science-related job. Professional reputation diminishes. Job satisfaction decreases, as anger, disappointment, and frustration all increase.
Many science faculty now must spend much more time working on research grant applications than they do with work in their lab! Obtaining a new grant or a renewal award means that a faculty scientist then can pay rent for their lab space, pay salaries for their graduate students and postdocs, buy needed research supplies, and, hope to get promoted and tenured. But, as long as the hyper-competition continues, it: (1) elicits dismay at the status of science, (2) encourages corruption and dishonesty, (3) generates immense pressure to worry about the future, and, (4) precludes trust and collegiality with faculty research collaborators, since everyone must compete with everyone else. This hyper-competition is getting worse in 2016.
Why is nothing done to resolve this big problem?
Both universities and the federal research grant system think the current status is just wonderful! Thus, neither wants to make any changes! Most faculty scientists working on research at universities, medical schools, and research institutes are quite aware of these problems, but almost all remain quiet since they are afraid to hurt their chances to obtain renewal of their research grant(s). Although their lack of action is readily rationalized, they have been transformed from researchers into employees in a business; actually, they are slaves to the research grant system. High-level administrators employed at the research grant agencies also are aware of the problems described above, but cannot speak out without getting a reputation as being troublesome or even disloyal; similarly, high administrators at education centers are kept silent by the recognition that profits from research grant awards are paying their own salary.
Who and what are left? Science societies represent very numerous scientists who feel the bad effects of this problematic situation, but they prefer to remain silent and uninvolved. Hence, in 2016 we are left only with the public! The general public in the U.S. unfortunately is estranged from science and research; for most adults, scientific research is only an entertaining amusement! It does not matter to them that basic science is diminishing and research quality is being subverted. Thus, the public is very unlikely to become active about the current dreadful problems in university science.
Is there no hope at all for the future?
Wrong! One very wonderful change has occurred recently! Several billionaire philanthropists (see: “James E. Stowers” , “Paul G. Allen” , and “Yuri Milner” ) recently and separately established dedicated research institutes and unusual support programs that remodel how researchers work and are funded. By removing most causes of the problems with university science, academic scientists are liberated. For setting up a new model for conducting and funding scientific research, see my recent reports on “Stowers-2” , “Allen-2 “, and “Milner-2” . Changes made by these visionaries are revolutionary and dramatically oppose the present misguided practices at universities and the federal research grant system.
These changes should enable more strong research breakthroughs by freeing some research scientists from the shackles imposed on most of their counterparts in universities. With that new freedom, these fortunate researchers will prove that the badly needed changes work in practice; this new model illustrates what is right or wrong with current university science.
In 2016, there now is some hope that scientific research at universities could be rescued from total decay and death! Saving university science won’t be easy, but certainly will be worth the effort!
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