Monthly Archives: October 2016

HUGE ADDITIONAL MONEY FOR RESEARCH WILL BE BAD FOR UNIVERSITIES AND THEIR SCIENCE!

 

There is never enough money for scientific research! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
There is never enough money for scientific research! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Universities have a long tradition as being repositories of knowledge, and, centers for advanced education, scholarly studies, and scientific research.  Modern universities in  the U.S. have had vexing problems paying for their many programs and diverse activities, so tuition is raised year after year.  Faculty in science departments and medical schools conduct studies financed by research grants issued from governmental science agencies.  That external source of money now also pays for very many non-science operations and activities.  The end result is that scientific research at universities has been converted into a business venture providing extensive profits for money-hungry universities.

What has this recent change done to faculty scientists, science departments, and science education at universities?  My answer is that any giant increase in research grant funding will make many current problems for university science get worse!  My last dispatch covered the bad effects of a huge increase in research funding upon faculty scientists and their research efforts (see: “Huge Additional Research Money Will Be Bad for Faculty Scientists and Their Investigations!” ) [1].   Today’s essay presents my reasoning about its bad effects upon universities!

Background: What causes the perennial shortage of  money for university research? 

The direct causes of the shortage of money for research are known and were explicitly listed in the preceding article [1].  The ultimate causes are the bad policies and destructive activities of: (1) modern universities, and (2) the federal science agencies.  While these very large institutions have generated many research advances in basic and applied science, they also have created very difficult unsolved problems in university science (see:  “The Biggest Problems Killing University Science Still Prevail in 2016!” ).

Foreground: How do these ultimate causes presently operate? 

Money collected from taxpayers is awarded by the U.S. governmental science agencies as research grants to academic institutions (i.e., universities, medical schools, and research institutes).  Faculty scientists at universities must win a research grant, or they are unable to conduct any research investigations.  Every year, more and more doctoral scientists compete to acquire research grants; the intense struggle to win federal support for research is so enormous that it must be termed a hyper-competition (see:  “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants!” ).  This battle to get research grants means that most faculty scientists today spend more time working on grant applications than working on experiments in their lab.

Granting agencies of the U.S. national government have a certain pool of taxpayer dollars available to disperse every year for a large slate of administrative and regulatory activities, as well as for support of scientific research.  Priorities and proposals for funding must be harshly evaluated.  Many requests cannot be funded; the National Institutes of Health, which  is the largest government agency providing grants for biomedical and hospital research, was able to fund only 18.3% of all applications for support of research projects in 2015 [2].

Three cyclic movements of money support scientific research and determine how modern U.S. universities organize faculty research and operate science departments (see:  “Three Money Cycles Support  Scientific Research!” ).  These mechanisms cause substantial changes from academic traditions.  In particular, they make research into strictly a business activity.  Universities then regard their faculty scientists as busness employees whose main job is to produce profits for their employer by acquiring research grants.  This changes the entire standard concept of what basic scientific research is for (i.e., generation of new knowledge and discovery of the truth), and, converts faculty scientists into businessmen and businesswomen.

How would adding big money for research grants affect science at universities? 

Some good effects for university science include: (1) a greater number of faculty scientists will receive research grants and thus be able to perform research investigations, (2) more faculty grantees will receive full funding instead of only partial funding (i.e., partial funding necessarily always restrains what can be done), and, (3) additional universities would be able to participate in new ‘big science’ projects.

Many negative effects also can be recognized: (1) universities, their science departments, and faculty scientists now all are business entities; (2) the total income acquired in each year becomes the standard measure for quality of faculty scientists, science departments, and entire universities;  (3) since research results now are increasingly for sale (see:  “How Science Died on 9/11” by Kevin Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts ), there will be increased cheating at research and more frequent allegations of research misconduct by university faculty employees; (4) science departments will have many more involvements with companies and lawyers, and, will evolve to become either close partners or commercial competitors of businesses involving pharmaceutical products, engineering developments, and new technologies; (5) the number of science faculty holding an untenured soft-money appointment (i.e., their entire salary comes from their research grants) will increase since that change substantially decreases expenditures for hard-money salaries; (6) new buildings will be constructed to house shared research labs for all the new soft-money faculty; (7) teaching of science students in graduate schools will expand to include courses on running a business, business law, dealing with finances, and other subjects needed by doctoral scientists working in commerce and industry; and, (8) as a result of all these effects, many more students entering U.S. graduate schools to prepare for a career in science at universities will change their aim to working in industrial research.

Concluding remarks! 

The conversion of university science into a business solves financial problems for modern universities, but also creates some new and very destructive difficulties.  In particular, shifting scientific research into a profit-seeking business causes degradation of university science and degeneration of faculty scientists.

The entire system for supporting scientific research at universities needs to be changed!  If left untouched, today’s system problem in academic science is so grave that it even could result in the death of university research (see:  “Could Science and Research Now Be Dying?” )!  New ways to support research in academia are badly needed, and could stop the current decay, corruption, and waste of money and time in modern university science.

 

[1]  Dr.M, 2016.  “Huge Additional Research Money Will Be Bad for Faculty Scientists and Their Investigations!”  Available on the internet at:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2016/10/25/huge-additional-money-for-research-will-be-bad-for-faculty-scientists-and-their-investigations/ .

[2]  NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT), 2016.  “Research Project Success Rates by NIH Institute for 2015”  Available on the internet at:  https://report.nih.gov/success_rates/Success_ByIC.cfm .

 

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HUGE ADDITIONAL RESEARCH MONEY WILL BE BAD FOR FACULTY SCIENTISTS AND THEIR INVESTIGATIONS! 

 

There is never enough money for scientific research! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
There is never enough money for scientific research!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Liberals, and even many normal people, feel that the serious problems facing science at modern universities in the U.S. can all be resolved by providing much more money for research studies.  They claim that the total of $132,500,000,000 spent for research in 2014 [1] still is not enough!!  They imagine that dramatic discoveries then would produce cures for more diseases, develop robots to do everyone’s housework, lead to free electricity, etc., if only huge additional dollars would be given for research by university scientists!

I totally disagree!  More money for university research is not the answer to these problems!  Giant increases in research funding would only make the present problems for faculty scientists even worse!  This essay briefly presents my reasoning about its bad effects upon faculty scientists and their research!  The following dispatch will cover its bad effects upon U.S. universities!

Background: What causes the perennial shortage of  money for university research? 

The direct causes of the shortage of money for research are: (1) there now are too many scientists, (2) more new doctoral scientists are graduated every year, (3) more foreign scientists move here to work on research every year, (4) there is enormous wastage in research grants (see:  “Wastage of Research Grant Money in Modern University Science” ), (5) many purchases used for research are duplicates and/or are not justified, (6) the research grant system has no provision for trying to save money (i.e., the working rule is to never have any grant funds left over), and (7) university science now is just a  business where financial profits are everything.  All that is really necessary to greatly increase the funding for research in universities is to decrease or stop these causes!

The ultimate causes are the misguided policies and destructive activities of: (1) modern universities, and, (2) the federal agencies awarding research grants.  While both these very large institutions have been the basis for many research advances in basic and applied science, they also have created some very big problems for science at universities (see:  “The Biggest Problems Killing University Science Still Prevail in 2016! “ ).

Foreground: How do these ultimate causes presently operate? 

Money collected from taxpayers is awarded by the U.S. federal science agencies as research grants to academic institutions (i.e., universities, medical schools, and research institutes).  Faculty scientists researching at these institutions operate as major providers of scientific research.  Without winning a research grant, faculty scientists are unable to conduct any research investigations.  Every year, more and more doctoral scientists are seeking to acquire research grants; the intense struggle to win federal funding for research is so enormous that it must be termed a hyper-competition (see:  “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants!” ).  This vicious battle to get research grants means that most faculty scientists today spend more time working on grant applications than working on experiments in their lab.  The annual rise in the number of new applicants and seekers of multiple research grants makes hyper-competition get worse every year.

Granting agencies of the U.S. national government have a certain pool of taxpayer dollars available to disperse every year for a large slate of administrative and regulatory activities, as well as for support of scientific research.  Priorities and proposals for money must be harshly evaluated, and not every request can be funded.  The National Institutes of Health, which  is the largest government agency providing grants for biomedical and hospital research, was able to fund only 18.3% of all applications for support of research projects in 2015 [2].  The granting agencies thus have a strong influence and control over which research areas and which scientists get funded.  Many academic scientists believe that basic research, where practical usage is not a goal, is disfavored, while applied research, which aims to develop or improve commercial products, is promoted.

How would adding lots more money affect science faculty and their research? 

More money for scientificstudies at universities will have some good effects, but to completely solve the shortage of research support would require trillions of dollars!  The chief improvements would be that a greater number of university faculty scientists will be able to do research investigations, and more will receive full funding instead of only partial funding (i.e., partial funding necessarily always restrains what can be done).

Many negative effects of adding a huge amount of dollars for the support of faculty research can be recognized: (1) there will be a large increase of foreign scientists seeking funding here, thereby causing the hyper-competition for research grants to become even worse; (2) the entire aim of scientists for making research discoveries and finding the truth will officially change to winning more dollars from research grant awards; (3) the identity of faculty scientists as businessmen and businesswomen dedicated to acquiring more profits for their employer will be solidified; (4) since research results now are increasingly for sale in the U.S. (see:  “How Science Died on 9/11” ), increased pressure will build to cheat in order to hasten production of pseudo-discoveries and published research reports; (5) the number of science faculty with a soft-money appointment (i.e., their entire salary comes from their research grants) will be greatly increased in order to get larger financial profits for the universities; (6) science faculty will be seen only as transient employees and renters of lab space, meaning that many will relocate soon after receiving a new research grant award; and, (7) the whole nature of evaluating faculty scientists for the quality of their research activities will be transformed into counting the quantity of dollars acquired from research grants.

A very brief discussion! 

Science at universities now is a money-hungry business!  The nature of science, research, and scientists has been changing and will shift further with any huge increase in research funding!

Concluding remarks! 

Providing much more money for research will make the current bad problems for academic scientists get even worse!  If left as they are, today’s problems in science are so grave that they even could result in the death of university research (see:  “Could Science and Research Now Be Dying?” )!

There is no simple or easy solution to these big difficulties because all the causes combine into a system problem.  Fixing only one or two parts of this system problem will not resolve anything!  The entire system for supporting scientific research needs to be changed in order to stop both the current degradation of faculty scientists and the degeneration of science at universities!

 

[1]  Sargent, J.F., for the Congressional Research Service, 2014.  The U.S. Science an Research Workforce: Recent, Current, and Projected Employment, Wages, and Unemployment.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43061.pdf .

[2]  NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT), 2016.  “Research Project Success Rates by NIH Institute for 2015”  Available on the internet at:   https://report.nih.gov/success_rates/Success_ByIC.cfm .

 

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WHY DO SCIENTISTS ASK THEMSELVES SO VERY MANY QUESTIONS?

 

Research scientists ask many what-if questions! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Research scientists ask very many what-if questions!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

I have earlier described the necessity for all scientists to ask very many questions while they are doing research studies (see: “Research Scientists Must Ask Myriad Questions!” ).  That article was for working scientists, but this one is for all who are not scientists!

Here you will take a closer look at the frequent questions beginning with  “What if?”, and examine how those queries are helpful to researchers.  The what-if kind of questioning is nothing less than mental experimentation involving curiosity, imagination, judgments, and predictions, as well as ordinary worrying and wishful thinking!

On the nature of common what-if queries by research scientists! 

While conducting experiments for a research project in a university or industry lab, scientists often ask themselves what-if  questions about what will happen if something is changed (e.g., the concentration of a reagent used in an assay, the means for preparing a sample to be examined, the operation of a research instrument, the statistical methods used for data analysis, etc.).  Such queries are usually considered only in thought, rather than being conducted in the lab; however, these deliberations later can lead to actual changes.  This questioning is simply the  mental testing of an idea or possibility.

Other frequent what-if questioning by scientists concerns specific causes and effects in their work activities.  These include asking oneself about the possible consequences of making some change (e.g., what if I could have another student working in my lab, what additional work could I do if I woke up an hour earlier, what if I ask Dan G. or Judy W. to collaborate with me, etc.)?   Many of these are wishful thinking about making choices for conducting research investigations or finding success with applications for research grants.  While such questions sometimes lead nowhere, they also can help make better decisions of practical importance for being a good researcher.

How does what-if questioning help scientists do good research? 

It should be obvious that the what-if questioning described above is an inherent part of doing research.  What-if questions take only a small amount of time, but often recur again and again a few minutes or days later.  This questioning usually is an innate activity rather than something learned in graduate school courses.   What-if questions typically occur all the time and reflect worries or conflicts.  Asking these queries helps research scientists to (1) make stronger decisions, judgments, and conclusions, (2) critically evaluate alternative possibilities, and, (3) incisively develop new ideas.

Interpreting data and deciding which conclusion is best are important targets of what-if questioning (e.g., what would be the acceptance by other scientists if I concluded X instead of Y; if my new interpretation is later found to be wrong, what would I do?).  These worries help scientists to think critically about their research activities, to be more careful not to make a mistaken judgment, and to consider alternatives.  Although many what-if  queries are not easy to answer (e.g., what if I leave this experiment for later?), such mental debates often help research scientists make good decisions and better plans.

Brief discussion! 

Almost all adults (non-scientists) commonly have been taught that research is designed using “the scientific method”, and that experiments always should go exactly as planned.  In my experience, both dogmas are not true!  Research investigations are inherently chancy, and conclusions often change and evolve.  Asking many questions helps make science better!

Part of being a creative scientist is to make discoveries and to develop new understanding.  I am convinced that the mental efforts to accomplish those goals strongly depend upon being curious and having a questioning mind!  This is true for grad students and postdocs, as well as for professors!

Concluding remarks! 

What-if questions with mental experiments and debates help research scientists to adopt changes, anticipate problems, develop new ideas, examine alternative possibilities, and, refine conclusions.  Being a successful scientist and productive researcher depends upon asking many questions, as well as running good experiments in the lab.  Good questioners become good research scientists!

 

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THE 2016 NOBEL PRIZES IN SCIENCE ARE ANNOUNCED! 

 

Adjusted Photographic Portrait of ALFRED NOBEL in the late 1800's, by Gösta Florman. Common Domain Image obtained from Wikimedia Commons at the Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alfred Nobel_adjusted.jpg .
Adjusted Photographic Portrait of ALFRED NOBEL in the late 1800’s, by Gösta Florman. Common Domain Image obtained from Wikimedia Commons at the Wikipedia website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alfred Nobel_adjusted.jpg .

 

Seven scientists from the many thousands worldwide have just been announced to share the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, and, Physics.  Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) had a very eventful life in addition to discovering dynamite; fascinating details about his adventures are well worthwhile for you to read (see:  “Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863” and, Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work” )!  Nobel conducted scientific research in chemistry, and also was active as an engineer, industrialist, and inventor.  His will bequeathed his fortune to set up ongoing global prizes for scientific work providing the greatest benefit to all humans.  Details about all the Nobel Prizes in science and in non-science are described at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes .

All scientists would dearly love to win a Nobel Prize, but only a very few ever attain this most prestigious honor in science!  The new awards will be bestowed at ceremonies and events during the special Nobel Week festivities at Stockholm, Sweden (December 5-10,  2016).  The latest Nobel Laureates should be much appreciated by the general public, and congratulated by other scientists for the excellence in their experimental research!  A brief summary of the 2016 Laureates and their honored research achievements follows.

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine [1,2]! 

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, Ph.D. (Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan), for his research determining the detailed molecular mechanisms for the functioning of autophagy (autophagocytosis) in cellular health and disease.  Autophagy provides the controlled destruction of old or damaged subcellular organelles (e.g., mitochondria) or other objects inside eukaryotic cells; after cytoplasmic membranes rearrange to surround the targets, those bodies merge with lysosomes (small packages of hydrolytic enzymes) so the targets are completely broken down without exposing the rest of the cell to that destruction.  Most eukaryotic cells use autophagy as the primary means to keep everything renewed, fresh, and functionally active.  Autophagy complements heterophagy (phagocytosis), where cells internalize external targets (e.g., bacteria) and subsequently destroy them by lysosomal hydrolysis.

Ohsumi’s breakthrough research using molecular genetics discovered how autophagy is activated and regulated, how mutations in proteins controlling autophagocytosis can cause disease states in humans, and how the functioning of autophagy has a wide importance for cell biology and cell pathology.  His discoveries with basic research have solved longstanding questions in cell biology and have led to new investigations with applied research by numerous other scientists.

Nobel Prize in Physics [3,4]!

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to 3 scientists for theoretical investigations about unusual states of matter: David J. Thouless, Ph.D. (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, U.S.), F. Duncan M. Haldane, Ph.D. (Princeton Univ ersity, Princeton, NJ, U.S., and J. Michael Kosterlitz, Ph.D. (Brown University, Providence, RI, U.S.).  They fundamentally advanced condensed matter physics by studying the topological organization of atoms kept in highly unusual states (i.e., by extreme heating or cooling).  Under such conditions, matter can have different states of organization than the usual gases, liquids, and solids.  Using mathematical analyses, they were able to explain their findings and make detailed theoretical proposals that were later validated by further experimental studies.

This new understanding about matter is anticipated to provide a good basis for future research and engineering development of new superconductors and quantum computers.  The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics nicely exemplifies the importance of theoretical research studies for stimulating advances in experimental investigations (see “Towards Understanding Theoretical Research in Science” ).

Nobel Prize in Chemistry [5,6]! 

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to 3 pioneering chemists who designed and produced controllable machines made from molecules: Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Ph.D. (University of Strasbourg, France), J. Fraser Stoddart, Ph.D. (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL., U.S.), and Bernard L. Feringa, Ph.D. (University of Groningen, The Netherlands).  Using experimental formations by different types of newly synthesized chemical molecules, they showed that their designed molecular interactions could repeatedly produce lifting, moving, or rotation in response to provision of energy; these new constructs can form molecular machines, motors, and even a “nanocar”.

Miniaturization to the level of molecules gives chemistry an innovative new dimension.  Many researchers and engineers now are working to develop new applications of the technology established during decades of investigations by the 2016 Nobel Laureates in chemistry.  Anticipated developments include new materials, sensors, systems for energy storage, and even computers.

Brief discussion and comments about the 2016 Nobel Prize winners! 

The Nobel Prizes in science continue to bring forth excellent researchers and outstanding experimental studies to the attention of the public worldwide.  Several of the latest Nobel Prizes follow from earlier Nobel Prizes awarded for outstanding research in related subject areas.  Most discoveries by Nobel Laureates began with studies in basic research, which opened the door for later applied research, engineering developments, and industrial productions.  The individual Nobel Laureates in 2016 have some features that commonly characterize winners of all the big honors in science (see: “What Does It Take to Win the Big Prizes in Science? ).

The 2016 award to Prof. Ohsumi is notable because most Nobel Prizes in Medicine or Physiology have been awarded to multiple scientists, rather than to only one person.  He deserves lots of credit for his dedication to long investigations and innovative research leadership!

A frequent criticism of the Nobel Prizes in science is that they do not usually give credit to the research workers associated with the Laureates.  The Breakthrough Prizes, which compete with the Nobel Prizes for being very important honors in scientific research, awarded their 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics to 3 scientists, plus to 1012 other individual workers who travailed on a very large and long research effort in big science [7]!

Check out further information about the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Science! 

All readers, whether scientists or non-scientists,  are encouraged to explore more information about the winning researchers!  Many good written and video presentations soon will be found on the internet!

 

[1]  Nobel Prize, 2016.  Press release, summary for 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2016/press.html ).

[2]  Nobel Assembly, 2016.  Scientific background: Discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy (see:  https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2016/advanced-medicineprize2016.pdf

[3] Nobel Prize, 2016.  Press release, The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2016/press.html ).

[4]  Nobel Assembly 2016. Popular science background: Strange phenomena in matter’s flatlands (see:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2016/popular-physicsprize2016.pdf ).

[5]  Nobel Prize, 2016.  Press release, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2016/press.html ).

[6]  Nobel Assembly, 2016.  Popular science background: How molecules became machines (see:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nPobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2016/popular-chemistryprize2016.pdf ).

[7]  Breakthrough Prize, 2016.  Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics awarded for detection of gravitational waves 100 years after Albert Einstein predicted their existence (see:  https://breakthroughprize.org/News/32 ).

 

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