Category Archives: ESSAYS

Analysis and opinions about science, research, and scientists.

WHY CAN’T WASTAGE OF RESEARCH GRANT MONEY AND WASTAGE OF FACULTY SCIENTISTS’ TIME BE DECREASED? 

 

Economizing often is easier than finding more money! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Economizing often is easier than finding more money!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Wastage of money, time, and effort is a very general practical problem for scientific researchers.  Wasted money in modern academic science is widely known to scientists (see “Wastage of Research Grant Money in Modern University Science” ).  In this age with hyper-competition to acquire research grants and the issuance of some grant awards which support only part of a proposed project, reducing wastage has a much increased importance.

In my experience, little attention by academic employers of faculty scientists is paid to this issue.  Several nominally anti-wastage forces are built into the system supporting science investigations at modern academic institutions, but those do not act to really decrease wastage of research grant funds by professional scientists; in fact, they often have the opposite effect!  This dispatch takes a look at several causes currently contributing to wastage of research grant money and of the time faculty scientists are forced to spend doing secretarial work.

Why is ‘unused research grant money’ not returnable to the granting agency, or able to be banked for future research expenditures? 

Every faculty scientist knows about the unstated rule that all dollars in awarded research grants must be spent before the end of the grant period.  Returning unused funds to the granting agency is frowned upon; for faculty scientists who are unusually thrifty, that rule actually encourages making unnecessary expenditures and promotes wastage of research grant money.

It also is forbidden to save any awarded research grant funds for use with research expenses after the funding period has ended, unless official approval is sought and granted for an extension of the grant period.  Such approvals are frequently given, but they have a strict time limit to complete all the subsequent expenditures.  The federal granting agencies would consider proposals to permit banking of unused grant funds to be outside their mandate, since those later experiments would not have been reviewed and approved, plus they might even be in a very different area of science.

Research grants are officially awarded to the employer of faculty scientists, and only nominally to the individual researchers.  Academic employers (i.e., universities, medical schools, research institutes, large hospitals, etc.) all strongly support the policy of not being able to bank any unused research grant funds, because they are very eager to obtain their own grant-supplied dollars which pay for the indirect costs of funded projects; those dollars also serve to increase their business profit (see “Research Grants: What is Going On with the Indirect Costs of Doing Research?” .

Faculty scientists can try to get around these directives by using some research grant money during their final year of support to purchase extra supplies that can be utilized after the research grant has expired.  Of course, even if many cases of essential research supplies are purchased (i.e., yes, I do know that this actually happens!), this strategy can work only for some limited period of time.

What are the consequences of these restrictive policies? 

These restrictions encourage spending the entirety of awarded research grant funds, and totally ignore the lesson learned from everyday life that it is good to save money for later use.  In other words, there is no encouragement to be thrifty.  Instead, faculty scientists are directly encouraged to spend their research grant money as if there is no tomorrow.  When all funds awarded for a given year are spent (i.e., during a multi-year grant period), many then go ahead to start spending funds awarded for the next year of support.  This perverse mentality for ongoing wastage explains much of the endless wailing that “we need more money for our research!”

What would result from encouraging thrift and permitting unused grant funds to be saved for future use or returned to the granting agency? 

If there were no pressures to spend every dollar before a grant period ends, then the grant funds left unspent by thrifty scientists could be used either for their future research experiments or returned to the granting agency.  New rules would ensure that the saved funds were spent only for valid research costs and not for non-research expenses.  One good use of such banked funds would be for the purchase of supplies and materials needed to conduct experiments in pilot projects being developed for new research grant applications.  Alternatively, if unused research grant funds were returned to the granting agency, then those dollars could very usefully be utilized to reduce the number of grant awards for only partial support.

Why must so much time be wasted on typing by today’s faculty scientists? 

Most academic institutions now provide either very limited or no secretarial assistance to their faculty scientists needing to submit applications for research grants, handouts of teaching materials, manuscripts for research publications, various required reports, etc.  The Chairs and Deans all have at least one secretarial assistant, presumably because their written output is so important.  When science faculty complain about that, academic officials typically assert that they cannot afford to pay for any more secretaries; the faculty are urged to include some salary for a typist on their next application for renewal of their research grant(s).  This situation  means that science faculty must do all their typing and word processing by themselves, or else their grants and research will stop.

Although trained for years to conduct research, many days, weeks, and months now are spent by professional faculty scientists doing secretarial work.  It is not an exaggeration to state that typing often now becomes the major activity for many faculty scientists; this necessity prevents them from spending that time working on research experiments in their lab.  The scientists enmeshed in this situation should ask themselves a savage question, “Did I got my Ph.D. just to be a typist?”!

Concluding comments! 

If wastage of research grant funds by faculty scientists could be reduced, then more money would be available to fund research studies.  If unused research grant money could be banked by thrifty scientists, then more pilot projects would be conducted after a grant period ends.  If the time and previous research training now being wasted by faculty scientists working on word processing could be decreased, then more research results would be collected.  Additional attention by federal granting agencies and academic employers is needed to stop encouraging wastage of research grant funds and of hands-on research time by faculty scientists.

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

YES OR NO FOR GLOBAL WARMING?  WHAT IS TRUE? 

 

Global temperature changes are welcomed by some people! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Global temperature changes are welcomed by many people!                                (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

There continues to be very much controversy about warming of our planet between commercial, environmental, financial, and political interests.  Scientists also have differing opinions.  I have previously examined what happens when some scientists disagree with other scientists, and concluded that judging what is true often is made more complex and difficult by the agitated involvement of non-scientists bearing emotional appeals (see “What Happens When Scientists Disagree?  Part II: Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?”.  That is exactly the status of the ongoing disputes about whether there actually is any global warming, whether human activities are causing it, and whether this is a crisis situation.

This dispatch looks at key points raised by Prof. Ivar Giaever, a solid state physicist who won a 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics for his breakthrough discoveries on electron tunneling in superconductors.  Dr. Giaever offers a very informative, readily understandable, and enjoyable video presentation about this controversy, which I urge all readers to view now (see: “Ivar Giaever: Global Warming Revisited (2015)” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCy_UOjEir0 ).  His judgment is that some small global warming and global cooling do occur, but those are just part of normal cycles of temperature changes on Earth.

Let’s look at both sides of this dispute! 

The standard viewpoint in today’s media is that global warming is occurring, is caused by human activities that raise atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, and will result in undesirable elevation of sea levels due to disastrous melting of arctic and antarctic ice.  Dr. Giaever’s video centers on examining the quantitative evidence for global warming, its origin, and the proposed consequences of this shift in temperature.  To aid visitors in reaching a solid viewpoint, you should also watch a shallow video trying to trash Dr. Giaever and his conclusions, and favoring the standard viewpoint (see “Climate Denialism BS: Review of Dr Ivar Giaever’s ‘Expertise’ “, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNLvG4c9F38 ).  Hopefully, you will try to form a more objective personal opinion about this very long-lived controversy.

Coming to a more objective evaluation about this controversy! 

When evaluating this ongoing dispute, watch for the most fundamental question asked by all research scientists, “What is the evidence?”  And, watch for insertion of opinions and emotions coming from commercial companies, ignorant individuals, and politicians.  Although most scientists agree with Dr. Giaever’s conclusions, it does not matter at all how many expert scientists or public figures are willing to support any opinion.  What matters to science is cold hard evidence!

Several levels of questions must be raised about global warming (i.e., How much global warming is there?  Are the methods used to measure the ‘global temperature’ valid, and are enough locales being measured to make this a meaningful average?  Has such warming ever happened before?  How much temperature change is normal variation and how much is abnormal?  To what extent are human activities causing elevated temperatures?  Are raised levels of carbon dioxide bad or good?  Are expectations about the predicted effects of global warming realistic and verified by historical or current measurements?).  Prof. Giaever explicitly considers many of these in his presentation.

For myself, I see the conclusions of Prof. Giaever as being objective, and very convincing.  You are welcome to disagree once you have examined and rated both sides of this dispute; the Internet provides an easy way for you to do that!  Time will tell what is true!

Concluding remarks! 

Since many people and some doctoral scientists currently have disagreements about global warming, the actual evidence for judging its amount, cause(s), and effects must be carefully examined in order to judge what is true and what predictions are realistic.  The traditional means for dealing with disputes between scientists is to acquire more and better new research data, and that will be very helpful here!

Postscript! 

For readers wishing to learn more about Prof. Giaever’s personality and activities as a research scientist, a very good video is available on the Internet (see “A Story of Research: Ivar Giaever – 1982” at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEzRfWM9gXo  ).

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

A NEW IDEA FOR FUNDING MORE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

The Malthusian problem of too many scientists causes the hyper-competition for research grants! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

The Malthusian problem of too many scientists causes the hyper-competition for research grants! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

One of the big problems in modern science is how to find more money to pay for the research projects of thousands of scientists working in the U.S.  Many billions of dollars are given each year by the government science agencies as research grants, to support the experiments of faculty scientists at universities, medical schools, research institutes, etc.; however, that gigantic pile of dollars never seems to be enough.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are the largest U.S. science agencies issuing research grants; they now are able to award grants to only around 19-20% of their applicants for financial support [1].  The end result of this ongoing quagmire is that getting research grants now is the main job for academic scientists.

Today’s dispatch gives a new idea for alleviating this financial problem by utilizing a different and unconventional source of money.

Brief background for this new idea! 

Public lotteries exist in most modern Western countries, and are quite popular with their populace.  Lottery players are numerous, and the price per ticket is small.  Lotteries represent a chance for anyone to instantly become wealthier, so many people are happy to buy at least several tickets every week; for the largest jackpots, the number of tickets sold rises immensely.  Payouts presently range up to many hundred millions of dollars.  In the U.S., it commonly is estimated that taxation reduces giant windfalls for lottery winners by around 50%; the national and state governments profit greatly by this taxation, but that still leaves most big winners with more money than they can ever spend.

In the U.S., the biggest popular lotteries have an administrative bureaucracy in place to design new contests, run the sale of lottery tickets, issue publicity to encourage ticket purchases, determine the winner(s) under monitored conditions, and distribute the winnings; all of this organization and infrastructure features ongoing activity with agents, lawyers, offices, officials, and staff.

Let’s use the largest public lotteries to help fund scientific research!  

To start using large lotteries to increase the money available to support scientific research in academia, only a few big changes need to be made!

Change #1: The grand winner of any very large lottery contest will receive only 50% of the jackpot prize money (e.g., instead of winning a single lump sum cash prize of 700 million dollars, the biggest winner would only get $350 million).  That still is an extremely substantial sum for anyone to win!  The other 50% of the winnings then will be used to fund additional research grants from the NSF and NIH, using all their existing policies, procedures, protocols, and staff for handling research grants.  Thus, the biggest change will be to shift the large amount of the federal tax on jackpot lottery winnings  currently going into general or specified revenue, to go into the pool of funds used by the NSF and NIH to issue research grants.

Change #2:  As a special bonus to the big winners, they will be authorized to list  some portion of their actual winning prize (e.g., 10%)  as a charitable contribution on their annual U.S. income tax filing.

Change #3:  After the 3-5 years duration of a new research grant ends, all the grants coming from this new funding source would not be directly renewable, except as a new grant funded from the standard Congressional appropriations.  Since the purpose of this new funding mechanism is to increase support for worthy research proposals, the new grants using money from the biggest lotteries will not be available to scientists already holding regular active research grant awards.

What will not be changed? 

Everything for handling applications by scientists for research grants from the NSF and NIH will stay as is.  Giant lotteries will still operate just as at present.  The many smaller lotteries (i.e., lump sum single payment prize of $1.0 million or less) all will remain  unaffected.  State taxation of all lottery winners will not be altered.  Winners of large jackpot prizes will still be delighted to instantly become very wealthy.

What will result from use of a new funding source for research grants? 

The addition of money from the largest lotteries (i.e., with grand prize winners getting a lump sum single payment prize of more than $1.0 million) to fund new research grant awards from NSF and NIH will permit (1) more worthy research projects to be supported, and (2) more grants to be awarded funding in full instead of only a partial award.  Result #2 would decrease the number of scientists needing to cancel  some proposed  experiments and leave some research questions unanswered, due to their truncated grant award.  Increasing the money available for the NSF and NIH research grants will help science progress and result in more new discoveries.  In addition, the very destructive current hyper-competition for research grants between all academic scientists will be lessened (see “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants”  ).

Some good questions, and my answers! 

Wouldn’t gross revisions and new programs for the NSF and NIH be required?  No!  Those are not needed because the new funds are simply added to the pools of money at NSF and NIH that are used to pay for their current research grant awards.  Administrative changes will be minimal; the existing procedures and staff at these agencies will process those awards as usual.

Would enough money be collected to make this new source of research funding actually be effective?  Yes!  Every year, the total pool of prizes for all the biggest lottery winners in the U.S. and the world is some billions of dollars [2].

This idea will not solve the problem of finding more money for research projects, so how could the new research grants really help science progress?  Anything and everything helps!  More fully funded grants means more research progress!

What about using lottery winnings to provide more money to the other science funding agencies (e.g., Agricultural Research Service, Department of Energy, NASA, etc.)?  The NSF supports research projects in all branches of science, and the NIH notably includes support for both basic and applied research projects in biomedical science.  If this new idea for funding with money from big lotteries works well for the NSF and NIH, then it might later be expanded to include some of the other government science agencies.

Won’t this new money for research be just a drop going into a very large bucket? 

The additional money made available from lotteries for new research grants certainly will not completely solve the present problem for funding scientific research, but it equally certainly will help.  The dollars made available from the lottery winners will enable more needed experimental research studies to be conducted by academic scientists on cancer, genetic diseases, nano-chemistry, new batteries, remediation of environmental pollution, safer food, etc.

A brief discussion! 

The main causes of the never-ending tearful cries for more money to support scientific research include: (1) the increased number of foreign graduate students and doctoral scientists staying in the U.S. and applying for research grants after getting a new faculty job acts to increase the pool of applicants and directly makes the current very destructive hyper-competition for research grants get worse and worse; (2) many more new Ph.D. scientists are being produced by graduate schools every year in the U.S., thereby increasing the Malthusian research grant problem; (3) inflation continues to increase the costs of doing research despite the fact that modern scientific research already is very, very expensive; and, (4) present policies for increasing the number of applicants now receiving a grant with only partial funding in order to elevate the total number of applying scientists that receive some award, is quite counter-productive.

Using the biggest lotteries to help support scientific research will not completely solve the money problem, but will help alleviate it.  Since the causes for the ongoing eternal shortage of money to support research studies are known, this large problem should be solvable.  Constantly increasing the large number of doctoral scientists researching in the U.S. is both unnecessary for science progress and very problematic.  Those who refuse to see the Malthusian aspects of this financial problem are preventing its solution!

Concluding remarks! 

New ideas are badly needed for how to find more money to support scientific research!  Using lottery prize money will not solve the entire problem for financing scientific research, but it sure would help!

 

[1]  National Science Board, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016.  Table 5-22, NIH and NSF research grant applications and funding success rates: 2001-14.  ( http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/uploads/1/8/tt05-22.pdf  ).

[2]  Wikipedia, 2017.  Lottery jackpot records.  Available on the internet at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lottery_jackpot_records .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

IT’S NOT SO EASY TO CONDUCT SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AMIDST NATIONAL TURMOIL! 

 

International awareness of Venezuela in 2017 is needed! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
International awareness of Venezuela in 2017 is needed!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Everyone knows that science and research now are active in almost every country all over the world.  Many graduate students in science, and very many doctoral scientists employed to conduct research here, were born in foreign countries; thus, science and research in the U.S. have a distinctively global character.  These facts commonly lead to a false assumption that scientific research is proceeding and progressing nicely everywhere.  Actually, history shows different examples where events completely outside science can disrupt the practice and progress of research!

This dispatch considers the present situation for professional scientists and science students in Venezuela.  I bring this up because many academic scientists in  the U.S. and other Western countries complain loudly about the recurring shortage of money for support of their research, but fail to see that faculty scientists at certain foreign universities now must struggle just to get enough food to eat; that situation completely overwhelms all the many ‘normal problems’ in today’s academic research!

Brief background about Venezuela! 

Venezuela is an independent constitutional republic of some 31 million people located on the Northern edge of the South American continent.  It is nominally a rich country due to its very large deposits of oil and other natural resources; despite the recent political conflicts, some gasoline produced from Venezuelan oil is widely sold here in the U.S.  Venezuela has several universities and big hospitals in its largest city, Caracas.  Its current national leader, Nicholás Maduro, is a socialist who has responded to increasing economic difficulties (hyperinflation) and popular disapproval of current government policies by imposing dictatorial rule, capital controls, and political repression.

A university scientist describes how the current turmoil in Venezuela affects  research and teaching in its universities! 

Faculty scientists in the U.S. often remain blissfully unaware that their own career misgivings are minuscule compared to scientists in certain other countries that are seized with such a great turmoil that daily life descends into a struggle only to eat and survive.  Venezuela now is the prime example of such an unfortunate situation.

Prof. Benjamin Scharifker courageously has just authored a dramatic description of current university science in Venezuela, “Science struggles on in my ravaged country”, published within the May 11, 2017, issue of Nature (volume 545, page 135).  He is an Emeritus Professor continuing to conduct research at the Simón Bolívar University, and also serving as a Rector at the private Metropolitan University; both institutions are located in Caracas.

He describes the present difficult situation in graphic detail and with heartfelt anguish.  A sampling of quotations from his published report includes: “concomitant shortages of food and medicine”, “annual inflation rate in excess of 500%”, “A full professor makes much less than US$100 a month”, “we did not have running water in the laboratory”,  “the brain drain in Venezuela is staggering”, and, “How do we cope?  We don’t; we just try to survive.”  Most reading his story have never personally encountered the extreme situation described by Dr. Scharifker, and probably cannot readily believe or even imagine that any faculty scientists and science students could be facing this in 2017!

The large crisis in Venezuela soon probably will advance to cause the shutdown of universities and all their activities for teaching, scientific research, and other scholarly pursuits, despite the determination of students and faculty to carry on no matter what happens.  Nevertheless, a large number of university faculty and graduate students already have left Venezuela in order to be able to continue conducting their research and education; this brain drain is very sad, since I know that Venezuela previously has produced some renowned research scientists!  Prof. Scharifker comments that he hopes there will not be further bloodshed of university students in their public demonstrations and protests!

What are the main messages for scientists in the West? 

This situation in Venezuela is gory!  Let us hope that it does not spread to any other countries!  Many of us who sincerely complain about the decayed and degenerated current condition of scientific research at our universities, must recognize that our own troubled situation is drastically better than what our fellow scientists and students in Venezuela must face every day!

Science never exists in a vacuum, but always takes place within some social and political context.  Scientific research can be corrupted either internally (e.g., by scientists and science companies with dishonesty or greed) or externally (e.g., by economics, politics, or society).  Scientists everywhere should simultaneously be citizens, and so must take part in national and local disputes, governmental issues, and politics; just because we are always busy with researching and teaching is no reason to avoid participating personally in these areas.

In turn, science and research interact with the external milieu to produce some changes that help everyone (e.g., advanced technology, better education, improved public health and safety, innovative new concepts, new medical and dental therapies, the internet, etc.).  Thus, science and society usefully interact with each other!

Concluding discussion! 

From my viewpoint, I believe the following conclusions are warranted.  (1) Scientists are privileged people who should actively accept their simultaneous role as citizens in their country!  (2) Complainers about not enough money for research, or counterproductive policies in modern academia, must recognize that everything could get very much worse!  (3) Let us give our fellow faculty scientists and science students in Venezuela our hopes for their better future!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

ON CORRUPTION IN THE PEER REVIEW PROCESS!  DOES IT MATTER?    

 

Various thoughts run through the mind of peer reviewers! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Various thoughts run through the mind of peer reviewers!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Manuscripts submitted for publication in science journals, and applications for research grant funding of proposed investigations, both must be critically evaluated to determine  acceptance or rejection.  For science, these examinations are termed ‘peer review’ because they utilize the opinions of other scientists having expertise and experience in the research topic involved.  Peer review aims to objectively judge quality and merit.  A very informative history of peer review in science, “In Referees We Trust?”, was recently published by Melinda Baldwin in the February issue of Physics Today [1].

Although most scientists accept the usefulness of the peer review process, several operational issues can compromise it (e.g., conflicts of interest).  Today’s essay examines some current problems in peer review that are encouraged by the corruption within modern scientific research (see: “More Hidden Dishonesty in Science is Uncovered!”).  I am talking here about deceitful lies and outright cheating!

What stimulates corruption in modern science? 

Job pressures in both academia and commercial industry negatively impact scientists working on research.  At universities, strong pressures to obtain important results more quickly, produce more research publications, and acquire more research grants, all can cause unethical behavior in attempts to find an easier way to satisfy these demands.  At industrial companies, evaluations of a new commercial product can be compromised by pressures to only acquire data supporting its merits and to ignore any data denying its desired qualities.  At both locations, corruption results in some expert scientists not being rigorously honest and making false judgments during peer review.

Intense job pressures at modern universities largely are due to the conversion of academic science and scientists into business entities.  That ongoing change means that: (1) money now is everything, (2) quantity is much more important than quality,  and (3) the nature of scientific research is fundamentally altered (i.e., the chief goal is to get more money (from research grants), instead of getting more new knowledge; applied research is much more valued than is basic research).  These conditions encourage judgments by peer reviewers to become distorted.

Since research scientists are only human, it always is hard to criticize a collaborator, personal friend, or teacher.  Similarly, it is not so easy to avoid being more harsh when reviewing some research competitor.  These common psychological inclinations are made much worse in academia by the vicious hyper-competition for research grant awards (see “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ).  Getting and maintaining research grant awards now is a life-or-death matter for all faculty scientists.  For industrial scientists, the concept of loyalty can become wrongly centered on the employer at the expense of dedication to the integrity of science.

Actual examples of distortions and inadequacies in peer review! 

Some real faculty scientists I have known sought to have ‘friends’ in the peer review boards evaluating their research grant applications.  Others worked to have ethnic counterparts supervise the peer review of their output.  These successful tactics degrade the objectivity of peer review and make it only a game of strategy.  Officials at federal granting agencies do try to keep peer review objective by requiring reviewers from the same institution as the author being evaluated to leave the room when that submission is being discussed; of course, input from any absent reviewer still can be given at other times and in other ways.  Journal publishers use analogous rules to try to prevent favoritism by manuscript referees.

How frequently is peer review in science inadequate? 

A distinguished former Editor-in-Chief of the very prominent New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell, stated in 2009 that “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published” [2].  Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious clinical journal, The Lancet,  stated in 2015 that “Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue” [3].  These dramatic quotes are strong evidence that the process for peer review is defective, the objectivity of scientists as peer reviewers is decayed, and examples are shockingly frequent!

Why are ethical aberrations in peer review tolerated by professional scientists?

Working scientists usually view this problematic situation as being part of the current degeneration in modern science.  Few scientists try to change anything; it much easier to just keep quiet.  Nevertheless, some exceptional ‘whistleblowers’ like Dr. Peter Wilmshurst have the personal strength to expose ethical wrongdoing in science (see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!”).  Wilmshurst describes many examples of outright corruption, including amazing cases where known miscreants and liars continued to publish research reports or head an ethics board for many more years [4,5].  Lawsuits for misconduct in research today are frequently reported in the media (e.g., see: “Whistleblower Sues Duke University for Acquiring Research Grants via Falsified Research Publications!”).  Admittedly, dishonesty in academia and industry often is covered up by insincere investigations.

What can be done to make peer review more meaningful?  

Several factors need to be changed in order to remedy inadequate peer reviewing and the growing corruption in science: (1) graduate school education of scientists must strongly emphasize the necessity for total honesty by all scientific researchers, (2) evidence for cheating and dishonesty must be more vigorously sought and investigated, (3) the penalties for research misconduct must be made much harsher, (4) nondestructive alternatives to the current hyper-competition for research grant funding must be developed, and, (5) the process of peer review must be separated from the distorting influences of career progression, money, and unethical trickery.  Whether making these changes are actually possible, and whether they will have the desired beneficial effects for science, remain to be seen.  Changing the status quo always is extremely difficult!

Some attempts are underway to make science and peer review be better.  Recent establishment of very large philanthropic support for scientific research liberates some small number of lucky scientists from the perverting influence of the research grant system (e.g., see: “Getting Rid of Research Grants: How Paul G. Allen is Doing It!”); of course, that approach cannot extend to the multitude of other scientists.  Some new journals avoid the traditional practices for peer review (e.g., openly publishing everything, removing the secrecy of appointed reviewers, having direct discussions between authors/applicants and their reviewers, etc., [1,6]).   A critical discussion of corruption in science journals by Piotr Sorokowski and colleagues is published in the March 22 issue of Nature (see: “Predatory Journals Recruit Fake Editor”) [6]; this  convincingly reveals that peer review of manuscripts often is only a fraudulent sham.

Do you wonder how inadequacies in peer review matter to you personally? 

Research corruption can immediately hurt innocent people and later cause other researchers to waste time and money when they base new experiments upon false data published in journals.  You yourself might become totally convinced about the inadequacies in peer review when some honest physician gives you an approved new medication that is based on published research falsely showing almost no dangerous side effects.  Peer review has considerable practical importance to you and to everyone else!

Concluding remarks! 

I must emphasize that many research scientists do not surrender to the common job pressures and do sincerely try to participate in peer reviewing with unemotional  evaluations of merit.  Any distortions of ethical standards by scientists subvert the true aim of science.  Much greater effort to avoid all dishonesty in modern science should also help prevent the impending death of scientific research at universities (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?”).

 

[1]  Baldwin, M., 2017.  In Referees We Trust?  Physics Today  70:44-49.  (Available on the internet at:  http://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/PT.3.3463 ).

[2]  Angell, M., 2009.  Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption.  The New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009 issue.  (Available on the internet at:  http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2009/01/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-story-of-corruption/ ).

[3]  Horton, R., 2015.  Offline: What is Medicine’s 5 Sigma?  The Lancet, April 11, 2015.  385:1380.  (Available on the internet at:  http://thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)60696-1/fulltext ).

[4]  Robbins, R.A., 2012.  Profiles in Medical Courage: Peter Wilmshurst, the Physician Fugitive.  Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care, April 27, 2012/4:134-141. (Available on the internet at:  http://www.swjpcc.com/general-medicine/2012/4/27/profiles-in-medical-courage-peter-wilmshurst-the-physician-f.html ).

[5]  Smith, R., 2012.  Richard Smith: A Successful and Cheerful Whistleblower.  The BMJ (British Medical Journal) Blogs, October 10, 2012.  (Available on the internet at:  http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2012/10/10/richard-smith-a-successful-and-cheerful-whistleblower/ ).

[6]  Sorokowski, P.,Kulczycki, E., Sorokowska, A. & Pisanski, K., 2017.  Predatory Journals Recruit Fake Editor.  Nature 543:481-483.  (Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/news/predatory-journals-recruit-fake-editor-1.21662 ).

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

BIG JOB PROBLEMS FOR SCIENTISTS GET EVEN BIGGER IN 2017! MUCH MORE HELP IS NEEDED!

 

Much more money for research only makes science get even worse in 2017! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Much more money for research only makes science get even worse in 2017!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Chris Woolston reports that Nature’s latest survey of job satisfaction by professional researchers “uncovered widespread dismay about earnings, career options, and future prospects”, and found that 1/3 of the respondents are unhappy [1] (see “Salaries: Reality Check” )!   Such a high level of job dissatisfaction by professionals is truly shocking!

Today, I am updating my dispatch from last year, “Job Problems for Scientists Get Bigger in 2016!”, because there is far too little effort by government officials, university administrators, leading research scientists, science societies, and the public to stop this very destructive situation!

What exactly are the biggest problems facing today’s research scientists?  

The largest problems currently damaging research are: (1) money (i.e., government agencies for science do not have enough money to support research by the ever-increasing number of doctoral scientists), (2) modern universities regard science departments as business entities where money is everything, and making important discoveries is not the primary goal, (3) applied research is being emphasized to the detriment of basic research, and (4) corruption in research is increasing and threatens the integrity of science.  This situation is much worse in academia than in industry (see “The Biggest Problems Killing University Science Still Prevail in 2016!” ).

Working research scientists begin to speak out!  

Harsh opinions of the ongoing problems for science and research are held by many faculty scientists, research associates, postdocs, and graduate students around the world.  Woolston’s figures reveal that 39% of all the different scientists responding would not recommend a research career [1]!

“There is no future in a research career in Italy” is stated by a female Italian molecular biologist working in Naples [1]!  A Ukranian postdoc working on physics in Australia does not recommend a science career to people who ask him [1]!  A faculty geneticist in Germany states, “Many people who wanted to do research end up as salespeople at some company” [1]!

Won’t more money for science solve these current problems?  

The public gives money for research via paying their annual taxes (i.e., all money in U.S. research grants comes from the taxpayers!).  Many people also donate money in response to repeated tearful cries for ‘more money to support more scientific research’.  Unfortunately, history shows that increased research funding never solves these grave problems!  More money is not the answer!

My view is that any giant new increase in research support only makes the current problems get even bigger (see “Huge Additional Money for Research Will be Bad for Universities and Their Science!” ).   Effective maneuvers, such as reducing the number of new doctoral scientists produced every year, and emphasizing quality over quantity when evaluating scientists and their research, are overwhelmed by the ongoing commercialization of science at modern universities.

The large practical problems with money are directly caused by bad policies of universities and the federal science agencies.  These causes and their effects are strongly interwoven, and combine into nothing less than a system problem!  Providing more money or reforming one or two destructive conditions are not enough; instead, the entire system must be remodeled or replaced! 

My answers to a few important ‘why questions’!

(1)  Why do scientists work for years to earn a Ph.D., just to have so many job problems in academia?  My best answer is that new doctorates in science increasingly are using their degree and research skills in jobs outside academia!

(2)  Why is science at universities and medical schools now a business?  The best answer is both simple and direct: because it provides big financial profits!

(3)  Why don’t professional scientists complain and try to change the system for funding research?  In the U.S., they are very afraid that any such activity would doom chances of getting their research grant(s) renewed!

(4)  Why don’t members of Congress and the presidents of national science societies act to change the present system for funding research?  Everything is very entrenched, and it always is extremely hard to change the status quo.  As the traditional saying goes, ‘Do not rock the boat’!

Will career problems for faculty scientists become even bigger in 2017?  

For FY2017, the proposed budget for all federal expenses increases by 4%, which is $4.2 trillion dollars [2,3]!  Science and research will receive a small portion of that total [2,3].

In addition to funding for research projects, there are several special targeted research programs termed ‘initiatives’.  Those include the ‘Precision Medicine Initiative’ prompted by the former President, and the ‘Cancer Moonshot’ urged by the former Vice-President [2-4].  For just these and several other initiatives, the U.S. could spend over $6.9 billion dollars in FY2017 [5]!  The funding for initiatives is on top of the nicely increased governmental funding for regular research projects [2-5].

It is anticipated that the new budget of $8 billion for the National Science Foundation in FY2017 will permit thousands more new research grants to be awarded to faculty scientists [5].  That sounds like a very substantial increase, but the rate for applications being funded will only increase from 22% to 23% [4]!  Thus, the intense hyper-competition between all academic scientists to get research grants will hardly be lessened!

All the well-publicized debates and arrangements made by Congress for 2017 do not really concern science and research, but are only posturing and trade-offs of political favors [e.g., 5].  My conclusion is that the new large increases in funding for research will only make the big problems in science become even bigger, so 2017 will be much more distressing for scientists than was 2016!

Want to understand more about causes and effects? 

If so, please examine some of my earlier articles!  For money in academia, see: “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities!”.  For the vicious hyper-competition to get research grants, see “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants!” .  For mechanics of the current research support system, see “Three Money Cycles Support Scientific Research!” .  On the growing commercialization of science in universities, see “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” .  For corruption in research, see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!” , and, “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?”.

Concluding remarks! 

Several big and very difficult problems confront today’s research scientists, and are getting even worse in 2017!   If the present downward course is not changed soon, the end result will be the death of science and research at universities (see:  “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).  To rescue academic science, big changes must be made to the entire system for modern scientific research!  The system is not able to resolve its own problems, so much more external help is needed.

 

[1]  Woolston, C., 2016.  “Salaries: Reality Check”.  Nature  537:573-576.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v537/n7621/full/nj7621-573a.html .

[2]  Office of Management and Budget, 2016.  “Fiscal Year 2017 Budget of the U.S. Government, Investing in Research and Development”.  U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.  PDF pages 26-28.  Available on the internet at:  https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2017-BUD/pdf/BUDGET-2017-BUD.pdf .

[3]  J. Tucker and L. Koshgarian, 2016.  “Fighting for a U.S. federal budget that would help all Americans” .  Available on the internet at:  https://www.nationalpriorities.org/analysis/2016/president-obamas-2017-budget/ .

[4]  H. Ledford, S. Reardon, R. Monastersky, A. Witze, and J. Toliefson, 2016.  “Obama makes risky bid to increase science spending.  Nature News (Feb. 10, 2016).  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/news/obama-makes-risky-bid-to-increase-science-spending-1.19316 .

[5]  S. Karlin-Smith, B. Norman, and J.Haberkorn, 2016.  “Biden’s farewell gift: Cancer moonshot helps pass $6.3 billion research bill”.  POLITICO (December 7),  Available on the internet at:  http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/joe-biden-cancer-moonshot-bill-232342 .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

SPECIAL NOTICE TO ALL VISITORS!!!

 

2017 Special Notice from Dr.M to Everyone! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
2017 Special Notice from Dr.M to Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

For 2017, I want to work on writing a book or two!  To do that I must use all the time I have been spending on this website (i.e., many hours every day!).  Therefore, I am taking a leave of absence, and will be issuing only a few new posts very occasionally during 2017!

                                                                                                                                   Dr.M

January  4, 2017

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

ON FACTORS AIDING SUCCESS IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

Several factors can increase the chances for success in conducting scientific research! (http://dr-monsrs,net)
Several factors can increase the chances for success in conducting scientific research! (http://dr-monsrs,net)

 

Most people believe that doing scientific research must be very boring because all activities are conducted by the so-called  “scientific method” and thus proceed exactly as planned.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Actual research is never guaranteed to work as expected, and there is a considerable amount of chance involved in successful scientific investigations; research experiments often are quite akin to adventures!  Here, we will take a look at the importance of careful attention to some key factors which contribute to having success in scientific research.

What gives success in research experiments?

Scientific studies aim to find answers to research questions.  To become a celebrated research scientist, investigators must make some discoveries that are recognized to be important by other scientists.  Usually this involves designing research investigations in a good manner, conducting the data collection in a way that is statistically valid and repeatable, and, analyzing and interpreting the experimental results so the conclusions are solid.  It should not be thought that doing good research is easy, since it requires much dedicated effort and emotional input by the Principal Investigator (i.e., the director of the research project) and all research coworkers.  Outside problems that do not involve research directly, such as deadlines, politics, presentations for science meetings, seeking patents, teaching of courses, writing and revising manuscripts, etc., always keep scientists quite busy.

Even good research plans often undergo changes for what is done in the laboratory.  Sometimes, new research publications from other scientists will necessitate adding additional experiments which had not been planned earlier.  Success with research partly depends upon special factors and circumstances that can increase the chances for getting a good outcome: (1) keen awareness of what the experiments are showing while the data are being collected, (2) appreciation that luck and serendipity in addition to vigorous efforts can facilitate success, and (3) acceptance that eliminating distractions is valuable to permit full concentration on what is being done.  Of course, there also are many other factors needed to gain success with doing scientific research (see “How Do Research Scientists Become Very Famous?”.

Awareness! 

Unexpected results from experiments can be very difficult to evaluate if the scientist does not know all the details about exactly how they were acquired.  Such awareness is often ignored by senior researchers who supervise many grad students and postdocs only from their desk.  These faculty then cannot critically evaluate what technical operations are being done and exactly how the data were produced.

Other kinds of awareness also are significant.  Research scientists must strive to know what other researchers in their field are doing; this requires attention to the new literature, attendance at sessions in science meetings, and making contacts with other scientists.  Awareness of the business aspects of research has become quite important in recent years.  Awareness can pay off big time if it results in doing or not doing something that other researchers have not recognized.  Good awareness in scientists commonly is a sign of an active mind.

Full concentration! 

Having full concentration while working on data collection requires strong personal discipline.   Very many scientists, whether working in industrial or academic labs, do not realize or accept that listening to the radio or conversing about politics while running an experiment necessarily reduces attention to what is being done.  Those very common distractions decrease awareness and inevitably cause carelessness!  In my experience, maintaining full attention, a high degree of alertness, and absence of distractions all help avoid making mistakes and foster producing good results.

Luck! 

Non-scientists often are amazed to see the large impact of good luck and bad luck in scientific research.  Good luck can bless any researcher, but for unknown reasons seems to occur more frequently in some than in others.  Wishing to have good luck unfortunately will not increase its appearance.  However, having awareness and mental sharpness can serve to make good luck less important for achieving success in research.  Bad luck also can occur to any scientist, and too frequently is blamed for causing all kinds of problems in conducting research experiments.

Serendipity!

For scientists, serendipity is a surprise research finding, realization about the collected data, or event.  It can have the form of a chance observation, an unusual beneficial turn of events, or the wonderful recognition that a piece of research data has a special significance.  Some explicit examples of serendipity include when a scientist (1) finally realizes that some acquired result unexpectedly also answers a different research question, (2) has a research publication that appears a full 6 months before competing scientists publish their very similar results, and, (3) gets an unexpected invitation to present a lecture at a science meeting.

Today, getting and maintaining a research grant is a matter of life and death for university science faculty.  Most scientists in modern universities will admit that they do not understand why certain applications for research grants get funded, but others seeming to be even more deserving are not funded.  Undoubtedly, the most supreme serendipity that any university scientist can have today is when their research grant application is funded in full!

Concluding remarks! 

Awareness, ability to strongly focus one’s attention, and, being visited by serendipity are valuable for any scientist to have.  Along with strong mental activity, personal determination, and technical skills, these might even help encourage having good luck!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

JOE AND HIS BUDDY MEET WITH DR.M! 

 

2 guys meet with Dr.M to discuss science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
2 guys meet with Dr.M to discuss science!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

This dispatch takes a very different path than the usual!  It features a conversation about science, research, and scientists between 3 very different people: (1) Joe, the street businessguy, who has been featured in many cartoons on this website, (2) Joe’s buddy, a more conventional man whose daughter is a young university scientist, and (3) Dr.M.  I hope everyone will gain some additional perspective and merriment with this dialogue!

Dr.M:  Joe, why don’t we start by having you describe your very successful businesses!

Joe:  After I collect rents, I work every day to sell insurance, loans, numbers, and used cars. Those keep me busy, and provide lots of money.  My all-cash businesses let me be free, independent, well-fed, and happy.  Plus, I don’t have to pay any income tax!

Dr.M:  What about you?  And by the way, what is your name?

X:  Just call me “X”!  I thought we were going to discuss science!

Dr.M:  Yes, but first please tell me what you work on?

X:  I work in the news department for our local radio station.  I am married and have 2 children; my older daughter recently was hired as an Assistant Professor in science at our state university.

Dr.M:  How does your daughter like being a university scientist and doing research?

X:  She is still getting used to it, and tells me she never realized in graduate school that research at universities now is just another business!

Joe:  What kind of science do you work on, Doc?

Dr.M:  I am a biomedical scientist, and usually am labelled as a cell and molecular biologist, a biophysicist, a biochemist, and a structural biologist.  That’s me!

X:  How can you work in so many different fields?

Dr.M.:  I am interdisciplinary and have a very wide curiosity.  These labels reflect my creativity, use of many different instruments and methods for research, and, study of many quite different types of specimens (e.g., crystals, egg cells, minerals, mitochondria, protein molecules, etc.).  I love doing laboratory research!

Joe:  Wow, that’s just amazing!  You must get a fat paycheck for doing all that!

Dr.M:  Not really!  My salary is pretty average.  My starting salary as a new Assistant Professor was less than modern Postdocs get!  It always amazes me that Postdocs now complain so loudly about being underpaid!

X: How can you like scientific research so much?  Looking at Science or Nature, I cannot understand much and it looks very boring!

Dr.M:  Research is exciting for me because one never knows exactly what will be found.  It really is an adventure!  I was blessed to start researching when every time you looked at specimens something  new and interesting was apparent; those days were just thrilling!  Later, I also found that the results in an experiment are largely determined by exactly how one prepares specimens and analyses them; thus, new knowledge is not only discovered, but actually is created by the researcher!  Doing experiments is sometimes frustrating, but research never has been boring to me.

X:  I told my daughter that she should try to cure cancer or work in ‘big science’ instead of ‘little science’.

Joe:  What is big and what is little?  Is that the same as a big cake or a little cookie?

X:  ‘Big science’ costs billions and tries to do the impossible, like going to Mars!  ‘Little science’ is more ordinary and looks at small problems.  That’s all I can understand!

Dr.M: Working on single questions in small projects that can be finished in some months or a few years is ‘little science’, and that is what most university scientists do!  For the special research projects involving enormous money and hundreds or thousands of scientists and engineers, like the new space telescope being built by NASA and some international partners, that huge effort is ‘big science’!  Those terms define differences in cost, number of scientists involved, time spent on the entire research project, and, the importance of the new information to be acquired.

X:  Can scientists win a Nobel Prize for research in ‘little science’ as well as in ‘big science’?

Dr.M:  Yes, indeed!  Both are possible and have occurred in recent years.

Joe:  Why do you and other scientists always use so many fancy words that mean nothing to ordinary people like me and my buddy?

Dr.M:  The terms used in each branch of science actually constitute a foreign language!  The special words in science are used to make meanings extra clear, so as to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings.  Exact meanings are necessary so scientists can discuss their research findings with each other.

Joe:  I don’t understand, and I don’t speak no foreign languages!

Dr.M:  It’s similar to a photofinish in horse races, where the special photograph shows precisely which horse crosses the finish line first by the tip of its nose and so is the winner.

Joe:  Now I get it!  But, I still can’t read about science!

X:  Dr.M, what does  research do for me and Joe?

Dr.M:  Research by scientists and engineers is the basis for just about everything you use and are, ranging from your shoes and eyeglasses, to the food you eat and the bottled drinks you swallow.  In addition, research and development provide your car and portable phone, your mattress and shotgun, and, what tests and medicines your doctor gives you.

Joe:  Who pays for all that research?

Dr.M:  Research is expensive, and is paid for by dollars from 2 sources: taxes, and business profits.  The first pays for scientific studies in universities, medical schools, and research institutes; the second pays for the many research activities by scientists and engineers working in industrial laboratories to develop new and improved commercial products.  Thus, my answer to your question is that you and X are paying for scientific research!

Joe:  I operate only in cash, so I don’t pay no stinkin’ taxes!

Dr.M:  Have either of you ever met and talked to any real scientists besides me?

Joe:  Yeah!  I have sold 4 used cars, one new car, and many numbers to some scientists at the university.  They are my best customers, but they never ask me for insurance or loans!

X:  I have met some science faculty in my daughter’s department at parties.  They were unrecognizable as scientists without their white lab coats!  Many seemed rather somber compared to ordinary guys like me and Joe.  They separated into 2 groups; one smaller bunch was chatting with their Chairman, and a larger bunch was telling stories and laughing at jokes.  When the Chairman left to go home, the groups rapidly merged and the party got louder!

Dr.M:  Well, I guess that is enough for now.  Can I buy lunch for both of you?

Joe:  See, I told you he was rich!

X:  Sounds good!  Where should we go to eat?

Joe:  There’s a terrific new BBQ restaurant over on the new Trump Parkway!

Dr.M:  Sounds great, and I voted for him, too!  Let’s go!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

DO NEW PH.D. SCIENTISTS REALLY NEED POSTDOCTORAL TRAINING?

 

Postdocs need to recognize the difference between science and business! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Postdocs need to recognize the key difference between science and business!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Postdoctoral training is intended to provide new Ph.D.s in science with advanced research experience under the guidance of a successful senior scientist.  This typically lasts from 1-5 years, and results in an independent researcher with several research publications as first author.  In response to the current difficulties with finding a job as a faculty scientist in academia [e.g., 1], questions are arising about whether this advanced research training as a Postdoc is necessary.  The intriguing possibility that the years of postdoctoral research training are not needed is nicely described by Erika Check Hayden with a new article in Nature, “Young Scientists Ditch Postdocs for Biotech Start-ups” [2].  Today’s dispatch looks critically at the pros and cons of skipping postdoctoral training by starting a small business where the new Ph.D. is the owner and chief researcher.

Is postdoctoral training in research absolutely necessary to be a good scientist? 

Postdoctoral training has been regarded for a long time as an essential prerequisite to hold a faculty position in academia.  However, many doctoral scientists working in industry have been hired without postdoctoral training, and went on to produce good research results; this is made practical by the facts that: (1) new research staff in industry usually receive a special intensive training period upon starting their new job, and (2) industrial research often involves working within a small or large team of co-researchers.  If one looks only at doctoral scientists working in universities, some science faculty also can be found who were hired having no postdoctoral training (e.g., in departments of anatomy or computer science).  Thus, the answer to this question clearly is ‘no’!

Why is postdoctoral training still deemed so essential for faculty scientists? 

Postdoctoral research training is required in academia because new Ph.D. scientists need several qualities not provided by their graduate school education: (1) full independence as a researcher, (2) experienced judgment for designing and evaluating research experiments, (3) wide practical knowledge and experience with conducting research projects, getting results published, obtaining research grants, presenting reports at science meetings, dealing with bureaucrats and the public, (4) in depth knowledge in a science specialty, so teaching can be done with confidence, and, (5) understanding the business aspects of being a faculty scientist.  New Ph.D. scientists generally only have limited expertise with a few research methods and approaches; being a postdoc greatly expands their hands-on experience, expertise, and critical judgment.

How will this new arrangement operate, and what will it lead to? 

New Ph.D. scientists now can found a small business where they are the owner, chief executive officer, and principal researcher [2].  First and foremost, this new career pathway requires one very determined individual with total commitment to making this unconventional activity succeed.  Support funds for early stage financing must be found, and are available from start-up organizations, venture capitalists, and biotech incubators [2].  Those associates not only provide money to get a lab furnished and staffed, but also give valuable advice about handling business concerns; that is particularly important since new science Ph.D.s usually have zero experience about business and financing.  Lab space is available for rent or at some university-based incubator facility.  Research technicians, managers, accountants, lawyers, etc., all can be hired as needed, and as funding permits.    Some individuals already are doing this, thereby avoiding the need to spend more years as a postdoc before starting independent research [2].

The original aims of this new career path are to skip the postdoctoral period, yet immediately start  doing research, receiving a good paycheck, and being an active part of science.  After early stage financing is obtained, continuation of research depends on success of the business (i.e., generating profits, persuading investors to buy stock of the new company, outdoing commercial competitors, and having good luck).  Ideally, some large industrial company will buy the promising small business and then take care of all financial matters.  Note that being successful at research is not enough; one must also be successful at  business!  Industrial research is different from academic research, and industry accepts that business must direct their research activities!

What problems will this new career path face? 

Many non-science problems can arise in any small business, particularly with development of new commercial products, marketing and advertising, and increasing sales.  I know of one young doctoral physicist who formed a small service business with several colleagues over 30 years ago; his venture collapsed when alternative methods developed that were less expensive.  At some large industrial labs, there are quite a few graphic stories where company administrators suddenly cancelled an entire large research project for business reasons; if this arises within small research companies, then everything stops.

Thoughts about business and science!  

Businesses exist to make financial profits.  Scientific research exists to find new knowledge and to test the truth.  These 2 are fundamentally different!  Although science at universities conducts basic and applied research as part of its traditional mission, today academic research increasingly is just amother business entity where money is everything, and faculty scientists are hired to increase their academic employer’s profits by getting research grants.  Hence, many faculty scientists researching in academic institutions already have merged their science with a business!  The destructive problems in academic research will recur within new small research businesses!

A fusion of business with scientific research seems to me to be full of difficult problems.  Success will not be easy!  The new article by Hayden explicitly states, “Most young biotech firms fail” [2], but does not identify the causes.  I feel that the chief cause is the inherent conflict between science and business.  Ex-Postdocs can either seek the truth or they can seek money!

Some brief discussion! 

In my opinion, deserting the postdoctoral experience altogether is not a good answer to solving current problems for postdocs.  I suggest and urge young postdoctoral scientists who are dissatisfied or feel trapped to: (1) devote much more attention to seeking good science-related openings outside academia (see:  “Postdocs in 2016 Need to be More Clever, Not More Angry!” ), (2) recognize the basic purposes of science and of business, and, (3) closely inspect what is displayed in the incredible photo in Hayden’s article [2], showing the courageous young and eager biotech scientist, Dr. Ethan Perlstein, standing alone inside his empty business “laboratory”!

Concluding remarks! 

Fusion of scientific research with a small business might work for certain new science Ph.D.s, but that is not a general possibility.  The result could be exchanging one problem for others!

 

[1]  Powell, K., October 26, 2016.  Young, talented and fed-up: scientists tell their stories.  Nature (Oct. 27)  538:446-448.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/news/young-talented-and-fed-up-scientists-tell-their-stories-1.20872?WT.mc_id=SFB_NNEWS_1508_RHBox .

[2]  Hayden, E.C., 2016.  Young scientists ditch postdocs for biotech start-ups.  Nature (News, Nov. 1, 2016)  539:14-15.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/news/young-scientists-ditch-postdocs-for-biotech-start-ups-1.20912  .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

ONLY FOR BEGINNERS: HOW TO VIEW SCIENCE AND RESEARCH! 

 

What are science, research, and scientists all about? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What are science, research, and scientists all about?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Are you a raw beginner?  It is hard for beginners to understand science, research, and scientists, so most just ignore them!  In this dispatch I explain some points so you will be able to understand more on what science and research are all about!

Why is scientific research needed? 

We need to know more about ourselves, our world, and our universe in order to be able to do more (e.g., treat and cure more diseases, rescue everyone from pollution, produce healthier food, make cheaper gasoline, etc.).

How does science differ from engineering? 

Scientists work to discover new knowledge.  They evaluate the truth by observing, measuring, and experimenting.  Engineers work to develop or improve some commercial product (e.g., better batteries, steam-powered autos, more sensitive and safer machines, faster trains, etc.).  Both are very useful to society!

Are inventors the same as scientists? 

Inventors make some new object or device.  Anyone can be an inventor, even you! Some scientists also are inventors (i.e., by making a new attachment for one of their research instruments).  Inventors generally are not scientists (i.e., they do not have graduate degrees or teach at universities).

Why are salaries for scientists so much more than I get? 

The average doctoral biomedical scientist working as an Assistant Professsor at U.S. academic institutions in 2015 received a salary of about $91,000 per year [1].  The average salary for senior biomedical scientists working as a Full Professor was around $152,000 per year [1].  Please note that these are averaged figures that ignore regional locations, science subspecialties, years of employment, etc.  Salary levels for faculty scientists are based primarily their highly specialized expertise, ability to do both teaching and research, and very extensive education taking over 10 years (i.e., after 4 years in a college, they typically spend 3-8 years in graduate school, plus 2-5 more years as a postdoctoral trainee).

Why is modern research so expensive? 

Research to make discoveries of new knowledge requires obtaining accurate results from measurements and experimental tests by salaried research workers (e.g., professional scientists, postdoctoral fellows, technicians).  Most experiments use special supplies, expensive instruments, and special facilities within a laboratory.  Since the experiments in a typical research project last from weeks to years, the total costs are substantial.

Who pays for scientific research?  Do you pay?  

Payment for research expenses primarily comes from 2 separate sources: taxes paid by the public, and business profits in industrial companies.  Yes, you pay for research!

Why is money so important in modern science? 

Everything costs and someone must pay!  No research gets done unless expenses are paid for!  Awards of taxpayer dollars are given by  governmental science agencies to support worthy research studies by scientists.  These awards are termed research grants, and all  scientists at universities, medical schools, and technology institutes compete for them so they can conduct research investigations.

Why do some scientists kill animals for their research project? 

Research on diseases, nutrition, and toxic chemicals often is impossible to conduct  directly on humans, so the needed studies must use experiments with laboratory mice, rats, or other suitable animals.  Since humans are not mice (and only certain humans are rats!), the results from animal-based studies must be extended by clinical researchers onto humans.  Computer models can be used for some research, but those results later must be verified by tests on animals and humans.  Scientists I know feel bad about using animals for their research, but accept that such is necessary to get the needed new knowledge.

Scientists on TV always are either weird or maniacs; why are all scientists like that? 

They are not like that!  The phony Hollywood model for scientists is only aimed to be entertaining!  Unlike in TV and movies, real scientists are strongly individualistic, very dedicated to their research work, want to make important discoveries, like to laugh, and work very hard.  A real scientist might be one of your neighbors (if so, see if you can chat with them or visit their lab)!

Why are scientist so evil (e.g., nuclear bombs, genetically modified organisms (GMO), fraudulent drug studies, hidden poisons, etc.)? 

Your view of scientists confuses what they actually discover from research studies, with what practical outcomes develop later.  The instances that you cite were developed in response to making advances in agriculture, developing new chemicals for specific purposes, producing the needs for warfare, etc.  What you view as evil, other people see as being useful and even good!  Never forget that scientists are people, and they do make mistakes and have some faults.  I join you in damning cheaters who hide or change test results and market new drugs that actually harm patients, hiders of labeling GMO foods, and, commercial vendors of disguised poisons.

Why can’t all research be focused only on making the next really big discovery?  

Research discoveries depend upon scientists who work best as individuals or in small groups.  Forcing all scientists to work only on one super-project and giving them unlimited money for research, is not likely to reach the desired goal because that condition limits freedom of individuals to think, explore, and ask questions.  Those characteristics are basically required in scientific research!  Consider the analogy where everyone is forced to drive a Chevy, and no other cars are permitted on the roads!

I don’t understand the Nobel Prizes!  Wasn’t Nobel a destructive monster? 

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was a scientist in chemistry, and also a builder, businessman, engineer, industrialist, inventor, traveller, and writer.  He made lots of money from inventing dynamite after years of work, and willed his fortune to establish several ongoing big prizes for scientists whose research provided the greatest benefit to all humans (see:  “The 2016 Nobel Prizes in Science are Announced” ).  Dynamite remains very useful for construction, levelling mountains,  and mining.  Regarding your question, you should know that his brother was killed by an unplanned explosion during the development of dynamite, Nobel lived and workedk on several continents, and he wanted to benefit humanity.   His very eventful life is nicely described in 2 illustrated pieces (see: “Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863”, and, “Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work” ).

What does science and research mean to me, a raw beginner? 

Please see my earlier article: “What Does Science Matter to Me, an Ordinary Person?” !  You will be surprised to learn that scientific research impacts everything you do and are (e.g., aging, dreams, health, internet, personality, sex, success at sports, travel, your job, etc.).

What does modern science need to produce more important research discoveries? 

In my opinion, modern science needs the addition of more freedom, more curiosity, asking many more questions, longer research grants, better honesty, lots of patience, plus its separation from commercialism, government, and political correctness!

Concluding remarks! 

I hope the above has given you a better understanding about science and research!  Once your curiosity is stimulated, you can have lots of fun looking at many videos, articles, and stories about science on the internet!

 

[1] Zusi, K., and Keener, A.B., for The Scientist, 2015.  “2015 Life Sciences Salary Survey”.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/44275/title/2015-Life-Sciences-Salary-Survey/  .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

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 .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

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 .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

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!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

POSTDOCS IN 2016 NEED TO BE MORE CLEVER, NOT MORE ANGRY! 

 

 

Bright and Eager Young Postdoc in 2016! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Bright and Eager Young Postdoc in 2016!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Being a Postdoctoral Research Fellow is traditional for those pursuing a science career in academia.  Everyone agrees that postdocs play a  key role in modern scientific research and deserve to be much appreciated, but there presently is turmoil amongst postdocs leading to proposals that they should have a better salary, higher status, less routine work, and less job stress.  This dispatch is for present postdocs and grad students, and gives my views about some current issues.  My opinions reflect my own experiences with 2 postdoctoral appointments before I found a faculty job, and with several postdocs working in my own research lab on grant-supported projects.

What should postdocs aim to do? 

I have previously discussed this general question in detail (please see: “All About Postdocs, Part II: What Should You Work On and Learn as a Postdoc?” ).

How does being a postdoc help young scientists develop their career? 

The postdoctoral period (e.g., 1-4 years) provides much beyond what was learned in graduate school.  Unlike graduate students, postdocs concentrate on doing research, become technical experts on some instrumentation and methods, solidify their professional identity as researchers in a given area of science, master their ability to compose manuscripts and give oral presentations, and learn about the biggest problems faced by faculty scientists doing research.  Postdocs are analogous to medical residents; hands-on experience is a great teacher!

Postdocs also should learn very much about activities associated with researching (e.g., business aspects of being a research scientist, how the research grant system works, handling administrators and regulations, explaining what their research is trying to do, getting results done in time for deadlines, approaching famous scientists at science meetings, and, what unexpected challenges their chosen career will present).

Is being a postdoc necessary? 

It is not necessary, but sure is very useful for many jobs involving research!  Some faculty positions as fulltime teachers do not require postdoctoral experience.  Postdoctoral training now is increasingly required for researching in industries [1].  For science-related non-research jobs, a postdoctoral period with research usually is not needed; however, a year or 2 of practical experience working in the area is a big plus for landing a good position (i.e., if you want to be a science writer, work in a beginning position with some media organization before you seek a permanent post).

What can postdocs do if they cannot land a job? 

The postdoctoral experience should directly help you get job offers.  If a modern postdoc is unable to land a suitable job in academia (or elsewhere!), they should try hard to identify the cause or causes (e.g., not enough experience, missing some key expertise, amateurish affect in interviews, distance of personal research interest and skills from those wanted by the employer, lack of teaching experience, likelihood for winning a first research grant, etc.).  To identify your causes, it is useful to imagine that you are the potential employer and you are evaluating and interviewing yourself!  Try hard to stop making excuses and start being realistic and decisive about yourself!

Sometimes your candidacy will be strengthened by another postdoctoral position!  In other cases, it becomes obvious that a faculty job is not within your reach, so a major shift in career goals is needed.  The skills mastered and the research experience you obtained as a doctoral degree holder and postdoctoral fellow qualifies you for many good positions outside academia, and even outside research.  Get advice from postdocs who recently succeeded in finding a good position in science.

If everything bothers you so much, then why remain as a postdoc? 

“Permanent postdocs” complain bitterly that they are trapped and being used only as technicians.  Dealing with this quagmire is no fun, but necessitates being brutally realistic!  Are you really sure you would be happy in academia?  Maybe a good science-related job would be better instead of spending more years struggling (see  “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part III: Unconventional Approaches to Find or Create Employment Opportunities” ).

Not every research scientist wants to have to deal with the business of research grants!  They would be very happy to let someone else worry about that, so they can concentrate on doing experimental bench research.  Changes are afoot whereby professional research positions are becoming available with no teaching duties and no requirement to obtain research grant awards.  These newer academic positions have various labels, such as  Professional Research Staff, Associate Researcher, or Senior Researcher; salaries, benefits, and job atmosphere seem quite appealing!

Commentary on some common mistakes and misunderstandings made by postdocs! 

I will now list and comment on what I see as mistakes and misunderstandings for modern postdocs.  Whether you agree or disagree, see if any applies to you.

  1. Select your mentor and postdoctoral institution according to what you want for a future job and professional identity.
  2. Being a postdoc is not a continuation of graduate school; it is much more and quite different!  Become an expert!  Become a professional!
  3. Postdocs are not yet fully independent scientists; some big activities are conducted by the mentor, so be grateful no matter what happens!
  4. Many problems bothering modern postdocs are a direct preview of job problems science faculty have to deal with (see “Why Are University Scientists Increasingly Upset With Their Job?  Part II” )!
  5. There is nothing wrong, and often is something quite beneficial, with having a second postdoctoral experience!
  6. Becoming a permanent postdoc (i.e., a super-technician) mostly is your own fault. Take a look at industrial science employment, non-faculty science jobs, and non-research jobs available for doctorates in science.  Make changes, be more clever, and try something new, or, make the best of it!
  7. In my opinion, the main special benefits of the postdoctoral experience are becoming better with handling the time problem, getting several good publications, understanding research grants and the business of being a scientist, getting to know other researchers and talking to famous research leaders, and, learning exactly what it means to be a fulltime professional scientist!

A personal statement from Dr.M!  

Working on scientific research as a postdoc often is one of the most exciting and wonderful times for scientists.  It certainly was for me!

Concluding remarks! 

Being a postdoctoral researcher should be an enchanting experience for any dedicated scientist!  The world of postdocs now is opening up; postdoc positions now are more numerous in industrial research labs [1], and longer-term professional research positions with good pay and benefits are being established at universities.

 

[1]  Woolston, C., 2016.  Industry: Open for business.  Nature  537:437-439.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v537/n7620/full/nj7620-437a.html .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

WHISTLEBLOWER SUES DUKE UNIVERSITY FOR ACQUIRING RESEARCH GRANTS VIA FALSIFIED RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS! 

 

 

It's time to stop the need to cheat in academic research! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
It’s time to stop the need to cheat in academic research! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Dishonesty in scientific research hurts everyone and seems to be increasing.  Cheating and corruption are especially notable for research activities at universities and medical schools (see “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” ).  Most steps aiming to reduce research misconduct sadly are not very effective, due in part to the well-known tendency of universities to stonewall and deny any wrongdoing.

This article discusses how research fraud by a staff employee at the Duke University Medical Center now has expanded with a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower alleging that many millions of dollars of research grants from several federal agencies were acquired based on research results known to be falsified [1-4].  This new legal case is unusual and could force this prestigious university to return up to 3 times the awarded research support funds to the U.S. government [1-5].

Brief background about the U.S. False Claims Act [5] ! 

The False Claims Act (FCA) lets a U.S. citizen file suit on behalf of the federal government, to recover awarded funds that were fraudulently obtained.  Previous use of the FCA against research fraud has been very limited.  This new case at Duke not only will involve faculty and academic officials, but also invokes participation by the U.S. Department of Justice, officials at the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies, several institutions having research collaborations with Duke, and very specialized lawyers.  A whistleblower winning an FCA lawsuit can obtain up to 30% of fraudulently acquired funds mandated to be returned to the government!

Nothing is simple in research misconduct, because others always are involved [1-4] !  

To its credit, Duke University formally investigated the research staff employee, Erin Potts-Kant, suspected of producing fraudulent research results, and found that over a dozen research publications involving her with coauthors, including the Principal Investigator, Prof. William M. Foster (Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, at the Department of Medicine) were retracted or “corrected”; some published data was admitted to be unreliable.

The new FCA lawsuit recently has been filed (and unsealed) against this researcher, her supervisor, Duke University, and Duke University Health Systems by Joseph Thomas, formerly employed as a research coworker with Potts-Kant.  He earlier had expressed his concerns about research integrity to officials at Duke.  This FCA suit alleges that fraudulent published data was knowingly included in over 60 research grant applications, yielding awards totalling some $200,000,000.  Trial for this FCA case currently is pending.

What does this FCA case mean for dishonesty and corruption in academic science? 

I have previously described my view that dishonesty with scientific research in academia is largely an outcome of bad policies and activities by both (1) university science, which has been converted into a business where money is the goal (see “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ), and (2) the current research grant system, where the destructive hyper-competition for research grant money now overrules all aspects of being an academic scientist and directly causes dishonesty (see  “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ).  Punishments for university faculty scientists getting caught with unethical research conduct have been notoriously weak or meaningless (see  “Dishonesty in Scientific Research: Are the Punishments for Being Caught Sufficient to Deter More Cheating?” ); now they will become much tougher due to the new involvement of the FCA for cases alleging research fraud.

The new legal situation using the FCA can result in a university actually having to pay big dollars for not having adequate control of dishonesty in its science activities.  The possibility that universities could face substantial financial penalties for research misconduct by any faculty cheaters and unethical employees now worries all private academic institutions; that’s good news!  Dealing with this grave problem of cheating in research publications and grant applications finally is given some teeth!

Whistleblowers are very significant! 

History shows that science cannot police itself.  The False Claims Act provides a strong pathway for whistleblowers to make their case known for research misconduct observed at universities and medical schools.  The new FCA case at Duke has the very positive effect of calling everyone’s attention to the important role of whistleblowers in reporting unethical science.  Dr. Peter Wilmshurst, a courageous clinical faculty researcher who has successfully blown the whistle on several cases of shameful misconduct by faculty scientists and medical industries (see  “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-Based Industries Honest!” ), provides an inspiring model for having the guts to struggle with protecting honesty in clinical science.  If the new FCA trial verifies the alleged misconduct at Duke and forces that large university to refund research grant funds awarded on the basis of falsified publications, then the vital role of whistleblowers in keeping academic science honest will be made more widely recognized.

Concluding remarks! 

The increasing incidence of research misconduct in academic science is one of the gravest problems facing modern university scientists.  The pressures on science faculty from the hyper-competition for research grants are just enormous and causes some scientists to cheat.  Unless this hyper-competition and the conversion of university science into just another business entity both are stopped, then academic science will continue dying (see “Could  Science and Research Now be Dying?” , and “The Biggest Problems Killing University Science Still Prevail in 2016!” ). The extensive changes needed to accomplish that must involve the entire system for modern science!

 

[1]  McCook, A., 2016 (September 2).  Duke fraud case highlights financial risks for universities.  Science  353:977-978.  Available on the internet at:  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6303/977.full ).

[2]  Staff Reports, 2016 (September 2).  Former researcher sues Duke, alleges Uni used improper data to receive funding.  The Duke Chronicle.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2016/09/former-researcher-sues-duke-alleges-uni-used-improper-data-to-receive-funding .

[3]  Patel, V., 2016 (September 7).  Experts address research fabrication lawsuit against Duke, note litigation could be lengthy.  The Duke Chronicle.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2016/09/experts-address-research-fabrication-lawsuit-against-duke-note-litigation-could-be-protracted .

[4]  Aquino, J.T., 2016 (September 9).  Whistleblower suit claiming Duke faked data is warning signal.  Bloomberg BNA.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.bna.com/whistleblower-suit-claiming-n73014447442/ .

[5]  McCook, A., 2015 (March 18).  So you want to be a whistleblower?  A lawyer explains  the process.  Retraction Watch.  Available on the internet at:  http://retractionwatch.com/2015/03/18/so-you-want-to-be-a-whistleblower-a-lawyer-explains-the-process/ .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

THEORY VERSUS PRACTICE IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

Quotation by Yogi Berra, star catcher for the New York Yankees baseball team; also attributed to several other persons! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Quotation by Yogi Berra, star catcher for the New York Yankees baseball team; also attributed to several other persons! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Theories play a big role in science!  I recently presented a short introduction for beginners about science theories (see “Towards Understanding Theoretical Research in  Science!” ).  Here, we will look at some current research developments in Astronomy that illustrate examples of theories within space research.

A brief background for beginners on the science of Astronomy! 

Knowledge in ancient times about our planet, Earth, our Moon, our Sun, and the stars came from direct observations with the naked eyes.  The early development of telescopes, photography, and other ways to record positions of celestial objects permitted measurements to be made; that was the real start of astronomy as part of physical science.

Astronomy today has the tools and technology to examine everything from the other planets circling our Sun, to distant galaxies and energy emissions in outer space.  Modern research in astronomy has been expanded by the development of space science with its explorations using robotic labs sent on distant travels, space telescopes and new large terrestrial telescopes, and, numerous advanced spectroscopes.  These tools and methods gather quantitative data that go far beyond what could be done by researchers only a few decades ago.  The new availability of direct measurements means that theories in astronomy now can be tested against real data.

Do exoplanets exist!

Humans have long wondered if we are alone, or if there are other planets with life somewhere out in the universe.  A theory that exoplanets (i.e., planets circling other stars) do exist is mirrored by a theory that there are no others!   The validity of any theory must be tested by evidence from research results.  Due to their limited size and great distance away from Earth, exoplanets cannot yet be directly imaged by any terrestrial telescopes; space telescopes should be able to do that, if exoplanets actually exist.  Instead of using light waves to form images, telescopes and radiotelescopes now can detect other wavelengths and types of radiation, and record spectra rather than images; much development in this research methodology has resulted in good confidence for interpretating spectroscopic data, although confirmation from adjunctive results always also is sought. Recent discoveries of hundreds of planets orbiting many other stars [e.g., 1] establishes validity of the theory that exoplanets do exist.

Proxima b is discovered! 

One exoplanet, Proxima b, has just been reported by an international team of scientists, after analyzing research data back to 2000 [1]!  It is slightly larger than Earth, and encircles our neighboring star, Proxima Centauri, with a periodicity of 11.2 days; its equilibrium temperature permits liquid water to be present.  There is much excitement in astronomy over this new research finding, because its relative closeness to Earth means that it will be a prime target for future fly-by missions.  A new article for general readers about the discovery of this exoplanet, written for CNN by Ashley Strickland [2], now is available (see: “Proxima b: Closest potentially habitable planet to our solar system found” ).

Does water exist on any exoplanet? 

Liquid water is a key component of all forms of life on Earth.  Any theory that life exists on exoplanets generally requires the presence of water there; this links one theory to another theory!  Space scientists are already defining the width of a zone around some stars as being habitable if its temperature range includes that required for liquid water to be present; however, such an estimation does not establish that water actually is present.  Much more direct research data is needed to be able to resolve this important question.

Does life exist on any exoplanets? 

The enormous distance of exoplanets from Earth makes any theory that life is present there extremely difficult to test.  The distant locations make it impractical to send scientists or robots out to any exoplanet via a spaceship.  Several innovative ideas for how to obtain direct images of exoplanets now are being developed and activated (e.g., see “Can Research Travel Out to the Stars?  Yuri Milner Says “Yes, Let’s Go!” ).  Advanced spectroscopy perhaps is the only currently available means to detect life forms on exoplanets, since direct imaging is not yet possible.

How to interpret images from exoplanets? 

Direct imaging of exoplanets is eagerly awaited!  All images in science must be interpreted, but the interpretation of future direct images from exoplanets is guaranteed to be a major controversy since images showing either creatures resembling those we all know on Earth, or something wildly different, will provoke vigorous doubts by other scientists and the public!  Life might exist that utilizes other means for energy mobilization, and does not need either water or oxygen; thus, exotic life forms imaged on exoplanets might not be recognizable as such!  Objective interpretation of those images might be nearly impossible!

Brief discussion! 

Nothing is written in stone, and everything can be questioned by scientists!  Theories are particularly useful in science as targets for new research experiments.  All theories must be evaluated on the basis of their ability to explain direct observations and measurements.  Theories can be proven or disproven by evidence from research results; valid theories have a predictive ability.  Even proven theories can be modified as more research data becomes available.  Speculative ideas and imaginative proposals differ from science theories because they are judged largely on the basis of popularity and subjective promise, rather than by direct evidence.

Concluding remarks! 

Theories in science always are controversial and hard to prove.  In space science, new research results now permit the validity of some theories to be tested directly.  These indeed are very exciting times for space scientists!

 

[1]  Anglada-Escudé, G., et al., August 25, 2016.  A terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit around Proxima CentauriNature  536:437-440.

[2]  Strickland, A., for CNN, August 24, 2016.  Proxima b: Closest potentially habitable planet to our solar system found.  CNN – Health.

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

IT’S TIME FOR THE 2016 KAVLI PRIZE WEEK (SEPTEMBER 5 – 8)!

 

Notable quotations by FRED KAVLI about scientific research. Obtained from http:www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch6yMD4JGCo, and from http://www/kavliprize.org/about/fred-kavli.
Notable quotations by FRED KAVLI about scientific research. Obtained from
http:www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch6yMD4JGCo, and from http://www/kavliprize.org/about/fred-kavli.

 

The Kavli Prizes are awarded every 2 years to scientists whose research investigations have made seminal advances in science.  These Prizes were established by Fred Kavli (1927-2013), a physicist, inventor, and industrialist.  Kavli Prizes have the same level of high honor as the Nobel Prizes, but are restricted to 3 large areas of science (astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience).  For 2016, 9 pioneering scientists were announced as awardees in June, and next week the Kavli Prizes will be presented at a special ceremony in Oslo, Norway, during the Kavli Prize Week festivities.

Today’s dispatch briefly gives information about the newest Kavli Prize Laureates and their important research achievements.

Kavli Prize Week and the Kavli Foundation! 

The Kavli Prize website presents much information about the Kavli Prizes and Kavli Prize Week, including the selection of awardees, biographies and information about the newest and the previous Laureates, recordings of presentations by the Laureates, and, several other items for viewing by the general public (e.g., Popular Science Lectures).  This website is highly recommended and very worthy for you to explore independently!

The schedule of events for the 2016 Kavli Prize Week and abstracts for the 2016 Laureate Lectures by the new awardees are given in “The Kavli Prize Week 2016 – Program”The Kavli Foundation issues educational videos explaining the 3 areas of modern science involving the Kavli Prizes.

The 2016 Kavli Prize Laureates! 

The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics (see “2016 Prize in Astrophysics”) is shared between Ronald W. P. Drever (California Institute of Technology, United States), Kip S. Thorne (California Institute of Technology, United States), and Rainer Weiss (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States), for their recent direct detection of gravitational waves after many years of controversy about whether these features of cosmology actually existed (see “Brian Greene Explains the Discovery of Gravitational Waves”; also see “Rainer Weiss”).  By persisting in their studies when confronted by failures to detect any gravitational waves, they finally succeeded; their discovery translates theory into practice, and thereby creates a whole new branch of astronomy.

The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (see “2016 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience: A discussion with Gerd Binnig and Christoph Gerber” ) is shared between Gerd Binnig (IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Switzerland), Christoph Gerber (University of Basel, Switzerland), and Calvin Quate (Stanford University, United States), for their invention and development of the atomic force microscope.  This new tool for research greatly advances imaging of the molecular and atomic structure of nonconducting surfaces, and permits directly measuring surface properties at the level of different atoms.  Research with atomic force microscopy now is widely used for nanoscience investigations of many different materials in all 3 branches of science; this instrument is wonderfully versatile, so unexpected new applications continue to develop (e.g., usage for medical diagnosis of cancer patients).  Atomic force microscopy took decades of dedicated work to be fully developed and explored.  Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer were awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention of the scanning tunneling microscope; that innovative new instrument necessarily preceded the invention and development of the atomic force microscope.

The Kavli Prize in Neuroscience (see “2016 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience: A discussion with Eve Marder, Michael Marzenich, and Carla Shatz” ) is shared between Eve Marder (Brandeis University, United States), Michael Marzenich (University of California at San Francisco, United States), and Carla Shatz (Stanford University, United States), for their research showing that the adult brain changes its architecture and functioning from experience and learning (i.e., brain remodeling and neuroplasticity).  This new concept is derived from study of several different model systems, and replaces the traditional view that the adult brain is static and can no longer change.  Their new model of the brain encourages development of new therapeutic approaches to treat adult human brain dysfunctions (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, senility, trauma, etc.).

General discussion! 

All the 2016 Kavli Prize Laureates exemplify the expectation that scientists should be creative individuals who are not afraid to explore new ideas, concepts, and approaches!  Their celebrated work has included both basic and applied research, theoretical and experimental studies, and, development of new research methods and instruments.  Their outstanding discoveries were the result of persistent dedication to research as a source for new knowledge; their use of collaborative investigations is prominent.  The 9 Laureates in 2016 are outstanding researchers, and all serve as good role models for young scientists just beginning their professional  careers.

Concluding remarks! 

The 2016 Kavli Prizes admirably fulfill the intention of the late Fred Kavli to honor excellence in research, to emphasize the importance of basic science, and to promote public education about scientific research.  All people should join in celebrating the new Kavli Prize Laureates!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

TOWARDS UNDERSTANDING THEORETICAL RESEARCH IN SCIENCE! 

 

Theories and research results are both important for science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Theories and research results are both important for science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Despite the efforts of education and media, most people still do not know or understand much about science and scientific research.  The understanding I am referring to does not involve facts and figures so much as activities, aims, and rationales.  Research in theoretical science is particularly viewed and rejected as being a total waste of money and time.  Those mistaken viewpoints are largely due to an absence  of knowledge about the usefulness of theories in science.  This article tries to illuminate the value of theoretical research so you will understand how it plays an important role in the advancement of science.

Theories in science! 

Science wants to know more about everything!  Most research in biomedicine, chemistry, or physics deals with subjects and activities that can be examined directly or indirectly (e.g., animals or cells, polymers or monomers, and, minerals or atoms).  Theories in all branches of science deal with subjects that are not able to be examined directly or indirectly, but can be investigated at the level of what is known already, what could be possible, what can explain something that is not understood, what would happen if and when, and, how can some valid estimate be made for something that cannot be measured directly.  Theories in science basically use what is known to try to investigate or explain something that is unknown and unavailable for direct studies; their validity is judged on  the basis of evidence from research experiments.

Theory versus practice! 

Scientists usually are very specialized, but all can be divided into being either theorists or experimentalists.  The boundaries of this division can be changed with time, when more new knowledge by experimentalists is discovered.  A good example of this dynamic occurred recently when research probes and very special research instruments began to be sent far out into space (e.g., see:  “The New James Webb Space Telescope!” ); all of a sudden, astrophysicists working only at the level of theoretical physics had to confront their theories with real data!  Some of their theories about planets, stars, galaxies, and dark holes were validated, others had to be modified, and some were disproved.  Note that even established theories that are later shown to be invalid still had been helpful for temporarily filling gaps within scientific knowledge about outer space; by proving or disproving a theory, the newly acquired experimental data advances the scientific search for truth.

My own thesis advisor was an experimentalist in cell biology, and once told me that he had seen a certain senior professor walking along a walkway on campus with his head bent forward looking only down at the pavement.  That individual was a pioneering theoretical biologist who analyzed subjects with mathematics; anyone could readily imagine all kinds of equations bouncing around his head as he walked along!  My advisor said all that was very well so long as the theories agreed with practice (i.e., with direct experimental data).  I then asked him what he meant.  He answered that this theoretician had developed a mathematical study of eukaryotic cell division, and had come up with an extensive conclusion about how that activity operated, including that the entire process took place in 24.3 seconds; this number does not match actual direct observations with microscopy showing that it takes some hours!

What is the value of theories for science? 

Theories are good for science because they provide discrete points of study for new research, can give estimates where direct measurements cannot be made, and, help understand complex activities and relationships which are impossible to examine directly.  For science, theories are useful as targets for research questions and for designing new experiments.

Scientific theories are more than just fanciful ideas.  They are somewhat similar to large conclusions from direct research studies in that they: (1) always are subject to revision (i.e., due to new research results), (2) often last a long time, but some vanish when they are completely disproved, and, (3) stimulate new directions for experimental researchers to work on.

A classical example of the value of theories for science is the heliocentric theory of Copernicus, proposing that the Earth revolves around the Sun, unlike the older standard theory that the Sun circles around the Earth.  As time passed, more and more experimental research data provided evidence that the standard theory is wrong and the heliocentric theory is correct.  Many modern researchers in astronomy and space science now follow what has developed from the ancient theory of Copernicus.

Another good example is Darwin‘s theory of evolution.  That complex proposal cannot be directly examined today because the eons of time during which it operated are unavailable.  This extensive theory can explain very many observable details about similarities, differences, and specializations in animals, plants, microbes, and fossils.  The large amount of solid evidence from research for the validity of this classical theory does not prevent ongoing questions and criticisms from being raised.  That is good and is essential for science’s mission to find the truth based upon evidence from research results!

Concluding remarks! 

Everything can and should be questioned, even well-known theories, dogmas, or popular sacred cows!  Science always seeks to evaluate and test accepted conclusions, concepts, and theories when new research experiments make additional data available.  Theories and research in science are complementary, and both are very useful!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

NEW TECHNOLOGY AND NEW COMMERCIAL PRODUCTS NEED A SEQUENCE OF INTERACTIONS BETWEEN SCIENCE, ENGINEERING, AND INDUSTRY! 

 

Not all new ideas become commercial products! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Not all new ideas become commercial products!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Anyone can come up with an idea for a useful new device, but it always is uncertain whether that can be converted into a new product for sale. Typically, there is a long chain of interactions between the original idea for a new device and the marketed new product!  This chain of events is quite general, and is good for everything from a new refining process that generates cheaper gasoline, to new expensive diagnostic kits for identifying specific diseases.  This article will outline the general sequence whereby scientific research, engineering development, and industrial modifications lead to new commercial products, using the important example of producing drinkable water from seawater.

Background on desalination [1,2]! 

All humans get thirsty every day!  Water to be drinkable (i.e., potable water) must be freed from bacteria, dissolved salts, sediments, and various chemicals.  Ocean water is much more plentiful than natural fresh water, but cannot be used directly to quench thirst.  Desalination (i.e., removal of salts from the starting liquid) has primary importance for purifying water, and is increasingly important as the global human population increases and the amount of natural fresh water decreases.

Removing dissolved salts can be accomplished by several different ways.  Most people are familiar with water purification by distillation (i.e., boiling water to produce steam, followed by cooling to condense the steam into salt-free liquid water).  Where large numbers of people need to have potable water for drinking, simple distillation is not usable because it has insufficient speed and capacity, as well as a high energy cost.

In practice, physical filtration of salty source water is used commonly for pre-treatment to remove sediments and microorganisms.  The processes utilized to separate filtered water from dissolved salts involve chemical or physical mechanisms working at the level of molecules and ions (e.g., adhesion, ion exchanges, permeation through very small pores, precipitation, etc.).  One of the processes frequently being utilized is reverse osmosis (i.e., pressure forces water molecules through minute pores that are too small to allow passage of hydrated salt ions).  In countries having little natural fresh water, desalination of ocean water often is conducted by special facilities inside large buildings that use reverse osmosis to produce many thousands of gallons of purified water every day.

Involvement of research and engineering [1,2]! 

Commercial devices for desalination now are available for individual people, and very large-scale plants are providing potable water for substantial populations.  Success of desalination is evaluated with regard to costs for energy and operation, efficiency, environmental effects, final purity, rate of purification, stability, suitability for human consumption (e.g., deficient iodine content), etc.  Research and development  into all these aspects is ongoing, and involves everything from materials science (e.g., new or modified membranes with pores having better selectivity) to systems engineering (e.g., using heat generated from nuclear reactors to facilitate desalination processes). Many investigations into desalination already have been conducted; the science journal, Desalination, is now approaching publication of its 400th volume!  As availability of natural fresh water in our world diminishes, the importance of making yet further improvements in desalination continues to rise.

Basic research by scientists seeks to answer questions without regard to later practical uses.  For desalination, basic research has established the physics and chemistry of the different mechanisms involved (e.g., detailed characteristics, purity and residual salt content, ion selectivity of pores, capacity, energy required, etc.).  Applied research then examines the fundamentals of desalination with regard to using modifications and different kinds of materials and processes to give better results.

Development of desalination products and processes seeks to modify and combine the results of applied research so the activities of each part of desalination are optimized for commercial production or industrial usage.  The goal is to obtain the largest volume and best purity with the least  cost in the shortest time.  This area of work is done by engineers, and commonly takes place in industrial research centers.  Testing of prototypes often necessitates further changes in design.  Scaling is evaluated for applications with different volume requirements for pure water output from various salty sources.  Finally, industrialists work to offer commercially viable new or improved versions of desalination both in small personal devices and in large plants for public installations.

General discussion! 

The long sequence of work needed for any new commercial product or process (e.g., better and cheaper batteries, shoelaces that last longer, safe new pharmaceutical medicines, self-driving automobiles, etc.) is general and much the same as was just described for the example of desalination!  The entire sequence requires the efforts by many different people working as individuals, teams, and companies.  All of this research and development leads to new products or processes playing a very important role for making our lives better!

Concluding remarks! 

A common sequence of input from computer specialists, inventors, research scientists, engineers, technical workers, and industrial developers is needed to enable new commercial products and new industrial developments to be offered to the public.  Although one individual can have key importance, completing the entire sequence requires input from many people!

 

[1]  Fritzmann, C., Löwenberg, J., Wintgens, T., and Melin, T., 2007.  State-of-the-art of reverse osmosis desalinationDesalination  216:1-76.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0011916407004250 .

[2]  Thiel, G.P., June 2015.  Salty solutionsPhysics Today  VOL:66-67.  Available on the internet at:  http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/68/6/10.1063/PT.3.2828 .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

 

THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS KILLING UNIVERSITY SCIENCE STILL PREVAIL IN 2016!

 

How can scientific research at universities be saved from decay and death? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
How can scientific research at universities be saved from more decay and death?      (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

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.

Concluding remarks! 

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!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

THE TED VIDEOS AND ACTIVITIES HELP SCIENCE AND EDUCATION!

 

TED videos show great ideas inside and outside science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
TED videos show great ideas inside and outside science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

TED is a very successful information and education business originally formed to foster the spread of ‘great ideas in Technology, Entertainment, and Design’.  It now has greatly expanded to include ideas and issues in science, culture, education, and philosophy.  The video output by TED features short talks by experts, thinkers, and doers at the annual TED Conferences; these video presentations are freely available to a global audience on the web.  Videos showing TED Talks now have been viewed by billions and have achieved prominence in bringing science to the public, and bringing the public to science.  This success has led other organizations and distant countries to get licensed by TED to sponsor their own TED-like projects.

TED videos dealing with science are high-quality productions with direct relevance both to ordinary people having interest and curiosity about science and research, and to working research scientists.  In this article, I describe the organization of TED, summarize its many activities, explain how TED is financed, and discuss how a few TED videos with controversial ideas have been banned.

The organization of TED! 

TED as a business has been sold several times and now is a private nonprofit organization (see “Our organization” ).  The Sapling Foundation (New York, NY.), has been sponsoring the activities of TED since 2001 and offering free internet viewing of the Conference presentations since 2006 (see:  “History of TED” ).  The Chief Curator of TED activities since 2001, and owner of the Sapling Foundation, is Chris Anderson.  This media and publishing entrepreneur has considerably expanded the topics and activities of TED, resulting in greatly raising the number of viewers of TED videos and of attendees at its many different events.  The TED organization is global with  major branches in Europe and Asia, and employs over 100 staff workers within the U.S.

The TED Conference and TED Talks! 

The annual TED conferences continue their long tradition of enthusiastic gatherings.  Prospective attendees at the TED conferences must first be approved (see “Conferences” at:  https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences ), and then must pay an admission fee for the week-long event (see “TED Conference Standard membership” at:  https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences/ted-conference#h3–ted-conference-standard-membership ).  Invited speakers are selected by TED, and are not paid for their presentation.  Each 18-minute presentation is professionally recorded and subsequently published on the internet; videos of over 2,000 TED Talks now are available gratis to the public (see listings of TED Talks on science at:  https://www.ted.com/topics/science ).  New videos are published each week.  This huge collection of talks and performances now generates more activity than the main conference itself; the TED videos are seen as amplifiers of the conferences.  TED videos are thought to be watched by over a million people every single day!

Other TED activities!

A growing number of other programs and activities now are organized by TED (see:  http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives ).  TED Global organizes international conferences with the TED format.  The TED Open Translation Project started in 2009  and aims to enable the billions of people not speaking the English language to watch TED videos.  Thousands of volunteer translators thus far have made numerous TED videos available in over 100 languages, thereby vastly increasing the outreach of the TED video collection.  The TEDx Program is focused on licensed TED-like events organized by local independent non-profit sponsors.  Some live presentations of music performances are included in the TEDxMusic project.  The very successful organizational concept for presentations at TED Conferences now has been expanded to include events for TEDxYouth, TEDxCorporate, and TEDxWomen.  Other newer official or independently licensed TED activities include TED Fellows (young persons who attend and later organize TED events in their native country), and TEDMED (sessions for health professionals).  Recordings from these other activities are added to the TED video catalog.

Newer TED activities (see:  http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives ) include TED Books, which publishes shorter volumes in hard copy that can be read in one sitting.  TED-Ed presents conferences by teachers and students about new ideas to improve youthful education (see:  http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives/ted-ed ); its output includes videos with lessons and pathways for many different levels of education in science and non-science.  TED sponsors the TED Prize for the developer of the most outstanding new idea for improving our modern world; the winner’s award currently is set at $1,000,000.

Financing to support all the TED activities and programs!

In 2017, each approved regular attendee at the TED Conference must pay $8,500 (see:  https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences/ted-conference#h3–ted-conference-standard-membership ).  Several levels of higher fees also exist.  With over 1,000 attendees at each annual Conference, this provides a very solid financial foundation for TED.  Corporate supporters of TED generally are very large companies; these are not involved in organizing the events or choosing the presenters.  Speakers at a TED Conference or other event receive no money for their participation.

Critical discussion about TED! 

My opinion is that TED is very good for science and science education!  Its videos furnish a giant opportunity for the public to see science and scientists as being something other than a Hollywood-type  amusement, and to learn about how the truth is sought by research activities in science.  The scientists presenting at TED conferences mostly overcome the difficult problems with bringing science to the poorly-educated adult public.

Certain TED video presentations feature ideas that are so provocative that they have been withheld from the TED catalog.  To view some actual examples, see listing by Ravindranath Shrivastava at:   https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2Y8qeLGzzd_P_5xxwDesKuyrAemRfxUk .  This kind of censorship is both unnecessary and worrisome, particularly with regard to science.  Controversy and questioning are inherent parts of scientific research, and are both expected and welcomed by scientists; these disputes serve a good purpose for science and society!

I believe that the controversies generated by a few TED speakers would be better understood and valued if pairs of opposing speakers, or panels of presenters and critical discussants, could hold forth at the TED conferences.  Opposing positions both should be given side-by-side instead of having only one individual presenting his/her viewpoint.

Several of the ‘banned TED videos’ still can be viewed, and those provide evidence suggesting that some things just are not seen rightly at TED.  It is good to note that the banned presenters and their critics sometimes subsequently offer non-TED videos with rebuttals, explanations, and discussions; these are freely available at Shrivastava’s listing (see above)!

Concluding remarks! 

The TED videos are indeed useful and very special!  TED makes a very good contribution to all of adult education in the modern world by enabling the public to obtain a much better awareness of new ideas, alternative solutions, and unconventional beliefs.  That is very beneficial both within science and outside science.  TED obviously should be highly praised for making all their videos available to the public without charge.

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

DRAMATIC VIDEOS ABOUT SCIENTISTS AND SCIENCE! 

 

What does it take to become a famous scientist? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What does it take to become a famous scientist?   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The internet makes numerous videos about famous scientists available to all.  I have already recommended some as part of a group of biographical dispatches about the life of several renowned scientists (e.g., see:  “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 8” ).  Many good videos showing interviews with awarded researchers are contained in the websites for the Nobel Prize  and the Kavli Prize ; these feature both their modern and older prizewinning scientists working in many different fields of science.  Here, I recommend a few fascinating videos about research scientists to get you started!

ANCIENT RESEARCH:  “How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8UFGu2M2gM ) is nicely presented by Adam Savage and features several amazing examples of excellent scientific research in ancient times.  Very informative and interesting!

RADIOACTIVITY AND FINDING NEW ELEMENTS:  “Marie and Pierre Curie (50 – Video special)”  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82Oj5qyY1F0 ) explains how these 2 European research scientists overcame many difficult problems in life and career to conduct investigations about the nature of radioactivity and to discover 2 new elements.  Modern scientists clearly are usually less dedicated and determined to working at research than were the Curie’s!  A delightful and inspiring video presentation!

DNA:  “(RARE) Interview with James Watson and Francis Crick” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGBDFq5Kaw0 ) shows a 1993 interview with the co-discoverers of DNA structure, Watson and Crick.  Both these extremely famous scientists speak with candor about their lives, careers, personalities, and science, including their current views about controversies and misunderstandings of events.  Bravo!

MATERIALS SCIENCE:  “Being a materials scientist at NASA Ames Research Center – Dr. Bin Chen Interview” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFOpYnRvsBE ) presents the life and research work of Dr. Bin Chen, a Principal Scientist at a NASA Center in California.  She presents very forthright answers about her education and earlier life in China, being a postdoc in the U.S., and finding a good job; her understanding of what it takes to be a research scientist is very similar to mine, and will be valuable watching for youngsters wondering about going into science.  Terrific!

NANOTECHNOLOGY AND MOLECULAR ENGINEERING:  “Bionanotechnology – New frontiers in molecular engineering: Andreas Mershin at TEDxAthens” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjV7NNwm1GU) shows a young research scientist dramatically describing what he does in research and how he does it (2013).  This is an excellent exposition for non-scientists and deals with a very current research approach, but unfortunately many slides are not enlarged for the video; viewers might want to interrupt the video to enlarge each of those.

Discussion! 

These videos vividly illustrate how: (1)  even the most renowned scientists really are just people, (2) ancient scientists successfully conducted important research investigations without having modern instruments and laboratory facilities, (3) all scientists are stimulated by curiosity and imagination, and, (4) persistent determination and dedication are extremely significant to achieve good results with scientific research.

Concluding remarks! 

These 5 recommended videos are just a small sample of what is available!  Please go ahead and find some other internet videos about scientists that deal with whatever interests you!  Have much fun exploring and learning!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

UNTAUGHT LESSONS ARE LEARNED IN GRADUATE SCHOOL! 

 

Graduate schools teach much about science and research outside of classes! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Graduate schools teach much about science and research outside of classes! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Earning a doctoral degree in science is required in order to become a professional research scientist.  Typically, the long period of learning about science and research in graduate school takes 3-10 years, and is followed by intensive research experience as a semi-independent postdoctoral fellow for several more years.  Much of what is learned is not in textbooks, but instead comes from personal observations, disagreements, trying to solve problems, and work experience.  Brief stories by scientists about their individual experiences in graduate school often appear in the “Working Life” section of Science, and nicely illustrate some important unspoken lessons for graduate students; here, I discuss several stressful issues raised in 2 informative essays recently published by young scientists [1,2].

Realizations about science by a new Assistant Professor! 

“Three lessons rarely taught” by Dr. Piotr Wasylczyk [1] describes important concepts about research work and the traditional academic career, that he learned during his extensive education.  His mentors advised him to have fun doing research and even to regard research instruments as special toys for adults to play with.  That philosophy is increasingly hard to maintain due to the demanding pressures generated by the business aspects of trying to be successful as a university scientist.  Dr. Wasylczyk states with sincerity, “Talking to other scientists, both young and mature, I see how difficult it can be to enjoy research.”  This shocking realization is true, but contradicts the advice given by his mentors about having fun doing science; I predict he might later join many other university scientists who are dismayed and distressed with their disgusting job problems (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job?  Part II.” ).

A third piece of advice Dr. Wasylczyk received is very fundamental, and he is determined to pass this insight on to his own graduate students: “Taking risks is the essence of research.”  Most non-scientists and beginning scientists do not understand that research always is chancy, experiments sometimes do not produce the data expected, and results in the lab cannot be guaranteed.  By taking chances, research still is able to advance and produce important new knowledge; this reality is very different from the gospel that research success always comes to those who follow ‘the scientific method’, as taught to all students in secondary schools and colleges.

Realizations about money in science by a current graduate student! 

“Show us the money” is an article by Andy Tay [2] describing his mental and emotional responses to suddenly being notified by his thesis advisor in graduate school that cessation of a research grant means he must make some major changes.  While trying to overcome this unexpected interruption in his research training he discovered several new realizations about becoming a research scientist: (1) he had previously received little instruction about the very strong role of money in scientific research (see: “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ), (2) any changes in research grant status can negatively affect many persons besides the grant-holder (i.e., graduate students, post-docs, and research technicians), and (3) when research grant sponsorship of graduate students is disrupted, this unanticipated crisis event often forces making big changes in career paths and plans.  To his credit, Tay talked to other graduate students and found that “I’m not the only student whose training has faced potential disruption because of an adviser’s changing funding situation.”  That is very true, but is rarely recognized or discussed until this problem suddenly happens!

By going down the traditional pathway to becoming a faculty scientist, Tay will later encounter even larger problems with money.  Almost everything in a university science career now depends upon money, and the scientist with the most money from research grants is labeled to be the best.  Finding the truth or making a truly breakthrough discovery now matters much less than getting many research grant dollars.  Thus, research grants are both good and bad (see: “Research Grants Cause Both Joy and Despair for University Scientists!” )!  My own belief is that the conversion of university science into a business where profits are the true end necessarily distorts science, perverts research, and encourages corruption; this atmosphere of degeneration is literally destroying scientific research in modern universities (see:  “Could  Science and Research Now be  Dying?” ).

Discussion! 

I encourage all current and future graduate students to read and study these 2 short dispatches [1,2]!  Graduate students must be made much more aware of the challenges they will face in their careers, and of the fact that scientific research at universities has changed from what it is supposed to be.  Andy Tay should be given much praise for organizing local meetings with other graduate students to discuss these issues.  Postdoctoral research associates, who are a few years further along this career pathway, now are organizing discussions and proposals for dealing with several large problems in their education and status as young professional scientists [3].  Graduate students and postdocs can see that scientists researching in universities now are trapped into being business people chasing money, and good research is increasingly difficult within the destructive atmosphere now prevailing in many educational institutions.

Concluding remarks! 

The essays by a new faculty member, Dr. Piotr Wasylczyk, and a beginning graduate student, Andy Tay, will help stimulate the badly needed revisions in graduate school education for scientists.  I hope that they will continue spreading the word about these issues, and wish both of them much good luck in their further research efforts!

 

[1]  Wasylczyk, P., June 10, 2016.  Three lessons rarely taughtScience  352:1358.  science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6291/1358.full .

[2]  Tay, A., June 17, 2016.  Show us the money.  Science  352:1486.

[3]  McDowell, G., 2016.  Postdocs driving change: the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) meeting 2015.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.ascb.org/postdocs-driving-change-the-national-postdoctoral-association-npa-meeting-2015/ .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

CAN I VOLUNTEER IN SCIENCE?  CAN I VISIT A RESEARCH LAB?  HOW DO I DO THAT? 

 

Visiting a research lab is much easier than volunteering! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Visiting a research lab is much easier than volunteering! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Let us say that you have some interest and curiosity for science, and want to actually do a little research work in a laboratory, just to see what this is like.  You are wondering, how can I do that?  One of the best opportunities for students in high school or college is to join a research project run by your science teachers.  For others, since you have no training or previous experience, there is almost no way you can work in a lab for pay; thus, your question becomes, can I work in a lab as a volunteer?  This article will explain why your quest for a volunteer position is generally very difficult, and discusses alternatives which are much more doable.

What work could a volunteer do in a research lab? 

Scientific research is a practical activity and is very specialized.  Since you have no training or previous experience, you cannot do much in a lab.  Research demands that operations be done accurately and completely in a specified manner; even learning how to clean research glassware according to the lab protocol is quite different from washing the dishes at home.  In addition, I am guessing that cleaning lab glassware probably is not what you are looking to do as a volunteer.

To aid your understanding about volunteering, let’s look at the analogy of building houses.  Assume you have curiosity and interest in that, so you are seeking to be a volunteer at orker for a local construction company.  The foreman will ask you what construction work you have done before; your honest reply will be “none”.  After you state that you do know how to hammer nails into wooden planks, the foreman then will ask you questions about details: what kind and what size nails are used for the frame or for panels, have you ever used a power nail driver, and, do you also know how to install doors and windows?  After your negative answers, it is obvious that you cannot do anything in construction until you have received much instruction.  Doing research in a science lab is very similar, and cannot be done without specialized training and experience!

One exception to the above is researching in the field, where serious volunteers might be used where a large group of workers is needed (e.g., for research projects involving agriculture, archeology, botany, environmental chemistry, microbiology, mineralogy, zoology, etc.).  Volunteer activity can be done during your vacation time or even during the entire Summer.

Are there any alternatives?  What could I do instead of being a volunteer? 

I suspect that what you really are looking for is to spend a few hours or days as a visitor observing lab staff running experiments, analyzing data, operating research instruments, meeting with the lab director, observing participants in journal clubs, etc.  This brief watching activity should satisfy most general curiosity about science labs.  If you are trying to decide whether you want to become a research tech or a graduate student in science, briefly watching will tell you much about what goes on in a research lab, and will help you decide what to do next.

Visiting a research lab requires that you find a professor in a university or a group research leader in industry, and gain their approval.  First and foremost, you will need to explain exactly what you are after and why.  Secondly, leave the question of time up to your host or hostess; one or 2 half days in a single week should be quite sufficient.   From my own background, I believe many professional researchers would be pleased to provide this opportunity to serious visitors!

How can I find out what possibilities are available? 

It is up to you to make personal inquiries to find where you might be a visitor!  Don’t hesitate to ask your science teachers, parents, and friends for help in deciding who to approach about visiting.  First, find out what local industries, universities, and hospitals have active research projects.  Then, see if you know anyone working there, and talk to them about what might be available; if you don’t know anyone, make an appointment to see a departmental chair or the director of an industrial  research group to ask what could be available for you.  When you find someone suitable, make an appointment to explain to them what you are after and why; you must prepare carefully for this interaction (i.e., know everything about their research work, reveal your own interests and future hopes, etc.).  Even by itself, talking to any professional scientist almost always is an eye-opening experience for most people!

Are there any organized programs that could give me a taste of research work? 

Quite a few universities and colleges offer “Science Exhibition Day” for the public. There, all can learn about their active research projects, see many exhibits about research, attend lecture presentations and demonstrations, and, meet science workers.  Attending one or 2 of these should greatly help you find a suitable scientist to contact about visiting their lab.  In addition, various Science Fairs take place every year; these illustrate how beginners can do good research, and might be useful in your search for which lab to visit.

The major question almost everyone will ask you is why you want to volunteer or visit a research lab instead of going to graduate school?  In my view, most people who strongly need to get a sample of real research should consider enrolling in a community college or graduate school for an associate’s or master’s degree program in science.  There, you will get a good background, learn some hands-on skills with using research instruments, and conduct research in an actual project.  Probably you should expect to use 1-2 years for that degree; if this is not good for you, then simply withdraw.

New kinds of opportunities to actually work in research projects! 

Some research projects seeking crowd-funding give donors new opportunities to participate in various aspects of these investigations.  Check out the experiences of participants for crowd-funding described at internet websites; just ask your browser for “crowd funding for science”.

Another modern possibility arises if you are really good with computers and software.  That expertise provides an opportunity for employment with piecework, since those skills could be useful for some research scientists with large labs.  By finding such work, you also will get to observe a lot about the daily research activities in that lab.

Final comment! 

Give it a try and good luck to all!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

A DYNAMIC BENEFACTOR, YURI MILNER, IS A VERY STRONG MOVER AND SHAKER IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

Quotes from Yuri Milner in 2016 (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Quotes from Yuri Milner in 2016!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Yuri Milner can be called “The Breakthrough Man”!  He is a very active individual dividing his time into 80% for business and finances, and 20% for science projects.  Most recently Milner donated $100 million to sponsor a dramatic large new research project aiming to take close-up images and data from planets circling another star (see “Can Research Travel Out to the Stars?  Yuri Milner says “Yes, Let’s Go!”).  Today’s  article presents Milner’s personal background, gives his many activities in the Breakthrough Group, and, discusses the important role Yuri Milner and other billionaire philanthropists have for making a big difference in modern science.

Some background about Yuri Milner!  [1]

Yuri Milner was born in Russia and now is 54 years old.  After early schooling in Russia, he went on to study theoretical physics at Moscow State University  and graduated in 1985; after working as a doctoral candidate in particle physics, he decided that he was “disappointed in myself as a physicist” [1].  In 1990, he enrolled in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and graduated with a MBA degree.  Returning to Russia, he was active in banking, international investing, and internet businesses; he founded Digital Sky Technologies (DST) in 2005.  Successful early investments in internet companies led to his immense personal fortune.

Today, Yuri Milner is the CEO of DST Global, an international company headquartered in Russia. This entrepreneur is married, has 2 children, and resides both in Russia and California.  He has received dozens of awards and is widely recognized for his several major philanthropic contributions to science [1].  Milner’s personality features being very determined, dynamic, and focused.  He always is a leader, but also works well with others.  He delights in innovation and is not afraid to follow his ideas or to take chances. As an enthusiastic patron of science, he still utilizes his previous training in physics.

To see Yuri Milner in action as “The Breakthrough Man”, you can watch 2 internet videos.  The first is an interview session conducted by a hostile questioner, which Milner handles nicely (see:  “This Billionaire Wants to Build Spaceships to Look for Earth-like Planets” ).  A longer video shows Milner recently announcing the latest Breakthrough project (see:  “LIVE: Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner to announce space exploration Starshot” ).  Thirdly, an excellent new interview lets Milner explain his interests in space science, but this is published only in written form (see:  “Shooting for the Stars” ).

Activities of the Breakthrough Group! 

In 2012, Yuri Milner joined with several other billionaires to found the Breakthrough Prizes for significant accomplishments in science and research.  These award several million dollars to each winner, thereby exceeding the Nobel Prizes; some of their features are designed to fill several well-known policy gaps in operation of the Nobel Prize.  The annual awards ceremony for the Breakthrough Prizes includes a large gala celebration of science with full internet coverage for public viewing (see recent short video: “2016 Breakthrough Prize highlights” ).

Several other projects supported by Milner’s large philanthropies are parts of the Breakthrough Initiatives (see: “Breakthrough Initiatives” ).  Breakthrough Listen is an intense research study looking much more widely for signal emissions indicating the existence of intelligent life on planets of other stars (see: “The hunt for extraterrestrial life just got a groundbreaking $100 million investment” ).  Breakthrough Message is a competition aimed to identify a good digital depiction of Earth and humanity that is suitable for reception elsewhere in the universe (see: “Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking announce $100 million Breakthrough Initiative to Dramatically Accelerate Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe” ).   Breakthrough Junior Challenge is an annual public competition for young researchers (see:  “Breakthrough Junior Challenge” ).  The latest Breakthrough Initiative is Breakthrough Starshot, a dramatic attempt to propel ultraminiature space probes out to our nearest star, Alpha Centauri, to see if its planets show signs of life (see: “Can research travel out to the stars?  Yuri Milner says “Yes, let’s go!” ); he is working on this with the cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, engineers, and other scientists.

Without the notable financial sponsorship by Milner and his philanthropic colleagues, none of these initiatives and activities for scientific research would be possible in today’s world.

How is the Major Philanthropy by Yuri Milner and Other Billionaires Especially Significant for Science and Research? 

The answer is that this philanthropy avoids the many restrictions and mistakes made by the standard system for supporting scientific research (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” , and, “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).  The end results of such philanthropy are that: (1) some important projects which would never get funded by research grants or by industries now will get conducted, (2) the door is opened for more freedom, creativity, and new ideas in science (i.e., they will be much less disfavored as subjects for research studies (e.g., basic science) or restricted by bureaucratic and commercial involvements (e.g., low-profit pharmaceuticals), and, (3) the usual detructive fighting for research grant awards or patents is bypassed.  A significant secondary result is that the general public will become much more familiar with the importance of science for their daily life, instead of being totally estranged from research and scientists.

Several other billionaires besides Yuri Milner have made giant donations to push new efforts and new directions in scientific research.  I already have highlighted the wonderful philanthropy supporting innovative research projects and new research sites by James E. Stowers (see:  “A Jackpot for Scientific Research is Created by James E. and Virginia Stowers!  Part I.” ), and, by Paul G. Allen (see:  “A Dramatic Individualist, Paul G. Allen, is a Major Benefactor of Scientific Research!” ).  It is interesting to note that all these individuals share certain characteristics (e.g., personal fascination with research, willingness to take chances instead of only seeking some guaranteed results, seeing their own life as an extensive exploration, enthusiasm for innovation and new ideas, working with organized teams of scientists and engineers, and, never taking ‘no’ for an answer!).  I have no doubt that all 3 clearly understand exactly what is right and wrong in modern scientific research.

Concluding remarks! 

Yuri Milner and other major philanthropists are making revolutionary new scientific research studies possible.  He and other large philanthropists see the beauty and value of research, and should be applauded by all people!

 

[1]  Wikipedia, 2016.  (Biography of) Yuri Milner.  Available on the internet at:  https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Milner .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

CAN EVERYTHING COMING FROM SCIENCE BE BELIEVED? 

 

Truth versus falsehood is an ancient question! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Truth versus falsehood is an ancient question!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Most of what is considered to be true is evidenced by results from scientific research.  We all like to think of science as being factual, objective, and resulting from systematic examination of all possibilities.  Problems do arise when some ‘scientific facts’ contradict others, and, when common sense or practical experience tells us the supposed facts cannot be true.  This essay examines what factors can distort our usual assumption that science and research always tell us the truth; 3 different sources of falsity are noted.

Intermediates commonly cause problems by falsifying the issues! 

Most people do not read research reports by scientists, and so they look at articles and videos composed by non-scientists.  Problems regarding scientific research are frequently caused because the actual data and clear conclusions are interpreted by the non-scientist presenter; that often results in changes and additions or subtractions from what scientists actually give out.  Accurate and faithful presentation of research findings demands careful attention to details, what is not included, and what is simplified in the report; some of these presentations are good, but others are misleading or even draw unwarranted conclusions.

The public cannot readily determine whether a science report is good or bad, and does not have access to the scientists authoring the new research findings.  Hence, supposed ‘new facts from science’ are either blindly accepted or not believed on the basis of non-science factors (e.g., what person or program is giving the description).  What is needed to solve this type of problem with unintended falsification is for one of the scientists conducting the research to critically review the presentation before it is given out to the public.

When the results of industrial research are being presented in public media, a different kind of problem commonly arises.  Industrial research and development usually is targeted at some commercial product or activity; negative features or contradictory findings often are eliminated or minimized, thereby giving a one-sided view.  This can even go so far that a ‘science report’ really is an advertisement or a sales pitch that throws objectivity out the window in favor of growing sales and profits.  The best solution for this type of situation unfortunately is farfetched and unrealistic: everyone in the public is educated to have a much better understanding about scientific research, so that they can evaluate the announced claims by themselves.  Most people at present cannot do that since they received a limited education about science in schools, and are completely estranged from science and research as adults; this situation is very widespread in today’s world.

Research scientists often are used as actors in public disputes! 

Science is about finding what is the truth and asking questions about anything and everything.  Disagreements between researchers about new research findings and their meaning are a healthy part of science.  With more time and additional experimental data, disputes between scientists often are resolved.  Any remaining controversy about what is true mostly is due to the involvement of governments, politicians, regulators, and administrators. They typically inject non-science agendas into the arguments and simply are using scientists to win their political battles; (see:  “What Happens when Scientists Disagree?  Part V: Lessons to be Learned About Arguments Between Scientists” ).

A good example of how scientists are used in public disputes is found in the prolonged current controversy about “global warming” and its subordinate issue about “humans cause climate change” (see:  “What Happens when Scientists Disagree?  Part II:  Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?” ).  Both sides claim to have scientific evidence and renowned experts supporting their position.  In fact, scientists have rather few disagreements about actual research results in this area; the ongoing arguments actually concern economics and politics!  Politicians, administrators, lawyers, and officials continue to hotly dispute and legislate what should be done (if anything!).  This type of public controversy often remains disputed for a long time and could even go on forever!

Some supposed factual accounts could be a gross deception! 

Most people agree that not everything heard or seen can be believed.  Nevertheless, it is especially difficult to decide what is true or false when something is presented as an official announcement by a government or an expert panel.  I will give one example here which is so extremely shocking that almost all adults do accept the ‘presented facts’ as being absolutely true.  To look at this critically, put aside your feelings of loyalty, patriotism, and pride just for a moment, so you can think critically about the possibility that U.S. astronauts never set foot on the Moon.

The best way to handle this question about the most widely known claim by the U.S. for its excellence in science and technology is to use the number one question asked by all scientists in their experimental research: what is the evidence?  Firstly, there are direct queries.  (1) Were samples brought back from the lunar surface, and what did these show?  Yes, samples of moon rocks were brought back, and, these were both similar and different from natural materials found here on Earth.  (2) Did video cameras show NASA astronauts on the surface of the Moon?  Yes, videos showing astronauts walking on some strange landscape were taken and made available for public viewing, but these also could have been recorded somewhere on Earth.  (3) Have any of the numerous NASA technicians claimed this is a big fake?  I am not aware of any such statements.

Secondly, there are quite a few indirect questions.  (1) Why has the Russian space program not duplicated the Moon visit?  The Russians claim to have measurements showing that the intensity of cosmic radiation somewhere between Earth and Moon is so very high that no human could survive such an exposure.  (2) Why have further Moon visits not been conducted by NASA?  The usual answer given is the huge funds necessary to do that were used for other projects with a higher priority.  (3) Why did one of the main Moon astronauts refuse to give any interviews for the remainder of his life?  This is explained as his personal choice (e.g., modesty); alternatively, the silent astronaut was so embarrassed by his role in this deception that he refused to ever talk about his experiences.

In this example there are alternative possible answers for all the above questions.  The available evidence is unable to prove either truthfulness or falsity, and hence is inconclusive.  It is painful for me to describe this, but I am presenting it only as a prominent example showing that it is necessary to question even what high officials proclaim as being the truth.

Concluding remarks! 

Although finding the truth is done by expert scientists conducting research investigations, this only reaches the public through a fog of opinionated distortions, selective omissions, and outright deceit.  Advertising and agenda-driven presentations often are commonly accepted as being true because the other side is not revealed.  Solving this situation requires that people need to be much more educated about scientific research, so they are better able to decide for themselves what is true and what is false.

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

IMPORTANT ARTICLE BY JUDY STONE IN 2015 Forbes: ALL OF US ARE BADLY AFFECTED BY RESEARCH MISCONDUCT! 

 

Research misconduct affects all of us! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Research misconduct affects all of us badly!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

An outstanding report by Judy Stone, “Why The U. of Minnesota Research Scandal Threatens Us All”, appeared in Forbes one year ago (May 27, 2015) [1].  She details the misconduct of research and the scandalous cover-ups which still are going on in 2016 at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine [2].  Last week, I briefly covered general aspects of this shocking situation in Minnesota (see: “Dishonesty in Scientific Research: Are the Punishments for Being Caught Sufficient to Deter More Cheating?” ).  Now, we will take a closer look at Judy Stone’s masterful discussion about exactly how cheating in scientific research produces bad direct consequences for everyone.

Who is Judy Stone?  She is a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases, and also has personal experience in research; she has authored several books, including one giving guidance for clinical research studies.  Her interests focus on tropical diseases, advocating about ethical issues in medicine, and writing for the general public.  Her vivid dispatches currently appear as contributions to Forbes.  For her brief autobiography in 2012, see:  http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/molecules-to-medicine/welcome-to-molecules-to-medicine/ .

Trust in science, research, and scientists! 

The great majority of scientists are honest!  Unethical conduct by research scientists involves a small number of individuals, but this figure seems to be on the increase (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” ).  Dishonesty in science breaks the enormous trust in research and scientists, and, has negative effects on many unsuspecting people.

The general public continues to have very high trust in the research findings and published conclusions of professional scientists.  That is good, except that they are deceived and unaware that some dishonest individuals have broken their trust.

All levels of science teachers and other educators have a high trust in whatever is published in science textbooks and references.  The entire existence of fraudulent professionals is not accepted by most teachers because that realization undermines all education.

All types of research scientists have very limitless trust in the published findings of other scientists.  When planning a new experiment, scientists typically assume previously published results are really true; they do this of necessity, since it is impractical to have to verify all earlier results from other labs by repeating those investigations.

People who are clinical patients of good doctors assume that their caregivers are fully cognizant of all new results about their treatments, and act only for their well-being.  Most patients are not sufficiently aware that pharmaceutical companies are first and foremost businesses dedicated to pursuing profits.  A whole spectrum of dishonesty in clinical and preclinical research studies is stimulated by “powerful financial incentives to do unethical things” [3]; that means  researchers can “pressure vulnerable subjects to enroll in studies, fudge diagnoses to recruit otherwise ineligible subjects and keep subjects in studies even when they are doing poorly” [3].

Effects of dishonesty in research! 

When ‘false facts’ are taught in classes to children or adults, what is learned or naively accepted as being true is actually wrong.  If that falsity is used for some practical purpose, something will not work as expected.  People working in many different jobs encounter this general problem.

Scientists believing some deceitful research report find that their own lab work gives negative or unexpected results.  Upon redoing the reported experiments, they unexpectedly see that the published results cannot be repeated.  This means that time and effort are wasted by scientists, lab workers, and administrators.

Think how much extra time and effort must be spent checking and rechecking everything for such huge and important activities as research probes sent into outer space, new prescription drugs finally approved for sale to patients with widespread diseases (e.g., arthritis, cancer, diabetes, mental health), design and construction of battery-powered self-driving automobiles, etc.  Much of this time and money must  be used to try to make certain that everything works as planned and nothing is based on false assumptions.

Any of us can be badly affected by inadequate testing of safety for new drugs! 

Pharmaceutical drug trials certainly are very prominent for problems with ethics, corruption, and truth vs. falsity.  Judy Stone explains vividly how clinical drug trials are misleading and deceitful if they are conducted fraudulently or actually are marketing studies; they need to be done “honestly and ethically” [1], so patients and their physicians can realistically have confidence in the intended effects.  This admonition is not only directed to research scientists, but also extends to drug companies, to review bodies, and to government regulatory agencies (i.e., U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

The spectrum for research misconduct during development of new medical drugs is indeed very large.   Any or many of us can be affected negatively by any dishonesty in the testing and evaluation process.  When some professional researcher observes unethical behavior by other researchers they are obliged to report that and investigate what is going on [4]; in some cases, it is even necessary to become a whistleblower in order to prevent future patients from being harmed or killed (see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!” ).

Concluding remarks! 

Any falsification of research or corruption of clinical investigations testing new medical drugs affects a very large number of people!  Unfortunately, recent history teaches us that we must always be suspicious about clinical trials since there are so many known instances of blatant deceit [1,3-4].  As Judy Stone says, “It is well known that industry-funded trials get more positive outcomes than those that are neutrally sponsored” [1]; why is that so?  Any innocent patient (e.g., you!) can have bad outcomes due to this problem with ethics in some scientists and some companies.  Lying, cheating, and fraud have no place in research!

 

[1]  Stone, J., 2015.  Why the Minnesota research scandal threatens us all.  Forbes.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/judystone/2015/05/27/why-the-umn-research-scandal-hreatens-us-all/#4c1697e9751b .

[2]  Stone, J., 2016.  Denial.  Why UMN needs a mental health ombudsman.  Forbes.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/judystone/2016/05/14/denial-why-umn-needs-a-mental-health-ombudsman/#81c3d4748d3d .

[3]  Elliott, C., 2015.  The University of Minnesota’s medical research mess.  New York Times, The Opinion Pages, May 26, 2015.  Page A19.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/opinion/the-university-of-minnesotas-medical-research-mess.html?_r=0 .

[4]  Wilmshurst, P., 2004.  Obstacles to honesty in medical research.  HealthWatch – UK, Newsletter #52, 2003 HealthWatch – UK Award Lecture.  Available on the internet at:  http://healthwatch-uk.org/20-awards/award-lectures/65-2003-dr-peter-wilmshurst.html .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

DISHONESTY IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH: ARE THE PUNISHMENTS FOR BEING CAUGHT SUFFICIENT TO DETER MORE CHEATING? 

 

Cheating at research continues to be a big problem for science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Cheating at research continues to be a big problem for science today!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Fraudulent research is widely abhorred, but still continues to occur and seems to be increasing.  That must mean either the prevailing standards of professional ethics are degenerating, or the rewards for research misconduct outweigh the penalties for being caught.  Dishonesty is a general and long-standing problem for science, and several causes are known (see: “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?” ).

A recent case of research misconduct in Japan has received extensive media coverage (see: “A final judgment is given to Haruko Obokata: Misconduct of research!” ).  Here, we take a look at what punishments are being given out in recent scandals with research fraud.  Issues discussed here include whether usual punishments actually will discourage cheating by others, and whether institutions conducting contracted research studies (e.g., universities, medical schools, research institutes) can be trusted to police themselves?

Several earlier articles dealt with dishonesty in science (see: “Introduction to Cheating  and Corruption in Science” , and,  “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?” ).  Beginners will find it useful to first read those essays before studying this new dispatch.

Case #1:  Multiple ethical problems and persisting cover-ups at the University of Minnesota Medical School (2008-2016) [1,2]. 

Several different instances of ethical misconduct during studies evaluating new clinical drugs at the University of Minnesota Medical School have shown improper recruitment of subjects and disregard for patient care (i.e., one subject committed suicide!).  Internal and external investigations resulted in disqualifications, felony charges, and accusations of cover-ups.  Dr. Carl Elliott, a professor in the Center for Bioethics at this same institution,  recently authored an insightful article about this unfortunate situation [1].  He states, “Rather than dealing forthrightly with these ethical breaches, university officials have seemed more interested in covering up wrongdoing” [1].  He also notes that official bodies intended to oversee the welfare of patients enrolled in clinical drug trials (i.e., Institutional Review Boards) are given inadequate authority and staffing to deal effectively with clinical research misconduct and cover-ups.

The range of punishments issued by the University of Minnesota in response to criticisms from the Federal Drug Administration and several external review bodies include disqualifications from further research and suspension of some medical licenses.  The obvious cover-up still is ongoing and now is being publicly criticized; no punishments to misguided administrators seem to have been given.

Case #2:  Research misconduct scandal at the Duke University School of Medicine (2007-2010) [3,4]. 

Misconduct by a cancer researcher, Dr. Anil Potti, involved several clinical trials using new genomic tools to determine the best treatment for cancer patients.  His results were produced with many collaborators, and were published with coauthors in very high quality journals.  Allegations of research misconduct arose in part from a medical student, Brad Perez, researching with Dr. Potti; this whistle-blower courageously announced his misgivings to supervisors and university officials.  More questions arose about Dr. Potti’s research results, but an official review found no research misconduct.  Later, that view at Duke slowly changed, forcing its standards for research integrity and mechanisms to investigate allegations of misconduct to be strengthened and improved.

The range of punishments delivered in this case is extensive.  Dr. Potti made financial settlements to settle multiple lawsuits for medical malpractice; in addition, his numerous published research reports were retracted.  In 2010, Dr. Potti resigned his position at Duke.  Subsequently, he obtained new medical licenses in South Carolina and Missouri; the Medical Boards for both states later issued reprimands to him.  There now are many articles and widespread publicity in the popular press, professional medical journals, and the internet about Dr. Potti’s misconduct ; his reputation now is totally destroyed.  It is not clear if any of his collaborators or administrators at Duke were punished.

Case #3: Falsified Research Results and Unprofessional Conduct at the Karolinska Institute (2010-2016) [5-7].  

Current investigations of research experiments by a surgeon, Dr. Paolo Macciarini, are active for allegations of misconduct at the Karolinska Institute, the most prominent medical research center in Sweden.  His clinical research involved implantation of an artificial trachea seeded with the patient’s own stem cells.  Six of 8 patients receiving this experimental treatment have died.  A Swedish TV documentary critical of this surgeon stimulated official investigations.  After more allegations of medical research misconduct, an external assessor concluded that Dr. Macchiarini had falsified his test results; in response, Karolinska Institute announced its support of their star surgeon.

A range of punishments was issued to Dr. Macchiarini.  The Karolinska Institute recently announced that it will sever all ties to Dr. Macchiarini when his contract expires later in 2016. This dramatic controversy resulted in resignations of the Vice-Chancellor at Karolinska, and, the Secretary-General of the Nobel Assembly.  In 2016, the Swedish government initiated a new review into how allegations of misconduct are handled; it seems quite clear that the present handling is inadequate.

General discussion about these cases! 

These different cases of alleged and proven misconduct by professional researchers all show that it is easy to do fraudulent science and get it published.  Only if one is caught cheating and full documentation is acquired does the possibility of criminal punishments arise.  Media attention and input from someone who has the guts to be a whistle-blower speeds up the process of proving research misconduct.

Institutions must always be fair to the accused while the alleged dishonesty is being investigated.  The process for investigations often is unwieldy and easily compromised.  Institutions typically focus attention only on one “bad individual”, who is declared an exception to their high standards for ethical conduct.

What level of punishment is appropriate to discourage others from being dishonest? 

Punishments for research misconduct are not uniform between institutions, and often seem to be rather ineffective.  If a professional research scientist is proven to have falsified research data, is it enough to only have their publications retracted?  Or, must there also be financial penalties?  Is it sufficient to force cheaters to be on leave for 2 years, or should they be dismissed?  Should other institutions be prevented from subsequently employing them?  Should coworkers who participated in the fraud also be punished, and how strongly?  What punishments should be given to administrators for their cover-ups and stonewalling?  These necessary questions are not simple, and have no easy answers.

My own conclusions about these 3 cases! 

I draw several conclusions from the 3 cases just described.  (1) It takes many years for investigations of alleged misconduct to be completed.  (2) The long slow process of dealing with unethical research is made quicker by whistle-blowers and media attention.  (3) Institutions have a strong tendency to deny wrongdoing and minimize allegations of misconduct.  (4) Cover-ups mean that institutions cannot be trusted to police themselves.  (5) Punishments given to faculty for research misconduct vary widely, and, co-researchers and administrators often receive none.  (6) Punishments appear to only minimally deter new offenses by others.

Research dishonesty in laboratories and hospitals is very bad for patients, society, and science.  Unethical practices by researchers hurt trust by other scientists and physicians, and by the public.  Much more attention is needed to solve and deter this very general problem for science.

 

[1]  Elliott, C., 2015.  The University of Minnesota’s medical research mess.  New York Times, The Opinion Pages, May 26, 2015.  Page A19.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/opinion/the-university-of-minnesotas-medical-research-mess.html?_r=0 .

[2]  Stone, J., 2015.  Why the Minnesota research scandal threatens us all.  Forbes, May 27, 2015.  Available on the internet at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/judystone/2015/05/27/why-the-umn-research-scandal-hreatens-us-all/#4c1697e9751b .

[3]  Price, J., 2015.  Trial in medical research  scandal at Duke postponed.  The News & Observer, Health Care.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/health-care/article10233812.html .

[4]  Hinks-Jones, L., 2015.  Patients, researchers demand further prosecution in Duke case.  Bloomberg BNA.  Available on the internet at: http://www.bna.com/patients-researchers-demand-n57982065145/ .

[5]  Enserink, M., 2016.  Swedish academy seeks to stem ‘crisis of confidence’ in wake of Macchiarini scandal.  Science, February 12, 2016  351.  Available on the internet at: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/swedish-academy-seeks-stem-crisis-confidence-wake-macchiarini-scandal .

[6]  McCook, A., 2016.  Sweden rocked by scientific scandals, re-thinking how it investigates misconduct.  Retraction Watch, February 25 2016. Available on the internet at:  Retraction Watch, February 25, 2016. http://retractionwatch.com/?s=Sweden+rocked+by+scientific+scandals .

[7]  Oltermann, P., 2016.  ‘Superstar doctor’ fired  from Swedish institute over research ‘lies’.  The Guardian, March 24, 2016.  Available on the internet at:  https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/mar/23/superstar-doctor-fired-from-swedish-institute-over-research-lies-allegations-windpipe-surgery .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

WHY MUST NEW IDEAS BE DISCARDED BY FUNDED SCIENTISTS? 

 

Why are new research ideas so repressed? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Why are good new research ideas so often repressed?   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

For scientists researching and teaching at a university, medical school, or research institute, part of their traditional mission is to dream up new ideas.  Good ideas help with many activities, including designing new experiments, modifying research instruments and methods, composing research reports for publication in science journals, developing new concepts, deciding how to present complex topics in course lectures, etc.

Despite the curiosity-driven output of new ideas originated by professional scientists, almost all are discarded by faculty researchers at modern universities.   This dispatch discusses the difficult conditions leading to a decision about what will be done when a really stimulating new research idea magically arises.

How do scientists deal with their new research ideas? 

New ideas can pop up all the time!  Some are good, some are awful, and some are funny!  All scientists have curiosity, but some researchers come up with so many new ideas that they are  known as “idea people”.  The first task to deal with new ideas is essential: write down everything so it can be recalled later.  Unless promptly recorded, new ideas are rapidly forgotten and disappear forever.

The second task is to evaluate if the new idea has sufficient merit to be put into practice.  Since grant-supported faculty scientists have already decided to work mainly or only on their funded research project, this evaluation looks at whether the new idea has enough relevance to be added to the research activities underway for the current research grant.  If it does not, then it must either be discarded or dumped onto an ever-growing pile of ideas that are stored for some future time that never seems to come; fortunately a few of the many new ideas recorded in a log book can be used later when constructing an application for renewal of the present research grant.  If it does have good relevance, the scientist advances to ultimate questions of exactly how, when, and where can the idea be inserted and used in the ongoing laboratory efforts; most new ideas never reach this stage.

What usually happens to good new ideas? 

The previous paragraph gives some idea of the usual lack of freedom for faculty scientists to undertake any new research work not directly connected to their funded project.  This restriction is very strong due to the immense pressures from 2 related issues that all inventive faculty scientists must face.  First, there is the time problem (see: “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so Very Hectic?” ); most academic scientists now have almost zero free time since they are so busy running experiments for their grant-supported project, writing applications to acquire more research grants, teaching in courses, publishing research reports, starting a family, etc.  In theory, if a new idea is really super-promising for research, the funded scientist could try to acquire an additional (second) research grant for a new project using that idea.  This maneuver is not so easy due to the second problem, the  hyper-competition to acquire research grants (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ).  Yes, good new ideas are sought by the federal granting agencies, but the intense hyper-competition means that most will never get funded.  Thus, almost all good new ideas for research are basically dead-on-arrival and are discarded! 

Another possibility for initiating research using a new idea is to use a small portion of the current financial support to conduct some pilot studies.  That work costs the scientist both money and time, and it can be done only when there actually is some extra money and extra time available; both conditions often are very questionable.  If the pilot data are very promising, then attention is given to composing a strong application for an additional research grant; that takes many months, meaning that this promising new project with a second grant could be started only at least one year later.  More realistically, an application for a small exploratory research grant can be submitted to dedicated funding sources (e.g., American Cancer Society); the preliminary data obtained then are used to compose a strong application for a new standard research grant.

New ideas are not repressed by innovative models for funding research studies! 

To be able to more freely explore and use new ideas for research, a Principal Investigator must have some free time, supplemental funds, and a working atmosphere that encourages trying new research approaches and new studies.  Those are strong features of the very innovative research support programs and special institutes recently established by James E. Stowers (see: “A Jackpot for Scientific Research is Created by James E, and Virginia Stowers!  Part II: The Stowers Institute is a Terrific New Model for Funding Scientific Research!” ) and Paul G. Allen (see: “Getting Rid of Research Grants: How Paul G. Allen is Doing It!” ).  The unusual features of these support programs will result in research breakthroughs that were not otherwise possible when the same investigators were previously working with regular research grant support.

General discussion about new ideas in science! 

The main message here is that faculty scientists do come up with many good ideas, but these are not easily put into practice unless they are closely related to their present research grant.  If a determined scientist would somehow move their current grant into supporting a new project, that decision almost guarantees non-renewal.  With the multiple restrictions now prevailing, only a very few new research ideas ever will be pursued; thus, the practical conditions generated by the research grant system and modern universities repress the creation of research ideas that are new, creative, and significant.  It seems totally pointless to faculty scientists to try to work on anything not directly related to their funded project!

Grant-supported faculty scientists today have little choice in dealing with new ideas because they are slaves to their research grant!  The system discourages creativity and questioning, so new ideas are simply discarded!  When all the restrictions are realistically considered, the best possibility for activating a new research idea is to make such into part of an application for renewal of a funded grant.

Concluding remarks! 

Yes, research freedom is very important for science!  Having new ideas for research is essential to all scientists, but putting the good ideas into practice is not very easy due to restrictions imposed by the research grant system, the time problem, and the commercialism now rampant at modern universities (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  Fortunately for the progress of science, some new research ideas do manage to be activated despite all the restrictive difficulties!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

RESEARCH SCIENTISTS MUST ASK MYRIAD QUESTIONS! 

 

Asking questions and seeking answers is vital for science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Asking questions and seeking answers is vital for science!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Researchers ask themselves numerous questions while they are designing studies, conducting experiments, analyzing data, deciding on conclusions, and composing research reports.  These queries often are outnumbered by many other questions concerning the business of being a scientist.  Questioning is such a routine activity for scientists that being a researcher basically is the same as being a big questioner!

This essay discusses some of the questions commonly considered by faculty researchers.  This will mostly be of interest to scientists researching at universities, but also should be illuminating for non-scientists trying to learn how research operates and what scientists worry about.  It is based upon my own experiences working as a faculty scientist.

Questions in the beginning! 

When initiating a research investigation, junior faculty scientists typically have already asked themselves many questions about what subject(s) will be studied, which technical approaches will be used, who in the lab will work on different aspects of the project, what length of time can be used for each segment of work, etc.  These questions concern practical aspects of doing research, and are answered in the corresponding grant application.

As results begin to be gathered, the Principal Investigator (i.e., the grant holder and boss of the lab) asks himself or herself if modifications are needed in the original plans.  It is not unusual that changes in practical matters must be made; these can result in getting better data, obtaining larger amounts of results, adding other experiments to the project, saving precious time, changing the work schedules, etc.  All the foregoing questions concerning the conduct of the research project are normal, useful, and quickly answered.

Questions arising later! 

After portions of the project are nearing completion, another type of query arises.  These questions are directed to such operations as presentation of abstracts at annual science society meetings, submission of manuscripts reporting the research results, evaluation of progress accomplished by graduate students and postdocs, planning for renewal of a research grant, etc.  Typical examples include: (1) Do the experimental results gathered answer the selected research question(s) in a solid manner?  (2) Are there enough results to publish now, or is more work necessary?  (3) Are the present conclusions convincing or will they be controversial and not readily accepted by other scientists?  (4) Which of 2 possible deadlines for applying for grant renewal should be used?  (5) Does a grad student now have enough results to construct a strong thesis (i.e., is the glass full or only half full)?

Such questions all are necessary, and require making value judgments.  If errors are made, it will be the fault only of the Principal Investigator.  Progress in research work largely depends upon ongoing evaluations and making adjustments.  Rather than do this once or twice a year, it is better to schedule these considerations every month or 2, so that constructive intervention can be made before any more valuable time is wasted.

Questions about business and research grants! 

Probably more time is spent by today’s academic scientists worrying about research grants than is used for producing research results.  Nowadays, even Nobel Laureates never can be really certain that their next application for grant renewal will be fully funded.  Questions about business and research grants usually are not so easy to answer with confidence because they involve the personal opinions of other scientists (e.g., department chairs, review committees, research leaders, grant reviewers, etc.), and those might be biased, competitive, ignorant, jealous, overwhelmed, or underwhelmed.

Questions about composing a new grant application always are particularly difficult to answer.  Should the proposal be directed towards this or that aspect of research (i.e., which has a greater probability of being funded)?  Should a new research instrument be added or should we just continue with what is presently being used?  Can 2 new postdocs be strongly justified, or only one?  What will reviewers think about a proposal for work on a new research question that is very different from the current subject?  These kinds of questions cause hairs to turn gray or fall out, and answers never can be certain.  Sometimes it is valuable to examine these queries with colleagues you can trust.

Answering questions about preparing a revised application for a research grant also are never easy.  Difficulties arise because it is not always clear exactly what criticisms or viewpoints damned the original application, and it is not known which new members will be added to the review panel (i.e., the chief reviewer(s) of the original application might no longer be sitting in judgment).  Again, it often is very useful to discuss these difficult questions with an experienced colleague that you can trust.

What is the most general question? 

The most frequent questions asked by academic researchers begin with the phrase, “What if … ?”.  Questions of this type are mental examinations of experimental protocols, data interpretations, and other research operations; they often arise from curiosity and creativity.  Typical examples include: (1) What if I change the amount of chemical-X in the protocol for my chief assay?  (2) What if this result is only a placebo effect?  (3) What if this complex new equation actually is wrong?

What is the biggest question? 

In my opinion, the very biggest question  that can be asked by a faculty scientist is, “Am I succeeding in becoming a renowned scientist?”.   Traditionally, the answer was based upon the quality and significance of a scientist’s published results.  Today, the situation of research at modern universities is so distorted that the biggest question asked by faculty scientists now is, “How many research grants have I acquired, and how much money have I been awarded?”.  The answer is a number and it is never enough!  Fortunately, high quality research reports still have a major impact upon the reputation of all scientists; publications in science journals remain important for determining who rises to the attention of other scientists and who becomes a research leader.

Concluding remarks! 

Asking questions and forming answers is truly important for all faculty research scientists.  Everything and anything can and should be questioned!  To be a good scientist is to be a good questioner!  Progress in science and career depends in part upon comparing your own answers to those given by other scientists asked the same question!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

 

CURIOSITY IN YOU AND IN SCIENTISTS! 

 

Quotations about curiosity (see: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes) (http:dr-monsrs.net)
Notable quotations about curiosity, from:  http://www.goodreads.com/quotes !    (http:dr-monsrs.net)

 

Curiosity is a common term meaning to have a desire to know more about something.  It is an innate character for humans, and is well-expressed in all children.  The classical example of childhood curiosity is taking a clock or toy apart to see what is inside and what makes it work.  Unfortunately, curiosity tends to decrease or disappear in adults due to the many restrictions on exploring and wondering imposed by education, laws, and society.  Curiosity arises naturally without conscious intention; amazingly, it simply happens!

What about scientists?  Do they have or need curiosity? 

Curiosity is prominent in almost all scientists!  When asked why they have so much research interest in whatever they work on, many younger scientists will answer, “I just am curious about that!”  Their older counterparts might give various different answers, but often will designate curiosity as what drove them when they were much younger.  Many faculty scientists I know, whether they conduct research on chemistry, physics, or bioscience, were fascinated by various forms of life in nature when they were children (e.g., birds, chipmunks, insects, snakes, tadpoles, etc.).

Scientific research is not so easy, since it always is risky, expensive, and takes lots of time to complete.  Hence, curiosity as a motivation for doing research must be quite strong in scientists.  For most individual scientists, curiosity is always expanding and changing, since answering one research question generates other related questions. Scientists must learn to focus their extensive curiosity, or else they would never get anything done!

Is curiosity alone enough to make a scientist become successful and renowned?  No, because much more is needed in addition to an ongoing curiosity.  Scientists also must have good abilities for business and finance, communication, creativity, dedication, determination, hard work and sweat, imagination, patience, resistance to distractions, technical skills, understanding at levels of both trees and forests, writing, etc.  Nevertheless, curiosity in scientists also must always be there!

Can curiosity be taught?  Can curiosity be bought? 

I believe that curiosity is not able to be taught because it is an inborn attribute.  However, it can be increased by encouragement and intention.  Thus, children usually have oodles of natural curiosity, and will happily share that with parents, teachers, and other children.  Even for adults who left their curiosity far behind after starting to work, curiosity can be re-awakened and encouraged.  Curiosity often is associated with exploration, fascination, imagination, personal interests. and wondering; it usually is a strong part of daydreaming.

Some adults are so busy with their job, family, sports, social activities, church, etc., that they feel they have no time for curiosity or exploring (i.e., “I did that when I was little, but not now!”, and “I just don’t have time for that!”).  Sometimes even professional scientists will become so short of time that their research becomes mechanical and routine.  In such cases, scientists can buy curiosity in the form of having students, collaborators and visitors, postdocs, research technicians, etc., in their lab; with any sort of luck, the questions, ridiculous proposals, and new ideas based on the curiosity of those workers will stimulate and help the overly busy scientist.

What does curiosity lead to?  What good is curiosity? 

Curiosity typically leads to such personal actions as closer examination, reading, asking questions, wondering “what if?”, seeking more detailed knowledge, and developing a wider understanding.  These explorations all are wonderful ways to use our large cranial computer to find out and know more about something.  But, sometimes curiosity can be problematic (e.g., persons are labelled as troublemakers because they always are asking too many questions) or even dangerous (e.g., a child innocently investigates what an electrical socket is).

For children, curiosity directly leads to increased understanding of the world around them.  For adults in the public, curiosity will make their life much more interesting and stimulate development of their mental capabilities.  For scientists, curiosity furthers fascination with their research subject(s), and, helps create new ideas and new research questions.  For everyone, curiosity creates wonderment, and can be much fun!  Thus, curiosity is quite good and useful for all people!

Concluding remarks! 

Curiosity is a large part of most scientist’s specific approaches to whatever they are researching.  Just as curiosity helps children to know and wonder about the big world, and aids adults to develop more interesting personal lives, so also is it invaluable to scientists in their search for new knowledge and the truth.

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

GETTING RID OF RESEARCH GRANTS: HOW PAUL G. ALLEN IS DOING IT! 

 

Quotations about scientific research from PAUL G. ALLEN! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Quotations about scientific research from PAUL G. ALLEN, who knows what needs to be changed! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The co-founder of Microsoft (1975), Paul G. Allen, has just made a large donation to start a dramatic new research program in biomedical science, the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group.  My recent dispatch about this dynamic man briefly summarized his life interests, global activities, and accomplishments with supporting science and research (see: “A Dramatic Individualist, Paul G. Allen, is a Major Benefactor of Scientific Research!”).  The present article presents how Allen’s newest philanthropy for science is organized, explains what he is aiming for, and applauds his insight into what is wrong in science at modern universities.

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group [1-3]! 

The new Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group has 2 mechanisms for sponsoring research.  The Allen Discovery Centers provide $30 million to support productive research groups where ground-breaking investigations going into the future of science are underway.  The first 2 awards will go to Tufts University (Boston) for fundamental investigations on the genesis of organ and tissue structures, and to Stanford University (Palo Alto) for systems-level computational modeling of immune cell interactions with bacteria.  This portion of the Frontiers Group will fund up to 10 Discovery Centers.

The new Allen Distinguished Investigators are professional scientists working at various institutions around the world, and  can be either junior or senior researchers showing the potential to dramatically reinvent entire areas of science.  The awards of 1-1.5 million dollars for up to 25 selected scientists enable each to initiate unrestricted new directions for research in their respective fields.  The Distinguished Investigators receive 10 years of support, thereby encouraging studies of very large previously unapproachable research questions.  The freedom provided allows the Distinguished Investigators to study unusual subjects and use unconventional approaches.  These possibilities are particularly needed for breakthrough studies into the complexities of biomedical science.  Initial selection of 4 research scientists has just been announced; for details about their investigations, see “Video: Launch press conference: The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group” .

What will be the influence of the Allen Frontiers Group on science [1-3]? 

The Allen Frontiers Group is revolutionary because it has several very distinctive features.  (1) The new awardees all are located outside the several large research institutes founded by Paul Allen in Seattle; thus, the influence of his philosophy for high quality science now will spread more widely.  (2) Awards in the Allen Frontiers Group all supersede the traditional approaches used to support science with research grants; the awardees can jump over the usual step-by-step progress made by individual scientists via using new and unconventional ideas for research that are too risky to be funded by research grants.  (3) The large amount of time university faculty scientists now need to waste dealing with research grants (see “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” ) will become available for actual experimental work in their laboratory; federal grants will not be needed by the Distinguished Investigators.  (4) The awardees have a very unusual amount of unrestricted freedom for creativity and innovation; this encourages making advances in knowledge for topics and questions that are complex, difficult, and important.

The changed atmosphere provided by these factors should act to return university scientists toward finding important new knowledge through basic research, instead of chasing money from research grants.  Thus, research by investigators in the Allen Frontiers Group will have a large impact by greatly advancing their fields in bioscience.  Paul Allen is liberating faculty scientists to do better science, to investigate very difficult research questions, and, to once again have fun with their work (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job?  Part II” )!

Paul Allen must perceive exactly what is wrong with today’s university research! 

The classical belief that research scientists should be creative, inventive, fearless, and unhindered is increasingly not evident in modern universities.  The current research grant system is destructive and hinders bringing new ideas into basic research.  Freedom is missing to take chances on making research breakthroughs by using unconventional experiments.   Novel ideas must be repressed due to worries about not getting a grant renewed.  These widespread restrictions unfortunately limit research progress for all faculty scientists at universities, medical schools, and research institutes.  The improved working atmosphere in Allen’s design for research includes the freedom to think new thoughts and go against the flow, collaborate with teamwork instead of unbridled competition, and, develop unforeseen new concepts .

Other philanthropists also act to free faculty scientists from bad problems with the research grant system! 

I recently highlighted another remarkable philanthropic effort to rescue science from its present malaise by James E. Stowers, who established and generously endowed the Stowers Institute for Medical Research (see: “A Jackpot for Scientific Research, Part II” ).  His large new research institute has some similar features to the Allen Institutes, including that most financial  support is provided internally.  At least 2 different billionaires thus perceive the important advantages for science of using philanthropy to substitute for the perverse research grant system (see:  “Research Grants Cause Both Joy and Despair for University Scientists!” ).   In fact, several other megaphilanthropists recently have initiated support programs which strikingly advance university science [e.g., 1].

Concluding remarks! 

Paul Allen clearly recognizes the negative effects the current research grant system has upon scientific research in universities.  A key feature for investigators in the new Allen Frontiers Group is their liberation from the restrictions and distortions imposed by grant-supported research; they now have the freedom to make important research advances using creativity, innovation, and initiative while daring to take chances!

After reading my previous reports about the Stowers Medical Research Institute, many concluded that sponsorship of high quality scientific research by private philanthropy is NOT realistic because nobody else would donate the large sums of money needed.  Several other big donors show that they all are very wrong!  

It is easy to predict that the outcome of the new Frontiers Group generously sponsored by Paul G. Allen will be nothing short of wonderful!  He should be praised by all research scientists for recharging and improving scientific research at universities!  He truly is a hero in sience!  Hooray for Paul Allen!

 

[1]  Allen Institute, 2016.  “Press Release: Paul G. Allen Announces $100 million to Launch The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group” .  Available on the internet at:  https://www.alleninstitute.org/what-we-do/frontiers-group/news-press/press-resources/press-releases/paul-g-allen-announces-100-million-launch-paul-g-allen-frontiers-group .

[2]  Cha, A. E., 2016.  Philanthropist Paul Allen announces $100 million gift to expand ‘frontiers of bioscience’.  The Washington Post, March 24, Section A, page A2.  Available on the internet at:  http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/doc/1775298386.html?FMT=FT&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Mar+24%2C+2016&author=Ariana+Eunjung+Cha&desc=%24100+million+to+fund+exploration+of+biosciences&free=1&pf=1 .

[3]  The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, 2016.  “Video: Introducing The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group” is available on the internet at:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bkLKuJigpY .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

 

STUFF YOU NEVER HEAR ABOUT SCIENTISTS: GETTING SCOOPED!

 

Getting scooped really can happen to scientists! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Getting scooped really can happen to scientists!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Being a researcher is an adventure! You will never hear about experiments that don’t work, great results that cannot be duplicated, good manuscripts or patent applications that keep getting rejected, problems with jealous bosses, or, not being able to get adequate lab space! This article discusses one situation involving research publications that is always lurking around and ready to pounce on innocent hard-working professional researchers.

Publication of research reports in science journals!

All scientists want to be the first to report some new research discovery or new concept. Researchers at all levels always try to avoid getting scooped. This term is derived from the competition between daily newspapers, whose reporters always vigorously seek to be the very first to notify the public about something alarming, scandalous, or newsworthy.  For scientists, getting scooped means that some scientist publishes a research result just before the same new finding is independently published by another scientist; the first to publish scoops the second.

This situation of getting scooped typically occurs in science because it often is impossible to know whether some other scientist is working on the same research question (i.e., there is no database listing what global research studies are in progress). The act of scooping almost never is done on purpose, but rather simply happens as a coincidence. When 2 very similar research reports appear, both authors are very surprised to learn about this duplication. The authors of the report published first are delighted when a second scientist soon verifies their findings; such confirmation more usually takes months or years to appear in print, but in the case of scooping, the second report appears within a few days or weeks after the first report. Scientists authoring the second publication inevitably get upset!  Some journal editors receiving 2 manuscripts that are very similar will publish the pair side by side in one issue; in such cases, both authors equally get full credit for making a discovery.

This situation of being outrun in the race to publish first means that all research scientists are in a hurry to publish their research findings so as to decrease the chance of getting scooped. Those researchers working on very hot topics are especially paranoid about getting scooped. While rushing into print or publishing short limited aspects of a long study now is commonplace, that tactic can have its own negative consequence (i.e., decreased quality).

Scientists working at industrial labs face very analogous issues with obtaining patents.  Until a patent application is finally approved, everything must be kept totally secret in order to preclude simultaneous applications submitted by research groups in other companies. Getting the first patent is desired by everyone’s ego, and is deemed totally essential by their employer!

Can scoopage be avoided?

Getting scooped is a risk that really cannot be prevented! However, there is a common way to try to avoid it. This is done by publishing abstracts at the annual meetings of science societies. Abstracts are only one paragraph long and report only some limited portion of experimental results and preliminary conclusions. Nevertheless, publication of abstracts in a science journal usefully serves to establish priority. Of course, a more definitive way to avoid the problem of getting scooped is simply to publish first.

What are the consequences of getting scooped?

Getting scooped is unpleasant since that automatically reduces the credit given to the author-scientist issuing the second publication. With further research work, both authors try to rapidly turn out more publications, so as to raise their identification for being the leader with studying that research topic. The consequences of getting scooped can be much more severe for graduate students than for other scientists; if their thesis project is scooped, it is no longer new to science, and often then cannot be approved for an advanced degree without much additional research.

One of my fellow graduate students was finishing several years of research work on his thesis project. Upon completing the preparation of illustrations for a long manuscript to be submitted a few days later to the Journal of Cell Biology, the latest issue of this monthly journal arrived and he was truly shocked to see that there was a big article by a famous professor on the East Coast that was almost duplicating his own manuscript! Even some of the figures were nearly identical! Neither researcher knew that the other was working on exactly the same topic, and this coincidence was simply some very bad luck for my friend. Since he was a very hard worker, he fortunately also had a second major aspect in his thesis research, and so was able to successfully use those other results to rewrite and compose a doctoral thesis different from his original plans.

Concluding remarks!

Yes, some scientists really do get scooped! One of the hazards of working in scientific research is that nobody knows whether others are researching on the same topic until abstracts or full publications appear. The presently increasing number of research scientists and increasing pressure from the current research grant system undoubtedly raise the incidence of getting scooped!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

 

COMMUNICATION IN SCIENCE: LANGUAGES AND MEASUREMENTS! 

 

Metrology is the study of measurements, a very important topic for science, engineering, and communication! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Metrology is the study of measurements, a very important topic for science, engineering, communication, and commerce!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

We commonly think about languages as arising in different nations or cultures, and serving as the basis for communication.  A vocabulary of science has developed within each of the many small branches of biomedicine, chemistry, and physics; each terminology constitutes a distinctly different language.  Thus, a doctoral plant scientist and a PhD astrophysicist in the same country will find it almost impossible to converse with each other about their research work because each is not able to understand the other’s terminology.  This situation creates all kinds of difficulties for scientists to communicate with other researchers and scholars, and with persons in the public.

In this dispatch I first briefly discuss the role of language and terminology for science, and then I will introduce the standardized system of units used for scientific measurements.  This international system is used universally amongst different languages and all the different subdivisions of modern science, thereby greatly helping to overcome difficulties for communication.

Do different tongues cause problems for communication between scientists? 

Several factors fortunately make the presence of different national languages be only a minor  practical impediment for communication between scientists.  First, scientists in most countries have learned to read, write, and speak the English language; thus, English now is the common language for modern science.   Second, the special terms in each  subdivision of science usually are well-understood by scientists within different lands working on that discipline.  Third, standardized units for measurements have been defined, and now are universally understood by scientists.

However, when speaking with each other, scientists in different fields of research often will find a big lack of mutual understanding.  Use of English as the universal language of science helps, but problems still remain; these can be due to usage of new or very old terms, established local terms, non-standard units or symbols, etc.

Can scientists communicate readily with non-scientists? 

Even when both parties use the same national language, communication by scientists with the public remains limited due to the absence of understanding by non-scientists of all the special terms of science and research.  To get around this very general obstacle, scientists must give definitions of all special terms or translate those into other words or phrases that will be understood.  Use of images or diagrams often helps increase understanding of science terms by the public.  The task of communicating about science with non-scientists is widely recognized as being important, but any research scientist trying to do that rapidly finds that it is not so easy!

Making quantitative measurements is a major research activity by scientists! 

Scientists love to make measurements!  Making precise measurements is the basis of many, if not most, research experiments.  There are several common units existing for measuring temperature (oC versus oF),  length (inches, feet, and miles versus centimeters, meters, and kilometers), volumes (teaspoons and quarts versus milliliters and liters), etc.  How does one measure different atoms, and what units of length are used (i.e., inches and centimeters are much too large!)?  How is distance between our Sun and other stars measured, and what units of length are used  (i.e., miles and kilometers are much too small!)?  How is blood pressure measured, and what units are used?  How can radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean due to the disaster at Fukushima be measured, and what units are used?  How can the strength of binding of an antibody to its antigen be measured, and what units are used?  What is the price per liter of gasoline in Europe, and how does that compare to the price per gallon in the US?

Adoption of a convention to standardize measurements answers such questions and greatly facilitates communication between scientists.  This convention results in a uniform system of international units for measurements in science, technology, and commerce.  Metrology is the study of measurements.

The International System of Units (SI) greatly aids communications [1,2]! 

The International System of Units (SI) for scientific measurements [1,2] arose around the time of the French Revolution as a derivative of the Metric System for weights and measures.  It now is used by all scientists and engineers, and continues to be updated and extended.  Its symbols are recognized by all, its units can readily be subdivided or multiplied in a uniform simple manner, and it is good for all national languages.  Modern researchers anywhere in science find the SI to be essential for their work.

The SI utilizes 7 base units of measurement: (1) the meter (m) is used to measure length, (2) the kilogram (kg) is used to measure mass, (3) the second (s) is used to measure time, (4) the ampere (A) is used to measure electric current, (5) the candela (cd) is used to measure luminous intensity, (6) the kelvin (K) is used to measure thermodynamic temperature, and (7) the mole (mol) is used to measure the amount of a substance.  These base units are nicely presented at:  http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/current.html .  This convention for base units is then utilized to define many derived units of measurement; one example is speed, which is defined in terms of the base units as length per unit time (i.e., meters per second, miles per hour, etc.).  This System is self-consistent and allows SI measures to be readily converted into other units by simple formulas.  This international convention of standardized units effectively solves most of the problems for communication between research scientists.

Ultimate authority for the SI is held by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, located in France.  That body works with the International Committee for Weights and Measures, which coordinates many national and regional organizations.  In the US, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a primary role (see:  “International Aspects of the SI” ).

Concluding remarks! 

Communication is a very important part of being a good research scientist!  Scientists in the US benefit both from English being accepted as the universal language of science, and from the standardized International System of Units now used by scientists in all countries.  These conventions are a great help for communicating research results both to other scientists and to non-scientists in the public.

 

[1] Jones, A. Z., 2016.  International system of measurement.  Available on the internet at: http://physics.about.com/od/toolsofthetrade/a/SIunits.htm .

[2] Physical Measurement Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2000.  “International System of Units (SI)”  Available on the internet at:  http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/index.html .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT FOR EVERYONE TO UNDERSTAND SCIENCE? 

 

It is not so difficult for some people to understand science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
It is not so difficult for some to understand science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Many people of all ages find it really hard to comprehend science and research!  Others even are afraid of science!  In this essay I will first present the causes and unfortunate consequences of this problem; then I will offer some ideas for countering its bad effects.

What causes the problem many adults have with reading and learning about science? 

This very widespread difficulty chiefly involves at least 4 different causes.

(1) POOR EDUCATION!  Most early instruction about science in schools only involves learning to regurgitate standard answers to standard questions.  Science courses in primary and secondary schools are largely superficial, descriptive, and mainly involve memorization.  Memory takes the place of learning and understanding, so interrelationships and reasoning are never presented.  Hence, schoolchildren don’t learn about research as the basis for knowledge, and mostly forget about science as soon as classes are over.

(2) THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE!  Most people are separated from research and scientists by the vocabulary of science.  All 3 main branches of science (biology, chemistry, and physics) and each of their subdisciplines use specialized terms.  Scientists do speak strange languages!

(3) SCIENCE AND RESEARCH ARE ENTERTAINMENTS!  “Science news” is presented by most TV media as “gee-whiz entertainment”.  Research is seen as being amusing, and scientists are considered by Hollywood to be weird and funny creatures.

(4) SCIENCE IS MUCH TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME TO EVER UNDERSTAND!  Understanding science topics is viewed by many people as being beyond their capabilities.  Science has nothing to do with their personal lives, so why waste any time trying to understand it!

Effects of these problems with understanding science! 

Each of the foregoing causes directly creates some bad consequences.

(1) POOR EDUCATION!  Students soon conclude that science has no role in their personal life.  Definitions of key science terms are de-emphasized in school classes, and concepts often remain fuzzy; this readily leads to mistaken beliefs and wrong assumptions.

(2) THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE!  Only a handful of special terms needs to be learned for understanding any aspect of science, but this task often makes adults give up even trying to read an article about modern science.  This effort is essential, just as one cannot read a story written in a foreign language until some vocabulary first is acquired!

(3) SCIENCE AND RESEARCH ARE ENTERTAINMENTS!  This is a very common belief, but nothing could be further from the truth!  The fundamental reason why scientific research is so important is usually not explained.  Today’s media are badly misleading people!

(4) SCIENCE IS MUCH TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME TO EVER UNDERSTAND!  This false belief probably is part of the “dumbing down” of the US public, and serves to intimidate many adults.  Even simplified materials on the internet will give a general understanding about science; dealing with math equations and learning lots of new terms are not necessary!

All these consequences reinforce each other!  The end result is that science, research, and scientists are totally estranged from people (see:  “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ), and are viewed as being utterly unimportant by most individuals (see:  “What Does Science Matter to Me, an Ordinary Person?” ).

Is there any good analogy to this very general problem for science? 

The answer to this question is, “yes”!  All the difficulties described above also are found with learning a foreign language!  Modern methods and tools for learning languages now are widely available, using recordings, educational media, computer programs for independent study, visits by native speakers, immersion experiences, etc.  Some of these will be beneficial for adults trying to read and learn about science.  Vocabulary is the first basis for learning any language, including the strange terms in science.  Without learning some new words, the languages of science cannot be understood.

If children would be better educated about science, then adults will not see it as being incomprehensible.  I have addressed defects in current science education for children earlier (see:  “What is Wrong with Science Education for Children?” ).  For science classes in primary and secondary schools, a short (30 minutes) illustrated guest presentation by a real live scientist (i.e., a “foreign speaker”) will add much interest and give a more realistic picture of science and research than can any textbook.

Other ideas for dealing with this common problem! 

I offer 3 additional recommendations to individuals trying to deal with their problem of being afraid of science and technology.  (1) Read first about small aspects and topics.  It is not necessary to master some textbook for you to be able to understand brief media reports about science!   (2) When starting to read a newspaper article, look up a few definitions and diagrams on the internet; that is very easy and will aid your efforts to understand!  (3) Focus your efforts on current events in science, so you can jump beyond all the famous dead scientists and dry facts given in your earlier school textbooks and classes.  (4) Seek information about some topic in science and research that concerns you personally (e.g., your health, your wealth, your community (e.g., purity of water supply), your forthcoming vacation (e.g., ecology, plants and animals, local food, etc.), your shoes (e.g., nature of the improved materials used), your nutrition (e.g., good or bad, quantity, hidden chemical poisons), your automobile (e.g., electric cars, driverless vehicles, production of gasoline from oil), etc.

Concluding remarks! 

I believe the general problem that it is difficult to teach adults who find science too difficult can be made easier by copying some of the educational practices used to teach foreign languages.  Interactive teaching of both children and adults about how science is related to everyday life will help make the learning much easier.  Individuals must be encouraged to be courageous and overcome their fear of science; after success, most will agree that understanding science is not impossible, and even can be fun!

In conclusion, you are indeed capable of understanding science, and your life will become more interesting!  Give it a try!  Don’t put it off until later!  Try it today!  The very first step often can be the hardest (see: “How Can I Take the First Step to Learn About Science?” )!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

MORE SCIENCE Q&A FROM YOU TO DR.M, AND FROM DR.M TO YOU! 

 

Asking questions, answering questions, and questioning answers are vital for education! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Asking questions, answering questions, and questioning answers are vital for education! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

An earlier Q&A session with Dr.M drew a good response (see “Questions About Science From You to Me, and From Me to You!” ), so further interchange should be worthwhile for all visitors.

Dr.M, I’m no good at mathematics!  Can I read and learn about science without needing to use all the equations? 

The answer is “yes!”.  You can learn at a very basic level without needing any math.  Your knowledge then will be somewhat simplified, but that is okay.  As one example, look up a subject or question that interests you on any internet wikisite; you will receive simple descriptions, explanations, and figures, which will provide a basic level of understanding.  But, try to recognize that numbers and quantization are very necessary for doing science and research (e.g., consider the analogy of what would professional baseball be without batting averages and other statistical measures?).

Dr.M asks you: what do you know about how the internet operates?  How does your e-mail travel so quickly to another state or a different country?  How do viruses get into your computer? 

Although it is true that you can use the internet without knowing anything at all about computers, it will be much better if you understand at least the fundamentals.  It’s easy to use the internet to find out more about the internet!

Where can I learn about the big new Zika virus epidemic? 

Use any browser to search on the internet for “Zika virus epidemic” or “Zika virus research”, and you will receive many pages of sites with information.  If you feel that some background is needed, first look on a wiki for “virus” or “Zika virus”.  As a special treat, you can see a fascinating and shocking expose by J. Chatterjee about the old origin of this new epidemic at “What is the Zika Virus Epidemic Covering Up?” !

What do the Big Prizes in science matter to me, Dr.M? 

The several large Science Prizes provide a means for everyone to honor and learn about some really successful research scientists (see: “What Does It Take to Win The Big Prizes in  Science?” , and, “New Multimillion Megaprizes for Science, Part I” ).  Check out some video interviews with the winners on websites for the different prizes; you will see much about both their praiseworthy research work and  their individual personalities (i.e., yes, famous scientists are very interesting people!).

As a graduate student in science, I have decided that I do not want to work in a university!  What should I do to get a good science-related job in business/industry? 

You will need much more than learning about science and research, and you must take the lead in getting that info!  Take or just sit in on a beginning course for business or finance.  If possible, find someone who is now doing what you are aiming for, and ask if you can meet with them to ask a few questions about their job and career.  Some businesses offer short internships that will provide a taste of what working there would be like.  Spend some time thinking about the key difference between what you want to do, and what you would be willing  to do (i.e., could you work as an advertising staffer, computer maintainer, designer, manager, media consultant, salesperson, software writer, survey taker, telephone service agent, etc.)?

Dr.M, why do I as a taxpayer have to help pay for building giant new telescope facilities in Chile and Hawaii?  Those mean nothing to me! 

These gigantically expensive very special research facilities will yield new advanced knowledge about astronomy, astrophysics, and space science, that present telescopes cannot obtain.  These facilities are so very costly that they can be funded only by contributions from multiple nations.  The new research findings will help you only indirectly, by adding to understanding about our universe.  If you feel that your own tax money is being wasted, then you should realize that the portion you are giving to build these new telescope facilities is only a miniscule part of your tax payments; a much greater portion goes for wars and welfare ….. how do you like that?

Where can I find the very latest in new technology, Dr.M? 

I recently recommended several good websites covering this subject (see: “More Science and Research Websites Recommended for You!” ).

I just cannot understand why scientific research has not yet found a cure for either cancer or the common cold!  Please explain, Dr.M! 

You probably are ignorant that some of the many types of cancer now are being cured, thanks to modern research and clinical advances (see: “Progress for Treating and Curing Cancer!” , and, “A Very New Immunotherapy for Cancer Wins the 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award!” ).  The common cold is difficult to cure or prevent because the causative viruses are constantly mutating and changing; thus, a moving target must be knocked out, but it is impossible to predict where it will be (i.e., what the next mutation might be) before it has changed!

I’m a Full Professor in a science department at a large university, and I am forced to retire next year.  How can I keep doing research and publishing, Dr.M? 

If you are still able to be funded with a research grant, then you might be able to either stay at your present location as a resident researcher, or transfer to another institution as a visiting researcher.  If you don’t have a grant, see if you can find a well-funded colleague at another institution, who will let you work without salary in their lab on their research projects.  For the latter possibility, recognize that you need to be flexible; you might even want to work alongside someone who formerly was your biggest competitor!

Dr.M asks you: how many different ways can glyphosate get into your body?  How much do you now contain? 

Glyphosate is increasingly recognized as being a dangerous poison (see:  “What Happens When Scientists Disagree?  Part III: Is Glyphosate Poisoning Us All?” ).  If a farmer uses the weed-killer, Roundup (Monsanto Corporation), with his corn crop, and the harvested corn later is fed to chickens, how much glyphosate is ingested by humans when the chicken eggs or meat are eaten?  If farmers spread Roundup by aerial spraying, how much glyphosate then is present within the local tap water used for drinking or cooking?  How much glyphosate is present inside you or other people today?  Dr.M says that much more research should be done to answer these worrisome questions!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

WHAT DOES THE NEW NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION REPORT SAY ABOUT BIG PROBLEMS FOR US SCIENCE? 

 

SEI 2016 shows current status of scientific research and engineering developments in the US and other countries! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

SEI 2016 shows current status of scientific research and engineering developments in the US and other countries! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The 2016 edition of the extensive and impressive serial report from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 (SEI 2016), has just appeared (see: “National Science Foundation Issues New Report on Status of Science, Engineering, and Research” ).  This large document purposely does not directly comment or interpret its figures; however, provision of these data by SEI 2016 leaves their interpretation open.  In this essay I will briefly examine what the new data in SEI 2016 say about several controversial topics and modern problems for science.

The SEI 2016 is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/report , and its brief commentary, The Digest 2016, is available at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/digest .  An excellent search page for SEI 2016 is provided at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/topics/ .  Citations in the following text all refer to SEI 2016, unless noted.

What is the present status of science and engineering in mainland China?  Could China surpass the US in science and engineering? 

Mainland China now is an extensive political and economic competitor with the US.  Many have the impression that the quality of Chinese science and engineering formerly was deficient, but now has improved and is nearing the level prevailing in other countries, including the US.  SEI 2016 shows that in 2013 the US workforce produced 27% of worldwide research and discovery, while China produced 20% [The Digest 2016, page 4].  Much research and development in China now aims to advance their military, technical,  and industrial capabilities; these efforts strongly depend on Chinese engineering.  Their increasing number of engineers is expected to start producing more science and engineering articles than will the US in 2014 [The Digest 2016, Figure A on page 13].  Since 2005, China already has produced more engineering publications than any other country [The Digest 2016, Figure B2 on page 13].  It seems likely that China’s efforts to advance education and training of their scientists and engineers will stimulate achieving equivalence and then soon will surpass the US output.  Hence, SEI 2016 shows that the US is likely to soon lose its premier status for science and engineering!

What does SEI 2016 say about the funding for basic research, which necessarily precedes what is done later by applied research and engineering developments?  

Data in SEI 2016 deals with both the basic and the applied aspects of research and development.  Excluding money for the Department of Defense, federal support of research in 2013 is given as 45% for basic studies, 41% for applied studies, and 14% for development [Figure 4-12].  I must disagree with their assumption that the many studies funded by the National Institutes of Health all are basic research; thus, I cannot accept the total for basic research given in SEI 2016 as being valid (i.e., definitions of basic versus applied are not provided).  I and many academic scientists are convinced that federal support for basic research has been diminishing, while federal grants for applied research are increasing in number.

What do the figures in SEI 2016 say about the pervasive problem of  hyper-competition for research grants between university scientists? 

Acquiring and maintaining an external research grant now is the major goal for faculty scientists.  At present, there is a vicious hyper-competition between all academic scientists for research grant awards (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  University scientists cannot be blamed for this very problematic situation  because if they do not acquire and hold research grants then they are basically dead.  The SEI 2016 does not directly address the destructive effects of hyper-competition on academic science.   However, the published data do show that only 19% of all applications for research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal agency making grants for biomedical research, were funded in 2014, and the trend for such funding is decreasing [Table 5-22].  Furthermore, SEI 2016 shows that the total number of doctoral scientist holders working in academic institutions continues to  increase [Appendix Table 5-13], meaning that the numbers of applicants and applications also are rising.  Thus, SEI 2016 documents that the hyper-competition for research grants keeps getting even more severe every year!

What do the new figures in SEI 2016 say about the predicted demise of science and research in modern US universities?

My earlier controversial proposal that university science now is dying (see:  “Could Science and Research Now Be Dying?” ) was based upon my impressions of a declining quality of modern science, large wastage of time by researchers struggling to get more and more research grants, conversion of university research into a business entity where money is everything, de-emphasis on basic research and corresponding increased emphasis on applied research, and, increasing corruption by professional scientists.  That situation is being caused by bad policies and priorities from both modern universities and the current research grant system.

SEI 2106 shows oodles of data that almost everyone will conclude is very solid evidence denying my prediction (i.e., since academic science in the US is doing such a productive job and provides so much of value to the public, then all must be excellent!).  I disagree, because the quality of research studies and publications seems to be decreasing!  The data in SEI 2016 almost entirely are measuring research quantity and largely ignore quality.  The Digest 2016 emphasizes that innovation is very important, and I agree; however, innovation is not measured or estimated for basic versus applied research, which is very necessary in order to evaluate their value.

If everything actually is so very wonderful with modern science in academia, then why are an increasing number of faculty scientists, postdocs, and prospective domestic graduate students so dismayed and dissatisfied?  Why have the number of doctoral scientists and engineers working as full-time faculty members been progressively declining?  Why did only 15.6% of all employed doctoral scientists and engineers work in academia/education in 2013 [Table 3-6]?  Why did 28.1% of all doctoral scientists and engineers now work outside business/industry in 2013 [Table 3-6]?  Why did 20% of all US doctoral scientists and engineers report that they  were working out-of-field because of a change in career or professional interests in 2013 [page of text following Table 3-14]?  All of the above data from SEI 2016 support my controversial proposal!

Conclusion!

It is fair to conclude that SEI 2016 indeed is very useful, but will not answer all the important questions  about modern science!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

INSPIRATION AND PERSPIRATION IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

Inspiration and perspiration help make research progress! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Inspiration and perspiration both help scientists make more research progress!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

One of my distinguished and very ambitious professors in graduate school jokingly told me that his notable success for accomplishing a certain research effort was “more due to perspiration than inspiration!”  Those 2 factors always play important roles for the work of all research scientists.  I now will explain this so that all non-scientist readers will understand how and why this is so.

What is inspiration for scientists?  How does it work?

Inspiration is a quick mental process resulting in an unexpected new idea or thought that clarifies or advances something.  With inspiration, all of a sudden some relationships or difficulties become crystal clear and fully understood.  It typically is not frequent, and comes out of nowhere.  For researchers, an inspiration might set off a chain of other thoughts; thus, it can provide stimulation for further mental activities.  It often results in seeing connections that were not visible before, and hence can stimulate new directions.  Inspiration is not just an ordinary new idea, but often provides insight and new understanding.  Undoubtedly, some of the creative products from inventors arise due to inspiration.  To the best of my knowledge, nobody knows what sets off an inspiration; it could even be cosmic rays!

Inspiration has occurred to me mostly while waking up or in the nightly shower.  When inspiration happens, it is seen as being magical because it seems to appear without conscious intention.  If inspiration occurs at the time when you are just waking, it is very essential to immediately write down the new thoughts; if that is not done, they very rapidly become unavailable no matter how hard one tries to recall them later.  My own observations lead me to conclude that inspirations often are situated right at the border between unconsciousness and consciousness; at their time of origin, there seems to be much less restriction against thinking new and unusual thoughts or realizing new connections and relationships.

What is perspiration for scientists? 

Perspiration is a physiological result of hard work that is evident as sweating.  Working at research demands persistent efforts, focused attention to details, practical skills, and determination to overcome any failures; only a commitment to strong personal work can produce successful outcomes for research projects.  Hard work for research scientists involves a variety of both mental and physical efforts, usually necessitates working for long hours, and is accompanied by some perspiration.  Sweating correlates particularly well with  difficult efforts, and has a purely subconscious origin; it is valuable not only for keeping body temperature from getting too high, and also serves to identify work that requires strong exertions.

How do inspiration and perspiration interact with research scientists? 

For working on research investigations in laboratories or in the field, both inspiration and perspiration are very useful!  Both can overcome practical problems (e.g., finally getting a new experimental protocol to work after having many failures, constructing a good new concept to explain a set of unexpected data, modifying and developing a new method or instrument in order to be able to collect data that answers a research question, etc.).  Perspiration is especially useful for researchers because working harder always is available to help advance a research project; if you are not sweating, then you are not working at your maximal level!  Inspiration is particularly valuable for researchers because it can save time by jumping over some problematic situation, or penetrating a mental blockade.

Inspiration and perspiration can be found in all types of people, and all readers should be able to see both in action at their own workplace.  In my opinion, the necessity for hard work can be taught to research scientists, but inspiration is not able to be taught; I believe inspiration is an inborn trait.  Since it is not voluntary, one can only be aware of inspiration after it happens, and be ready to use it when it appears.  I see inspiration as being similar to creativity in that both are inherent mental capabilities; some people certainly are borne with much more than others have.

Conclusions! 

Perspiration from physical and mental activities often accompanies making a research project progress towards completion before a deadline.  Inspiration can help scientific research by jumping over or around some problematic point in the progress of a study.  Science and research clearly benefit from both inspiration and perspiration!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

PROGRESS FOR TREATING AND CURING CANCER!! 

 

Cancer definitely is "The Big C" for many patients, doctors, and researchers! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Cancer definitely is “The Big C” for many patients, doctors, and researchers!           (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The latest annual report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) surveys cancer in many years up to the present, and provides statistical data about the current status of neoplastic disease in the United States (US) [1,2].  The largest conclusion is that clinical progress against cancer definitely is being made, but further efforts are needed.

ACS cancer statistics for 2016 [1,2]! 

The new ACS report describes numbers for cancer incidence, deaths, and survival through 2015 [1,2].  These latest figures permit comparison to corresponding measurements for many previous years, and allow predictions to be made for 2016.  Several brief discussions about what these figures reveal now are available [e.g., 3-5].

The cancer death rate for men and women fell 23% in the 21 year period from 1991 to 2012 (the latest year for which complete data are available).  This progress should be  welcomed by everyone!  Death from cancer still is second to heart disease for the entire US, but in 21 states it now has become the leading cause of death due to use of new and better therapies against heart disease.  For 2016, around 1.7 million new cases of all cancers can be expected in the US, presumably due mainly to the many environmental carcinogens we all are exposed to.

Cancers of the lung, prostate, colon, and breast remain the most frequent neoplasms nationally, and result in nearly half of the cancer deaths for both genders.  The total incidence of cancer would be higher were it not for decreased smoking of tobacco products.  Despite all measures now taken for early detection, breast cancers in women are estimated to be about 29% of all new cancer cases for females in 2016.

Incidence and death rate for some cancers are decreasing [1,2]! 

New cases of several cancers now are decreasing.  Half of the decline in new cancer cases for men is caused by the reduction of reporting prostate cancer by clinicians; this is due to their recognition that the prostate specific antigen test for the presence of prostate cancer gives positive results even for those men not needing clinical treatment.  Observed decreases in new lung cancer patients are due to the increased numbers of men and women who choose not to smoke tobacco; of course, many people still smoke, and the incidence needs to be reduced much further.  The observed decrease in colon cancer is believed due to increased use of colonoscopies as an effective screening test.

Better treatments and high levels of enrollment in clinical trials is producing a progressive increase in 5-year survival rate for children with cancer.  Among children aged 1-14 years in the US, death from cancers is second only to the deaths caused by accidents.  Leukemias account for 30% of all childhood cancers, but brain cancer now is more frequent than leukemia due to more effective therapies for treating this blood cell cancer.

Is progress truly being made in fighting cancer [1-5]? 

Despite continuing complaints that too much money is spent on treating and studying this deadly disease, progress against cancer in the US clearly is being made every year.  Education, early detection, prevention, and improved therapy all contribute to decreasing the incidence and death rates, thereby raising the number of cancer survivors.

Hidden among the tables of numbers published in the new ACS report is the solid fact that for some cancer patients death now is postponed for many years due to the development and use of more effective therapeutic treatments.  Moreover, of the more than 100 different kinds of cancer, some now are being cured!  Both of these facts provide evidence that progress in cancer care indeed is being made.

Critical discussion about the value of cancer research! 

One of the most frequent complaints about spending many billions of dollars on cancer research is that this killing disease still remains without a general cure (see: “After Spending Billions Why Have Scientists Not Yet Found a Cure for Cancer?” ).  A very strong rebuttal to this complaint is given by the thrilling research success of Dr. James P. Allison (M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas) (see: “A Very New Immunotherapy Wins the 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award!” ).  His combined laboratory, clinical, and industrial research investigations with experimental immunology discovered a new kind of treatment that cures many cases of the previously fatal cancer, malignant myeloma (see new video: “Why Don’t Our Bodies Fight Cancer for Us?” ).   This story proves that research does result in very wonderful advances in curing some cancers!

This dramatic example of research success also illustrates several important generalizations about research on cancer: (1)  progress in treating and curing cancer proceeds step-by-step and not all-at-once, (2) basic laboratory research is the major basis leading to clinical progress against cancer, and, (3) progress in curing any type of cancer is inherently slow and takes at least one decade of dedicated work, but it is pursued by determined basic and clinical researchers.

Due to advances in cancer research, a diagnosis of cancer no longer is a certain prediction of early death!  Cancer research is the biggest stimulus for clinical progress against this disease.  The President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Julie M. Vose, has just stated [5], “As a result of our nation’s investment in cancer research, we have made tremendous progress in prevention, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and molecularly targeted treatments.  Every cancer survivor is living proof of its progress.”

Concluding remarks! 

This 2016 ACS report [1] documents the considerable progress being made against cancer.  An increasing number of patients with certain types of cancer now even are being cured!  Cancer research does cost lots of money and typically takes many years of work, but that leads to development of good clinical progress against this disease (i.e., decreased incidence, increased survival, and outright cures)!

 

[1]  Siegel, R.L., Miller, K.D., and Jemal, A., 2016.  Cancer statistics, 2016.  CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians,  6:7-30 .

[2]  Simon, S., 2016.  Cancer statistics report: death rate down 23% in 21 years.  Available on the American Cancer Society website at:  http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/news/cancer-statistics-report-death-rate-down-23-percent-in-21-years .

[3]  Mulcahy, N., 2016.  Continuous decline in US cancer death rate: ACS report.  Available on the internet at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/856938 .

[4]  MedlinePlus, 2016.  Cancer death rates down 23 percent since 1991: Study that translates to an additional 1.7 million survivors, expert says.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_156576.html .

[5]  Julie M. Vose, 2016.  Decline in cancer deaths result of decades of advancing cancer care.  Available on website of the American Society of Clinical Oncology at:  http://www.asco.org/advocacy/decline-cancer-deaths-result-decades-advancing-cancer-care .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

RESEARCH GRANTS CAUSE BOTH JOY AND DESPAIR FOR UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS! 

 

The Yin and Yang of Research Grants in 2016! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
The Yin and Yang of Research Grants in 2016!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

The public often forgets that scientists are people, too!  Your neighbor that you never say more than a “hello” to might even be a scientist!  Most readers have no idea what emotions arise in professional scientists working on research at modern universities.  So that you will learn more about scientists as people, this article looks at the strong emotions commonly caused by the research grant system.

Introduction! 

Officially, research grants pay for all the many different expenses of conducting experiments, and thus provide the essential financial sponsorship all scientists at universities need to obtain in order to (1) conduct research, and (2) keep their employment.  Without a grant, university scientists lose their laboratory, have their salary lowered, reduce their status, and are not promoted.  Research grants now are the difference between life and death for a faculty scientist’s career!  When scientists at universities cannot renew their research grant(s), this typically causes a career crisis that can necessitate either a major shift in job activities (e.g., into full-time teaching and/or administration) or relocation to a new employment.  Getting and maintaining research grants is the very largest goal for any faculty scientist; that target now far overshadows making breakthrough discoveries, publishing in the very best journals, and receiving a prize for meritorious teaching.

Feeling the rewards and problems of funding science with research grants! 

Receipt of official notice that a research grant application will be funded causes great joy and excitement for any faculty scientist.  All of a sudden, the 6-24 months of planning, writing, and revising the proposal seem worthwhile, rather than being burdensome and wearying!  Graduate students and research technicians now can be kept employed in the lab, and there will be time to finish some long experiment!  Sometimes a new piece of research equipment can be purchased, or a postdoctoral fellow can be added to the laboratory team!  A big celebration of this bountiful feast of happiness and satisfaction clearly is in order!

However, research grants are a double-edged sword for university scientists!  Very difficult problems frequently accompany research grant awards and these can cause great distress and anguish.  A few weeks or months after receiving a new grant, the euphoria wears off and the same scientist again becomes aware of the big problems all faculty scientists face with time and money.  After the initial joy, the second emotion to arise is fear!  Fear of what?  Fear of the fact that the clock is always ticking, and fear of the future!  While one is busy hiring and training a new technician, interviewing candidates for an open postdoctoral position, composing a manuscript, dealing with installation of a large new piece of research equipment, teaching in a class with 3 or 300 students, and, doing bench work in the lab, the clock always is counting down the remaining time before important deadlines occur (e.g., sending an annual report to the granting agency, the remaining time left in year-02, getting a large article published, submitting an application for renewal of the current grant at the best time, completing an application for a new (additional) grant now rather than later, etc.).

With regard to the time problem, each grant demands forms to be filled out, reports to be submitted, hours to be scheduled away from the lab, and deadlines to be met.  New lab employees need to be evaluated and then trained.  In addition to time needed for paperwork, administration, bench work in the lab, lab meetings, office hours for class students, and teaching work, the main time demand for all faculty scientists today is to submit more and more applications so multiple research grants can be obtained; the enormous pressures generated by this time crunch will have strong effects upon any human.  For most university scientists, acquiring multiple grants can result in such a large time shortage that there no longer is so much fun with personally working at their research; that stimulates the emotions of despair and depression!

Receipt of another research grant theoretically should solve the money problem for any university scientist.  Instead, the new dollars often have the opposite effect!  The university might suddenly raise the official salary levels for all employed technicians or graduate students; since the required increase was not included in the proposed budget, this obligation must be paid by those funds awarded for research supplies.  Buying a new research instrument might require changing the electricity supplies and remodeling to create a surrounding barrier zone; the grantee must pay for all that work, meaning more rebudgeting.  How then will new supply orders be paid for?

Feasting can be followed by a famine! 

Many applications for a research grant are not funded or only partially funded.  Sooner or later, even famous university scientists fail to have their research grant renewed.  Faculty scientists losing a research grant typically try very hard to get funded again via a revised application or a new application for a different project.  All science faculty losing their single research grant are facing the kiss of death, where they can lose everything; the unlucky scientist enters a period of true famine. That university scientist then finally becomes very aware that they only have rented their laboratory space, that their research accomplishments mean little to their university, and that their employer really hired them only to get their grant money (i.e., more profits!).  Trying to alternate back and forth between the conditions of feast and famine is an  emotional situation which is quite sufficient to cause premature aging!  Unfunded, but previously funded, faculty now are labelled as being “worthless” by their academic employer; feelings of anger, tearful sorrow, and dissatisfaction certainly flourish.  Emotions with feast-or-famine undergo a roller coaster ride!

Concluding discussion! 

Problematic features of the current research grant system for supporting scientific research at universities very clearly have emotional consequences.  Both happiness, sorrow, disgust, and endless worrying commonly are produced.  Having 2 or even 3 research grants can simply magnify the same emotions.  Living and working under the condition of feast-or-famine wears academic scientists down and does not encourage the progress of science.

Science has good involvements with business and commerce, but basic research itself is not supposed to be a business!  Research grants or other financial support are necessary to pay for all the expenses of conducting experiments, but obtaining more and more of that money is not the true goal of scientists!  For modern universities, science is a business, and faculty scientists are just a terrific means to increase their profits!

There are some other ways besides grants to pay for research expenses (see: “Is More Money for Science Really Needed? Part II” , and, “Basic Versus Applied Science: Are There Alternatives to Funding Basic Research by Grants?” ).  It seems to me that new mechanisms for financing science and research at universities in the United States now are badly needed in order to stop the destructive problems caused by the current system (see:  “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

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.

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

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!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

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 .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

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

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,businesses, educational institutions, 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 introduces the different means and purposes of government’s interactions with science.

Overview of official interactions of US government with science. 

Very many different agencies of the federal government act upon all branches of science with administrative oversight, numerous regulations, money and contracts to support research projects, new initiatives, policy directives, provision of information, public education, etc.  The larger agencies specialized for science include the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Agricultural Research Service, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Academy of Sciences, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Library of Medicine, etc.  All these have large administrative staffs, large budgets, and large areas of action.  In addition, many branches and agencies of the military also deal with science.  Official representative scientists are appointed as advisers to the President, Congress, and other governmental bodies.  One can only conclude that the national government is authorized to actively interact with science, technology, and scientists, at many different levels.

Money is at the center of all government interactions with science!  

Money in science is required for all the expenses of conducting research studies (see: “Introduction to money in modern scientific research” ).  For science at universities, several government agencies support research expenditures by awarding competitive grants to faculty scientists proposing important projects.  Thus, external money is at the heart of all interactions between the government and university scientists; many rules and regulations follow the acceptance of any research grant award.  Government uses this dependence upon federal research grants to control university science and direct faculty research into certain directions.

Governmental control of science and research. 

US government administrators make policy directives and issue numerous regulations for science, research, education, and medical activities.  As specific examples of this network for extensive control of science at universities via policies, programs, and regulations, we can now consider: (1) the Congress, which legislates the number of H1b visas issued each year for foreign scientists to be employed in the US, (2) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which  enforces safety requirements for use of radioactive materials in scientific research, (3) the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), that mandates what special features must be present in refrigerators for their use within research labs, (4) the Food and Drug Administration, which is supposed to determine whether pharmaceutical products are safe and effective for patient care by physicians, and (5) the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which mandates salary levels for Postdocs researching in grant-supported labs.  These are only a few examples from the many available!

How does the government actually use science and scientists? 

Scientists often are used to provide “expert opinions and evaluations” for dealing with big problems facing the government.  Those frequently involve testimonial input that is used to justify policy decisions and positions about controversial issues (e.g., global warming, mandated use of vaccines, approval or disapproval of new drugs and public health regulations, responses to foreign epidemics, international disputes, etc.).  In response to such usage, opponents of the government’s position bring forth their own expert scientists!  Readers should  note that these controversies usually are about politics, economics, and power, rather than about science (see: “What Happens When Scientists Disagree? Part II: Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?” ).  It would be much better if the government sought recommendations of expert scientists before policies are made, rather than after they are finalized!

People give enormous amounts of money for scientific research, via their taxes! 

Scientific research costs a lot of money (see:  “Why is Science so Very Expensive?  Why do Research Experiments Cost so Much?” ).  This clearly is in the national interest and deserves to be supported.  The US government pays giant amounts of dollars for: science education at schools and universities; research grants for universities, hospitals, and small businesses; clinical research trials; large special facilities for research usage; science meetings; public education about health and science; etc.  The annual budget for sponsoring all these science-related activities is many billions of dollars [1,2]. Most funding comes from taxpayers; thus, all taxpayers deserve many thanks from university scientists for supporting their research activities!

In addition to basic and applied research investigations at universities, medical schools, and hospitals, a very large amount of research and development also takes place at industrial laboratories.  All the research investigations in industries costs a huge number of dollars in total, and are internally paid by individual companies.

The forthcoming Part II will present both the good and bad consequences of governmental interactions with science, research, and scientists.  Special attention will be given to how the present research grant system is hurting  scientific research, rather than helping it!

 

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

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

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

HOW TO TEACH AND EXPLAIN TEMPERATURE IN EARLY SCIENCE CLASSES AT PRIMARY SCHOOLS!

 

What is Science to children? How can they best learn it in primary/grade school? (http:dr-monsrs.net)
What is Science to children? How to best teach it in grade school? (http:dr-monsrs.net)

I believe that science is everywhere and so should be taught to everyone, starting almost from the beginning of schooling.  I have previously written some of my general suggestions for teaching young children about science (see: “What is Wrong with Science Education for Children?” ).  Here, a unit for early science education in primary/grade schools (e.g., in grade 2-5) is suggested, and exemplifies that such need not even be labeled as “science”; it can easily be viewed as teaching about “daily life” or “our world”.

Class objectives in teaching and explaining temperature. 

This series of early science classes for very young students aims to cover:

(1)  how do we detect temperature (i.e., feelings, nerves);

(2)  how do we measure temperature (i.e., thermometers);

(3)  how do liquid thermometers work; temperatures of hot and cold tap water;

(4)  temperatures of children’s skin, what is “room temperature” (= air in classroom), seasons;

(5)  how do feelings of being cool or warm correspond to measured temperatures;

(6)  very basic explanations for heating and cooling of water;

(7)  temperature extremes of water (boiling, evaporating, freezing, and melting);

(8)  what happens to temperature when hot and cold tap water are mixed 1:1, and when  boiling water is removed from a hot plate and sits at room temp (i.e. measure the temps vs. time);

(9)  how quickly does one tablespoon of sugar dissolve in very hot, warm, room temp, or cold tap water?

(10) an illustrated discussion session about temperature (e.g., basic definitions and concepts; what is the temperature of: our classroom, lava from a volcano, a melting ice cube; what are snowflakes, hail, an iceberg; etc.).

Materials needed: skin temperature monitors (one for each child, and they take them home after the class #4; these could be donated by manufacturers or by large drug store chains), red-liquid (no mercury!) inexpensive thermometers (one for each table of students; must have F (or F&C) scales), disposable clear plastic drinking glasses (8-10 ounces), cold and hot tap water, ice cubes or crushed ice, hot plate and glass flask to hold boiling water, granulated sugar.

Scheduling:  I estimate needing 5-6 hours of classes (45-55 minutes each) to cover all topics 1-9.  Topic 10 is an interactive session reviewing what should have been learned from this unit on temperature, and extending their knowledge to a few new examples.  In addition to the class teacher, having one or 2 assistant teachers will be useful.  Ideally, some classes should be held in a laboratory-type room (with a table for each 4-6 students); other sessions involve presentations with projected slides or brief videos and directed discussions, and so can be given in either a standard classroom or a lab room.

Please note:      (1) Instructions, discussions, questions and answers, are given concurrently with the manipulations and observations by students during the class sessions.

(2) If use of boiling water is considered to be too risky for very young students to handle, then this can be done as a demonstration.

(3) Each class begins with 5-10 minutes of explanation about what is being studied and how the activities will proceed; the last 5-10 minutes are reserved for a brief summary of what should have been learned today.

(4) Even if forbidden, some kids undoubtedly will eat ice cubes and drink the dissolved sugar; so what?

(5) For these early classes, “atoms” are not mentioned, and “energy” can be either ignored or approximated to electricity if questions arise; these topics will be covered later.

(6) If students do not ask questions, then the teacher(s) must ask them questions!

Subsequent classes:  In the following months and years at primary school, young students can extend their new knowledge about temperature to related topics.  Direct follow-up sessions can include: liquids and solids, solutions and suspensions, oil and water, gasses and liquids, calibrating thermometers, Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales, how do skin temperature thermometers work, what is the temperature in outer space, what warms the Earth, the water cycle in Nature, etc.  Related science sessions for later classes can involve chemistry, weather, physics, pressure, energy, what are atoms, what do atoms have to do with temperature, biology, animal and plant habitats and adaptations, fever, etc.

Critical comments and discussion. 

I do not believe that memorizing some definitions means that young students understand anything at all (see:  “A Large Problem in Science Education: Memorization is Not Enough, and is Not the Same as Understanding!” ).  Young students need to relate definitions, concepts, and new knowledge to what they can see, touch, feel, taste, hear, and smell in their daily lives; then, they will learn and develop understanding!  These beliefs are utilized in the unit of class sessions described above.

Teachers for these classes have important very active roles here.  They must guide the students to do and learn, carefully watch for student safety, and, supervise and maintain focus of students with the active hands-on operations.  The more these youngsters can relate what they see and do themselves, the more they will learn; additional examples about temperature will be encountered both in subsequent courses and activities outside schools.  Thus, early knowledge about temperature will be ongoing (i.e., teachers will know this is happening when students ask them about something from their life outside school).  Later science courses can directly continue from where these initial classes end.

Almost all grade/primary school teachers now should be able to handle the sessions suggested for this early unit on temperature without much special preparation. Teachers should please adapt this suggested program of activities to fit local resources, practical limitations, and scheduling.  Please note that atoms and energy are not mentioned for this very early science teaching.  Discuss my proposal thoroughly, give it a try, lots of good luck, and have fun!

Concluding remarks. 

A unit of classes concerning temperature is described for early science education in primary/grade schools.  The suggested series of classes involves active learning and utilizes teaching where the young students will see, touch, and feel what they are learning about; everything relates to their daily activities outside the classroom, yet also prepares them for subsequent science classes in school.

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

A JACKPOT FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IS CREATED BY JAMES E. AND VIRGINIA STOWERS!  PART II: THE STOWERS INSTITUTE IS A TERRIFIC NEW MODEL FOR FUNDING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH!

 

Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The life of a major benefactor to biomedical research, James E. Stowers, Jr. (1924-2014), was briefly introduced in the previous article (see: “Part I” ).  I have conjectured there that Jim Stowers must have understood exactly what are the very biggest problems and impediments for research in modern universities.  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research (see:  http://www.stowers.org/ ) precludes those destructive problems and represents a new model to better organize the funding and operations of scientific research at universities.  Part II now examines in more detail the differences between research centers at universities and the Stowers Institute.  I particularly hope that science faculty and administrators at universities will learn about and discuss this new model.

Major differences for science operations between universities and the Stowers Institute. 

The organization of financial support for scientific research at the Stowers Institute differs dramatically from that at universities in the US.  Universities now view science and research only as a business enterprise that is a good means to increase their financial income (i.e., from research grant awards).  This very widespread policy is so counterproductive for research progress that some even have concluded that university science must be dying (e.g., see: “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” and “Science has been Murdered in the United States, as Proclaimed by Kevin Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts” ).  Below are given the chief reasons why universities are so extensively  different from the Stowers Institute.

The number one reason why science in academia is so very unlike that at the Stowers Institute is that universities directly insist that faculty scientists rent laboratory space and support all expenses for their investigations by acquiring research grants.  For universities, faculty scientists now are only a means to the end of increasing their profits (see: “Money now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ); the science faculty presently is forced to spend too much time and emotional energy on trying to acquire more research grant awards, instead of actually doing experiments to produce more new results.  The Stowers Institute replaces research grants by the very large  endowment from Jim Stowers and his wife, Virginia; this endowment is purposefully arranged to continue generating new funds that will be used for future research expenses.

The second reason is that advances in basic research now are downplayed by the funding agencies and by universities, due to its greater distance from generating new products and financial rewards.  Universities and the research grant system give much emphasis to applied research and commercial involvements, since those produce income  more readily.  The Stowers Institute specifically targets basic research, which is the forerunner for all applied research.

A third reason is that the research grant system does not provide much direct support for experimental projects needing 10-20 years to complete.  The most significant questions for research are very large and complex, so answering them simply cannot be accomplished with only the usual 3-5 years of supported research study; getting a research grant renewed always is uncertain, even for famous faculty scientists.  This time limitation discourages scientists from studying the most important research questions. At the Stowers Institute, projects on large research questions are able to be undertaken.

The fourth reason is that the Stowers Institute employs research scientists using contract renewals instead of the traditional tenure system found in universities.  Nowadays, the main way to get tenured in university science departments is to be successful at acquiring research grants; the tenure system mostly counts dollars and differs greatly from the ongoing evaluation of research quality utilized at the Stowers Institute.  Thus, universities actually are rewarding their science faculty for business skills rather than rewarding them for research breakthroughs and science progress.

A fifth reason is that the intellectual atmosphere at the Stowers Institute is much freer and more encouraging of creativity, curiosity, innovation, and interdisciplinary studies than is found at modern universities.  Business is not the endpoint of science; at the Stowers Institute, the openly sought endpoint is research excellence.

What are the effects of these differences upon science and research? 

For today’s universities, science is just a business and their faculty scientists are businessmen and businesswomen.  Their pursuit of money fundamentally changes and distorts the true aim of scientific research.  The chief target of science faculty is no longer to discover new knowledge and increase understanding.  Instead, daily life for many university scientists involves the hyper-competition for research grants, which wastes both time and money, and, makes it very difficult to trust any fellow faculty scientists for advice  and collaborations (see: “All about Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  Accordingly, science at universities now is distorted, degenerated, and perverted; this extensive decay subverts science and research at universities.

Turning university research into a commercial activity distorts the traditional aims of science, and increases the corruption of scientists there (see: “Why is It so very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?” ).  Basic research remains as important as it always has been, and should not be repressed in favor of applied research.  The Stowers Institute recognizes these values and succeeds in pursuing excellence in biomedical science; its success seems to be directly due to the philosophy and organization instituted by its founder and directors.

The policies and organization that Jim Stowers initiated clearly go against all the serious problems for science at universities.  His distinctive design emphasizes using and encouraging creativity, exploration of new ideas by innovative research, vigorous collaborations, and much hard work; this atmosphere aims to result in research breakthroughs and encourages new concepts in basic science.  Jim Stowers and co-organizers clearly have shown how this idealistic atmosphere can be accomplished in today’s world.  It is noteworthy that some large pharmaceutical firms endow their own research institutes quite similarly to what has been done for the Stowers Institute.

Is this huge difference only a question of money? 

Of course, many will say that the donation of a billion dollars would let their university activate enlightened policies for its science.  I disagree, and believe that money alone will not remedy the negative aspects of current university science!  Also needed are wholesale changes in administrative policies, independent leadership, organization, philosophy, working atmosphere, and, much less dedication to commercialization.  All of these are essential!  Although making these changes would rescue university science from its present debilitation, it seems unlikely that such will be undertaken.

Any excuse by universities that they do not have such large funds does not explain why the huge endowments already in-hand at some universities are not spent for the support of scientific research and researchers in a manner analogous to the Stowers Institute.  Instead, these very large funds are used to try to further increase the financial income and profits of academic institutions (e.g., all sorts of entertaining amusements on and off campus, flashy brochures and other publicity,  programs for visiting prospective students and parents, public courses and lectures, travel programs, solicitation of donations, sports activities and athletic contests, television specials, etc.).

Why cannot university science departments mimic the model of the Stowers Institute, and thereby free themselves from their major problems? 

If it is not only a question of money, then there must be something else that impedes adopting the Stowers Institute as a model for conducting good scientific research.  Opinions for identifying this hidden  factor will differ, but I see the actual cause as being the commercialization of science at universities (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” ).  This commercialization changes the whole nature of academic science and research.  The research grant system was intended to enable scientific research, not to change and distort it.  Universities were supposed to produce new knowledge and concepts, to teach, and to investigate the truth, not to become financial centers.  All these ideals have changed so greatly at universities that good scientific research now is hindered and foundering.  The actual priorities are quite different from the needed priorities; until these are changed, faculty scientists cannot hope to escape from their enslavement by the research grant system.

Concluding remarks. 

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research stands as a very successful new model for promoting research advances and science progress.  The big difference to science that Jim and Virginia Stowers have made in the US can and should be copied by universities to reorganize and better foster their high quality research.  This large change in priorities and operations need not be done all at once (i.e., simultaneously for all science departments); it could start with one science department and then expand to others over a 10-year period.  The payoff to universities for removing the restrictions and distortions imposed by viewing scientific research only as a commercial business enterprise, will be a substantial elevation of the quality and vigor of their science activities, and, a more reliable future input of income.

The success of the Stowers Institute dramatically proves that science does not need to be harnessed and hobbled by the research grant system!  Bypassing the grave current problems at universities stemming from the research grant system will reduce or remove the vicious hyper-competition for research grant awards that badly distorts their science, and will increase job satisfaction for the science faculty.  The benefits shown by this new model give some hope that university science need not continue to decay and degenerate until it actually dies (see: “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” ).

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                          UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

QUESTIONS ABOUT SCIENCE FROM YOU TO Dr.M, AND FROM Dr.M TO YOU! 

Asking questions, answering questions, and questioning answers are vital for education! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Asking questions, answering questions, and questioning answers are vital for science education!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Following my recent posts with Q&A for assistant professors in science” , I now present some interesting  questions and answers between you and me!

Dr.M, please tell me why should I care anything about science and research?  It just doesn’t matter to me! 

Dr.M:  It will matter a whole bunch when you run into health problems, when new wars break out using weather as a destructive weapon, when TVs listen to your every spoken word at home, and, when it finally is admitted that you really are poisoning yourself and your children by what you eat and drink!  Due to the very deficient public education about science, you and most other adults have no idea what scientists do or how many of your everyday activities involve the products of science and engineering.  It will be fun for you to explore science; for starters, look on the internet for “NASA pictures from outer space” and, “3-D printing”!

Dr.M. asks you:  What is the thrill of research discovery for a scientist? 

Typical soccer mom:  It is just the same as finding a $50 bill when you are walking from your car into a supermarket!  I guess that research is fun and discovery is pure luck; it looks just like the lottery to me!  Discovery by scientists means they then are famous, can write a textbook, and get rich!

I love to watch science on TV for many hours almost every day because it all is so amusing!  Dr.M, can you please recommend which are the best science shows? 

Dr.M:  Most adults see science and research only as being some fantastic amusement.  Unfortunately, none of these science-as-entertainment shows deal with real scientists or real research. They are only for mindless amusement, and have much too much emphasis on who is the star researcher of the day, what horrible disease might be cured, and how science could solve some new global calamity.  Since I see all of this idiotic garbage as being a total waste of time, I will not recommend any to you!

Dr.M asks an Assistant Professor:  If your university employer turns down your application for tenure, what are you going to do? 

Assistant Professor:  Nobody taught me anything about how to get tenure in grad school.  I thought it was almost automatic so long as you were funded by research grants.  I know I will never win a Nobel Prize, but I still believe I am a successful research scientist!  If I didn’t enjoy lab research so much I would simply quit this nonsense and find a new job in the stock market or selling computers!

My husband and I want our young children to learn about science.  What is the best way to help them do that?  Do you think we should buy them a chemistry set, Dr.M? 

Dr.M: All young children have a strong curiosity, and they often focus that on what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.  For these youngsters, encourage them to explore and examine nature, and to learn about the world in your backyard or town (e.g., insects, birds, flowers, seeds, leaves, ponds and rivers, stars, beaches and soil, pollution, lightening, snow, garbage dumps, our moon, stars, etc., etc.).  Much can be done with little expense!  As they grow up they can use a magnifying glass, camera, and personal computer, all of which involve science and engineering.   A chemistry set is good for somewhat older children who show a special interest and liking for chemistry; however, for young kids having no affinity for chemistry it will probably only be a potentially dangerous toy (e.g., What does that taste like?).  Let your kids decide for themselves what they are interested in!

I looked on the internet for info about nanomaterials after reading one of your posts, Dr.M, but I just do not understand most of what I read.  What should I do?

Dr.M:  This situation is due to unfortunate general deficiencies in  science education.  Recognize that you have selected a large topic!  I suggest that you will find it easier if you study only a single more specific subject within the world of nanomaterials (e.g., carbon nanotubes, buckyballs, nanomedicine drug carriers, nanomachines, etc.).  Even without much background, you should be able to understand some descriptive articles about that subject in any Wikisite on the internet; be sure to also take a look at internet diagrams and videos for whatever subject you choose.

Dr.M. asks you:  Do you believe scientists should receive a much smaller paycheck than do star baseball players? 

Teenager:  What are the salary numbers?  Don’t star scientists get several million each year?  Postdocs must be equivalent to minor league players in baseball; what do they get?  Baseball players deserve millions because they bring in many more millions for their team owner.  Good research scientists should be paid at least as much as are professional baseball players!

I haven’t looked at any science since I was in high school.  Now I just retired.  Tell me, Dr.M, why should I spend any time with science now? 

Dr.M:  Science is not something you have to do, but it sure makes life more interesting!  Have you ever heard of 3-D printers?  Do you realize what they can create?  Don’t you wonder how they work?  Aren’t you curious about why your knees now are causing you pain, or why some new medicine might magically be able to give you full mobility again?  Do you realize that your children might not retire until age 80, and could live to be over 100 years old?  All of that is science in action!  Pick any topic that has some personal interest for you, and see what videos are available about that subject on the internet; I can almost guarantee that you will find something fascinating!

Dr.M. asks you:  Do you admire any scientist? 

College undergrad:  No, because I don’t know any scientists, and have no idea what they have done with their research.  I don’t know any Nobel Prizers or local scientists.  They all mean nothing to me!

I tried to read about research on new batteries, but I just cannot understand all the special terms and concepts.  Are there any translations available just for ordinary folks, Dr.M? 

Dr.M:  You are totally correct that all the special terminology creates a barrier preventing many people from reading about science.  The closest to actual translations are simplified articles found in some science magazines and news websites.  Take a look at such internet sites as: “ScienceNews for Students” (https://student.societyforscience.org/sciencenews-students ), and “Popular Science Magazine” ( http://www.popsci.com/tags/science ).   Good luck!

Dr.M. asks you:  What is the purpose of scientific research? 

Hollywood celeb:  I really have absolutely no idea, but I do love to watch science on TV!  It’s just so funny!  Research scientists must be mad!  I always laugh my head off and cannot believe these guys and gals are for real!

I appreciate science and would like to help scientific research, but I am not wealthy.  Tell me, Dr.M, how can I help out? 

Dr.M:  Even small financial contributions to promote scientific research always are welcome at science research organizations, universities, high schools, science societies, research workshops, museums, and other special science organizations.  Some people like to donate via contributions to crowd-funding organizations (i.e., search with any internet browser for “crowdfunding for science”).  Money-free ways to support science and research are to attend public presentations and discussions by professional scientists, or, sign up for a free subscription to specialized science journals, magazines, and websites (e.g., Microscopy Today ( http://www.microscopy-today.com ), “Microscopedia” ( http://www.microscopedia.com ), SciTechDaily ( http://scitechdaily.com/ ), and, “Chemical and Engineering News” (  http://cen.acs.org/magazine/93/09334.html ).  You also can volunteer to personally participate in research projects at a nearby field site or laboratory.  Last, but definitely not least, encourage your own children and young relatives to  have some interest in science!

Dr.M. asks you:  Why can’t scientists agree about whether global warming is real? 

Aunt Maggie:  I guess they just love to argue!  Why don’t they do more research and less yapping?  Last winter was really cold, so I don’t believe whatever they say!  Maybe they are arguing about nothing?  It doesn’t matter much to me, anyhow!

Dr.M. asks you:  Why do some scientists cheat? 

Uncle Joe:  Probably they are after more money!  There are only small penalties if they do get caught, so why shouldn’t they take a chance on getting rich faster?  Everybody else today cheats at their work,  so why shouldn’t scientists?

Dr.M, Why won’t you allow any comments and e-mails on your website?

Dr.M:  I refuse to waste my valuable time dealing with lonely souls, morons having an empty life, or hungry entrepreneurs, as announced on November 14, 2014 (see: “Special Notice to All from Dr.M!” ).  Although It was necessary to do that, if 99.9% of 100,000 comments to you were ads for other websites or duplicate messages disguised as comments, then I believe you also would ban them.  It still amazes me that on any one day I used to receive multiple word-for-word identical messages from several different continents!  The blogosphere certainly is polluted by spamming on botnets!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                          UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

SOME Q&A JUST FOR ASSISTANT PROFESSORS IN SCIENCE!

 

Assistant Professors now Spend Most of their Workday Applying for Research Grants!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Assistant Professors now Spend Most of their Workdays Applying for Research Grant Awards!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Assistant Professors in science are younger university faculty who work on research, teaching, and assorted BS.  They often also are busy with marriage, buying a house, and starting a family.  After obtaining their first research grant award as an independent investigator, they begin supervising graduate students in their area of science expertise.  The twin career targets of Assistant Professors are to get their research grant(s) renewed, and to obtain tenure.

This article is only for Assistant Professors!  It uses a question and answer format to give my advice about handling certain tasks and problematic situations commonly faced by junior faculty in any area of science.  This advice is based upon my own personal experiences and observations as a science faculty member in several universities.  I hope these discussions will prove interesting and useful to you!

Why is my salary so low as an Assistant Professor? 

Assistant Professors are at the bottom of the academic ladder!  Some prestigious universities limit the salaries of their junior faculty to inappropriately low  levels.  Upon being promoted to tenured rank, the former Assistant Professors then get a major increase in salary.  The usual explanation is that universities want junior faculty to prove their institutional commitment, and they need to keep all their senior long-term employees happy.  I feel that this policy actually is just another part of universities always trying to maximize their financial profits; the same self-centered business mentality also explains why some of these same institutions only infrequently award tenure to their junior faculty!

Upon being hired, I was given only a very small lab.  I now have a good first grant with one postdoc and 3 new grad students, and so need more lab space.  How can I get this without upsetting other faculty here? 

The first part of your question is easy: get a second research grant award and you will receive assignment of more lab space.  If additional space is not offered, then you should realize that your institution probably is not very serious about scientific research.  Tell your departmental chair that you see no choice but to move, since your grant-supported research is being hindered; that might cause a revision of your research space assignment.  Otherwise, take appropriate action to find a better employer and give yourself a greater chance to be satisfied with your career as a scientist. 

The second part of your question is totally difficult, because lab space always is tight, and all science faculty are competing with each other for space assignments.  If any faculty member is given additional space for their research activities, then someone else’s assignment must be reduced; even if it is completely obvious that you fully  deserve more lab space, human nature says that the person losing space will always have a grudge against you.  Try to find some senior professor who has your respect, and ask for advice about this very sticky situation. 

Are research collaborations important for Assistant Professors? 

The short answer is, “yes indeed!”.  External collaborations will help your research  publications become more solid, and these coworkers usually will be your supporters for promotions and grant reviews.  Internal collaborations within your department and your university often are the start of developing a small research group, and are particularly valuable when you are being considered for promotion to tenure.  Collaborations are good both for science and for business! 

I just got re-appointed as an Assistant Professor.  What should I do in order to become tenured? 

The traditional answer to your question is that achieving excellence in research and in teaching will qualify you to become tenured.  Those activities will help, but they certainly do not explain either why some junior faculty are tenured despite their weak accomplishments, or why some accomplished candidates are denied a promotion to tenure.  My best answer to your question is to pass on the advice that one of my more senior colleagues at a different university gave me when I asked him the same question: “What you really have to do is to fit in with the rest of the faculty in your department.  Make them see that you are valuable to them.”  I believe he is 100% correct.  Both grants and effective teaching have importance, but your ability to be part of the group is what will really make your Chair and other faculty support your promotion to tenured rank. 

Is it necessary to become tenured? 

In principle, academic tenure is a promise that you will never be fired from your job without just cause, thereby guaranteeing your freedom of thought and speech.  Of course, the very best long-term job security is not tenure, but is to have such good professional success that other quality institutions would be delighted to hire you.  I know one unusual scientist who decided to forgo tenure because it was such a bother to go through the evaluation process; he was independently wealthy and requested to continue working at his university without being tenured.  His employer said no way!  Eventually there was a crisis situation with his packing up all his stuff in preparation for moving (i.e., several other institutions wanted to hire him!).  His employer finally gave him a very expedited review and promptly announced that he now was tenured.   Thus, the actual answer to your question is “yes”; however, do not forget that the soft-money faculty at universities are not tenured. 

I am fortunate to have acquired several research grant awards.  Instead of being considered for tenure, can I just switch into a soft-money position?  That move will get me a higher salary than my hard-money position! 

Making such a switch would be quite unusual and will be questioned for the rest of your career.  I can only suggest that you should make a written list of all the positive and negative features for making that change, and then debate with yourself what you should do.  It is worth noting that many scientists working on soft-money positions in both universities and industries are not tenured, but still  have a good and productive career.  Their employment actually has quite a lot of security without any tenure so long as they always perform well and fulfill the needs of their job situation. 

After 6 years working as an Assistant Professor, my application for promotion to tenure was unexpectedly turned down!  What the hell am I supposed to do now? 

Think clearly about how you will answer the following key questions: (1) If that decision would be reversed, would you now want to stay on as a faculty employee? (2) Previous to this negative decision, did any other institutions ever voice an interest in hiring you?  (3) If you could magically be hired in any position at any location you wish, what would you work on and where would the new employer be located?  Your answers will indicate: (1) if you want to stay at your present job site, (2) what are your best opportunities for a new job in academia, and, (3) how much you still want to do research work at some university, versus switching into a research position in industry or a science-related job outside of universities (see: “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part II” , and, “Part III” ).  

Having to move saves some scientists from lengthy dissatisfaction and endless emotional turmoil!  Do try to calm down and clear your mind so you can better decide what you really want to do with the rest of your life and career.  I wish you good luck! 

I was just turned down for tenure, but I far outperformed another Assistant Professor who received tenure!  Should I file a lawsuit about my unjust decision? 

Mistakes about tenure are made rather frequently, so welcome to the club!  My advice is to try to picture yourself some years into the future … if you win a lawsuit and then are given tenure, will you really be satisfied and at ease 10 years from now?  I doubt it, and suggest that you will still be upset.  Recognize that lawsuits in academia take nearly forever to be adjudicated (e.g., several to many years), and always are very expensive for the initiator (i.e., you might have to sue an entire state or city if your university is part of some government). 

Concluding remarks.

Assistant professors undergo many trials and tribulations in addition to working on their research and teaching activities.  It is not an exaggeration to say that they are always under observation,  evaluation, and pressuring by someone (e.g., their Chair, the Deans, administrators, graduate students, postdocs, classroom students, fellow teachers, fellow committee members, manuscript referees and editors, reviewers of grant applications, officials at granting agencies, safety office, etc., etc.).  Those who continue to be active and productive researchers while dealing with all this crap certainly deserve lots of credit! 

Tenure is not everything, does not always protect freedom of opinion and speech, and, is not much used by faculty for its main purpose.  It often is misused and abused,  both by universities and by faculty.  I personally know an Assistant Professor who became tenured, and from the very next day on he never again stepped into his lab; how utterly disgusting! 

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

SOME Q&A JUST FOR POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOWS IN SCIENCE!

 

Look!  I'm Getting Paid to have Fun Doing Research!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Postdocs are Paid to have Lots of Fun Doing Research!!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

By producing new research publications in science journals, postdoctoral fellows try to grow their reputation as active young scientists full of promise (see: “Postdocs, Part 2” ).  Postdoctoral researchers also typically solidify their identity with a given field of science.  One or more postdoctoral training periods usually are followed by acquisition of professional employment in universities, medical schools, industries, science-related organizations, new small businesses, etc.

This article is only for postdocs! It uses a question and answer format to offer my advice about some common problematic situations faced by postdocs in any area of science.  This advice is based upon my own experiences and observations during 2 postdoctoral appointments, and later as a faculty researcher and teacher.  I hope all of this will prove interesting and useful to you!

What practical accomplishments should I work for as a Postdoc? 

Number one is to make research discoveries of importance, so that you will be first author of publications in major science journals.  Number 2 is to expand your technical expertise with research instruments, experimental approaches, and, subjects being investigated (e.g., other minerals, other stars, other life forms, other bases for chemical synthesis, etc.).  Number 3 is to make yourself known to leaders in your chosen research field; this often will provide more opportunities later when you are seeking a job opening, a collaborator, or, advice and counsel.  All of these will help establish your identity and reputation as a professional scientist. 

How can I work on my own special subject of interest as a postdoc? 

This common question is misplaced, since you should have settled this before accepting any appointment as a postdoctoral fellow (see “Postdocs, Part 2” ).  Once your position starts, your options are limited because you then are obligated to work on the research project(s) of your chosen mentor.  Recognize that all the skills and experience you acquire now with any research operations can be used sometime later to examine your own favorite research subjects.  

Should I work only on a single research project as a postdoc? 

If your mentor approves, you can work on other projects, too, if they do not interfere with your primary research objective.  For example, you might contribute your expertise with some research instrument to the project of a fellow postdoc who does not know how to operate that, but needs the data.  These internal collaborations are a good way to get some extra publications and to increase your range of research experience.  But, remember what your chief effort always must be given to! 

How can I, as a young postdoctoral researcher, get noticed by other scientists? 

You must take the lead! The number one way to get noticed is to publish important results of your research in good science journals; quality always gets noticed, and speaks for itself.  You should present research results every year at science meetings.  At meetings, you can invite a few selected scientists to come and look at your poster; if they have given an invited talk, find them and ask one or 2 well-phrased questions about their research.  Another good request is to ask for permission to show one of their published figures during your presentation of an abstract at a science meeting. 

Should I take a second or third postdoctoral position? 

If you are committed to finding employment as a research scientist, but no suitable job openings are available, then the answer is “yes”.  With an additional postdoctoral period, you then will be able to continue doing research and will gain additional publications.  However, if you have not found a job because you are out-competed by other job seekers, you should look for additional training at another postdoctoral position so that will fill in your weak area(s).  There is nothing wrong with working as a postdoc for some longer time, provided you are not used as a technician or a slave.  If you can find a suitable mentor who values your work, has research interests like yours, and is well-funded, this can be eminently satisfactory; as a “Research Associate”, your salary will advance, you will publish as first author,  and you will not need to worry about getting research grants. 

How can I learn about good job openings? 

As the saying goes, “Read Science (magazine) backwards!”.  Study all their listed jobs every week, so that you can discern who is offering jobs, what types of positions are available, and which job opportunities and requirements are prominent with different fields and different kinds of employers; there also are several other good sites listing science job openings on the web.  Annual meetings of science societies often have a job center listing current openings; in some cases, interviews are conducted at these meetings.  Let a few of your professional contacts (e.g., scientists familiar with your work, your former thesis advisor, members of your thesis committee, external collaborators, etc.) know that you are actively looking for a position; not all jobs are advertised, and your associates might bring a few of those to your attention. 

What is most valuable in a postdoc’s curriculum vitae (c.v.) for landing a good job? 

Number one is peer-reviewed publications of your important research results.  Number 2 is how many research methods and instruments you have used and mastered.  Having given some guest lectures in a course could help in getting a university faculty job.  Attending advanced technical workshops can be a plus.  Applying for a patent, receiving a postdoctoral grant, or giving invited seminars always is impressive.  Customize your c.v. for each open position (i.e., an application for a university job is quite different from an application submitted for a job at an industrial R&D center). 

What should I present for my job seminar?  

Present something that is interesting, very solid science, and not too controversial.  Include some results that are not yet published, and be absolutely certain to leave at least 10 minutes for questions from the audience before your scheduled time limit is over.  Remember that your audience must be able to comprehend everything you say, and must see exactly how you and your research will fit into their local activities (i.e., not all employers want to hire a super hot dog researcher!).

How do I find out about the research grant system? 

First, ask your postdoctoral mentor and other local research grant holders to advise you about their strategy for meriting an award.  If your mentor reviews grant applications, request that you will be allowed to read one of them and then to also read their critique.  Second, carefully study the detailed instructions for writing a grant application put out by the several different federal granting agencies.  Third, if and when you feel up to it, spend one month to compose a practice grant application; ask your mentor to criticize it, and you then will learn very much that you now do not know! Lastly, study my recent article on “Unasked Questions about Research Grants for Science, and My Answers!” .  

Why will I later have to spend so very much time with research grant applications?  I want to work on research, not on shuffling papers! 

The short answer is that science faculty in academia need to obtain money for their research expenses, and research grants are the traditional way to get that.  What makes this much more difficult nowadays is the intense hyper-competition for getting research grant awards (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ); every scientist is competing with all other scientists, and everything in a career as a university scientist depends upon getting and staying funded.  Recognize clearly that as a university scientist you also will be a business person (see: “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities “ , and, “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” )! 

After my first postdoctoral job, I have decided that I will not work in a university.  I want a science-related job in business.  How should I apply for such? 

My best suggestion is for you to seek advice on good approaches from one or more scientists having exactly such a position.  Be rigorous in checking out all possible employers, and note who has been hired recently.  Before your interview, get facts and figures about each business, and then adapt your c.v. or resume to the specific company or opening.  Try to construct a few ideas whereby your science and research training will help them with their business activities and objectives.  Be aware that many large companies have an initial training period when  the new employee is fully instructed about their business and the employee’s role(s). 

Concluding remarks. 

For many university scientists, their postdoctoral years were the best and most exciting in their entire career.  Work hard and enjoy it! 

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

SOME Q&A JUST FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS IN SCIENCE!

 

Graduate Students in Science Must be Very Clever!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Graduate Students in Science Must Always be Very Clever!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Although each different graduate school has its own special flavor, they all provide specialized knowledge in a given field of science, and, organized 1:1 instruction about how to conduct research experiments and be a scientist.  Typically, graduate students learn a lot from courses and laboratory work, assemble and defend  a doctoral thesis, and, produce one or more research publications.  Graduate school usually is followed by intensive semi-independent research as a postdoctoral fellow.

This article is only for graduate students in science!  It uses a question and answer format to advise you about how to handle some common problematic situations in graduate school.  Further information and other opinions certainly should be sought from your fellow students, your official advisor, and any of your course instructors.   My advice is based upon my own experiences and observations as a graduate student and later as a faculty researcher and teacher.  I hope all of this will prove interesting and useful to you!

Why do I have to take yet more courses in graduate school?  I want to learn how to do research!    

Graduate school training provides a number of useful features needed by all research scientists: (1) classroom courses instill in-depth knowledge and advanced understanding about one or several areas of science; (2) laboratory courses provide detailed knowledge about research approaches and methods; (3) coursework with library and internet studies, and making oral presentations, give experience in explaining your research  and answering questions.  These are directly related to what you will do later, no matter where you will be employed.  Any advanced course including critical analysis of research investigations will increase your own skills with design of experiments, picking adequate controls, and drawing valid conclusions from a given set of experimental data.  You will learn the practice of doing good lab research when you begin work in the lab of your thesis advisor.  Being a scientist is more than just performing experiments!

I’m not good with math!  Why must I take a statistics course?  

I strongly recommend that all graduate students should take a course in applied statistics because it will help deal with experimental design and data analysis.  You don’t have to become an expert, but you almost certainly will need to know how to use the basic concepts and procedures.  

How should I pick my thesis advisor? 

Ideally, you have enrolled in a graduate school because you already picked one or several faculty scientists you want to train you.  If your choice is still open, then the following general criteria seem most important.  The best thesis advisor has: (1) a successful research career in the special field you are most interested in, (2) an active research grant (and preferably, this has been renewed), (3) a good record for training and placing graduate students (and postdocs), (4) ambition to excel in the special field of interest, and (5) room for you to work in their lab.  Discuss any questions or concerns with your selected professor before you begin.

What do research rotations accomplish?  It seems like a waste of time to me! 

Most of your research experience in grad school comes under the supervision of your thesis advisor.  Picking this person is an extremely important task that will follow you for the rest of your career.  Most schools require a rotation through the laboratories of at least 3 different professors; to be meaningful, each rotation should extend for 1-2 months.  Via these rotations, new grad students will learn what each supervisor is like, what research questions are being attacked in their lab, what instruments and methods are in use, what staff (technicians, postdocs, collaborators, and other students) are working in each lab, and, what each supervisor expects from their graduate student colleagues.  After these  rotations, the student should be able to decide who they want to study with; the faculty use this experience to evaluate students with regard to interest, level of energy, intelligence, aptitude to learn and acquire skills, and, mentality.  The rotations also provide initial entries into your list of methods and instruments you know how to use, so they are valuable even if you already know which professor you will select.

What do I do if there is no professor working on my main subject of interest?

First, admit that you have made a mistake!  You should have seen whether there were suitable mentors before you enrolled in any school.  Second, decide if you are willing to make some changes in your main interests so that you can work with faculty that are available.  Third, if not, then apply to transfer into another department or a different graduate school having one or more faculty scientists working in your area of interest.

What should my doctoral thesis accomplish? 

Successfully completing and defending a graduate school thesis is taken as proof that you are qualified to be a scientific investigator, a teacher of science, and an expert on some aspect of modern science. The findings from your experimental studies show what you can do in research, and are the first basis to establish your reputation as a professional scientist.  Any good thesis will provide you with one or more publications in professional science journals, and might also result in your obtaining a patent.  Successful defense of your thesis entitles you to be hired in a number of different employment situations.

My thesis advisor just had his grant renewal turned down, so I must hurry up to finish my project!  But, I only have worked on it for one year!  Help! 

You indeed have a difficult problem!  You must first discuss all possible options with your thesis advisor.  In some cases, there might be another professor working in a similar or related area who will let you continue your current research within their lab.  In other cases, you might have to move into some other area of interest, and then find a new thesis advisor.  Yet other possibilities include moving into a different department at the same graduate school, or transferring into another school.  Depending on all the logistics and the time limitations, it might be good to use what you already have done to first acquire a Master’s Degree with your present advisor.

I am half way to completing my doctoral thesis; how soon should I start looking for a postdoctoral position and for a job? 

I recommend starting both today!  You can never begin too early with these tasks!  At science meetings, observe what other scientists are working on, who is researching in your area(s) of interest, and who gives invited presentations.  Go up to some and ask a good question; if you have a poster, you can invite them to view it.  Take a look at the job openings displayed at science meetings, and, start deciding what kind of employment and which locations appeal to you.  Everything you do as a graduate student says what you are; this will be fully inspected when you later apply for a postdoctoral position or a job.

I have been a grad student for 6 years, and my thesis advisor wants me to do still  more work.  Maybe I will never be able to finish!  What can I do? 

This is a common problem!  Students always want to finish graduate school and start being a Postdoc as soon as possible, but thesis advisors want them to do a very complete and excellent job with their thesis research.  The goals of both parties are natural and good.  I know several grad students who finished only after 10 years of work!

I offer the following advice.  Above all else, try to maintain good relations with your thesis advisor, and recognize that this person knows more than you do about science and careers in science.  Discuss all with him or her, and try to get an explicit list of exactly what you still need to accomplish; then, get to work and monitor your own progress every month.  If that only produces more problems, then discuss your situation with one or more members of your thesis advisory committee.  I cannot say anything further because I do not know if you are wasting time, fully understand what is needed to get a doctoral degree, are getting good results from your experiments, etc.; your thesis committee should know all of this, so ask for advice from them.

Concluding remarks.   

Almost all graduate students encounter some perplexing situation(s) in graduate school.  Handling those challenges is part of your advanced education!  You do not have to take my advice, but you should carefully consider how and why your views disagree with my recommendations.  It often is valuable to discuss everything with a trusted faculty scientist or another graduate student (i.e., one attending a different school).  Good luck!

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE


A FINAL JUDGMENT IS GIVEN TO DR. HARUKO OBOKATA: MISCONDUCT OF RESEARCH!

 

Scientific research findings are not always valid!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Scientific research findings are not always valid!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Unfortunately, some doctoral scientists cheat.  With the terrible job pressures  in working on research at modern universities, the temptation to take the easy way out by being dishonest is always present (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science”).  Examples of dishonesty in science continue to pop up almost every month [e.g., 1-4], and many more escape notice.  Fortunately, most professional scientists have good ethical standards and do not cheat.  The few corrupted scientists who are caught usually are penalized in a rather soft manner, and publicity always is minimized so as to avoid undermining the enormous trust that the public has for professional scientists.

This article presents the sad story of Dr. Haruko Obokata, a young Japanese researcher who now has been very thoroughly investigated and penalized for research fraud [e.g., 3,4].  This case is particularly worthy of attention because it dramatically illustrates what can make a scientist cheat (see: “Why Would any Scientist ever Cheat?” ), and the consequences that can follow later.

Background to the controversy about Dr. Obokata’s research. 

Dr. Obokata worked as a researcher at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, one of the most prestigious research institutes in Japan.  She investigated “stem cells“, which are pluripotent cells that can be induced to become different normal cell types.  Medical science is very interested in stem cells for possible use in repairing and replacing damaged organs.  Dr. Obokata reported finding a simple and easy new method to produce many stem cells with 2 papers in the stellar science journal, Nature.  This research finding was a big surprise; her new method was totally unexpected, gave wonderful results, and was labeled as being revolutionary.  Dr. Obokata  became very famous overnight; many news stories about her spectacular research results were issued, and interviews with her were featured on television.  Soon after her publications appeared, other scientists eagerly tried to duplicate her reported results, but they all were not successful; this rapidly led to many questions about her amazing research findings and the truthfulness of her research.  For science, research results must be reproducible to be considered valid.  

Due to the enlarging doubts raised about her research results, local investigations were undertaken, but these only produced more questions and more controversy.  Extensive investigations followed, and produced no verification of her new methodology.  Throughout this controversy, Dr. Obokata maintained that her research results were real, but she was not able to explain why other scientists could not duplicate her results.  Many coworkers, supervisors, and other researchers then were questioned as the large controversy expanded further.  Finally, Dr. Obokata was asked to duplicate her own published lab results at Riken while she was being observed by a panel of fellow scientists; after 8 months of work in the lab, the results of this definitive test were negative [3].  Just a few months ago, after almost 2 years of investigations by institutions and governmental bodies,  an expert panel in Japan finished their deliberations and issued a final verdict that Dr. Obokata was guilty of research misconduct [3,4].  

Consequences of the guilty verdict for Dr. Obokata. 

This verdict now is finalized, the papers in Nature were retracted, and, Dr. Obokata has resigned from her position at Riken and been fined [3,4].  The penalties in this judgment also include reprimands for several of her supervisors and associates; one supervisor was so upset at the shame of this very public situation that he committed suicide at age 52 [3].  A number of high officials at the reorganized Riken were replaced in the accompanying administrative scandal; due to this widely publicized situation, the national government was stimulated to issue revised standards for research conduct and misconduct [4]. 

Many feel that the cause of Dr. Obokata’s unethical activities with data manipulation and fabrication once again lies in the intense pressures on academic scientists to make important discoveries, publish spectacular reports, and obtain more research funding.  The exact same pressures today are acting upon very many other university scientists all over the world; undoubtedly, some others also will succumb to the temptation to use dishonest means to overcome these job pressures.  

Is this misconduct a general feature in science, or is it peculiar to certain cultures? 

As I have noted previously (see: “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?” ), the ultimate cause of unethical conduct in scientific research is simply human nature.  Scientists are just like all other people in that they can and do make mistakes and wrong judgments.  Thus, I believe that this old problem of dishonesty in science is very general.  Human cultures certainly do influence their science.  In some countries, new doctoral theses complete with tables of data and full analyses are available for purchase.  In such  cases, more dishonesty must be expected later when the new doctoral scientist starts researching and publishing.  However, even large modern countries with very extensive good research operations still have ongoing problems with corruption and misconduct of research.  Thus, this general problem is not only due to culture or nationality. 

The case with Dr. Obokata is somewhat less severe than another recent finding of large shocking misconduct at the University of Tokyo [e.g., 4].  These scandals led to  important changes in policies, awareness, and education about  science ethics in Japan.  I must explicitly note here that this problem is not peculiar to Japan!  I have no reservations in making that statement, since I know many honest scientists in Japan, and always am most positively impressed with the high quality of Japanese science.  These recent ethical scandals in Japan’s research enterprise are just like those in other modern countries.  

What does this example of misconduct say about modern science?  

The events in Dr. Obokata’s case are typical for previous instances where cheating at research has been caught: (1) it takes a whole big bunch of time and effort to finally reach a verdict, simply because it is extremely difficult to ever prove dishonesty when the alleged perpetrator maintains insistence that the false results are really true; (2) the investigations always expand to include collaborators and coworkers, supervisors, reviewers and editors, and, the prevailing atmosphere for professional ethics at the institution(s) involved; (3) after a verdict finally is reached, all of science gets a bad name; and, (4) although reforms are made to prevent this from happening so easily, the actual causes for misconduct in modern science always remain unaffected

Nobody ever seems to focus attention and reforms on the gigantic pressures faced by all scientists doing research in modern universities (e.g., get more research grant money, get more research publications, get more experimental results and more discoveries, get more research breakthroughs, etc.).  These are not simply job duties or expectations, but rather are constant worries for university scientists.  Failure to succeed in these efforts will have bad consequences for the career of any faculty scientist.  By not countering the actual causes of dishonesty and corruption the only possible expectation is that this problem for science will not only continue, but also will increase.  The case of Dr. Obokata is not unique; many other cheaters are never caught, and the pressures to be dishonest remain active throughout the entire world of science.  

Concluding remarks. 

Dishonesty in science and cheating at research are ongoing very general problems that will not disappear due to wishful thinking.  Most cheating in science begins with a single individual, but soon spreads to involve associated research workers and administrators.  Much stronger penalties, much closer attention to detecting misconduct, and much better training about the necessity for total honesty in science are needed (see: “Why is it  so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?” ).  Cheating in order to get more research grant money is particularly liable to be increasing due to the overwhelming hyper-competition for acquiring research grants among modern university scientists (see: “All about Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ). 

[1]  Barbash, F., 2014.  An obscure academic journal.  A memorable peer review scandal.  The Washington Post, July 11, 2014, Morning Mix.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/11/the-most-brazen-peer-review-scandal-anyone-can-remember/

[2]  Barbash, F., 2015.  Major publisher retracts 43 scientific papers amid wider fake peer-review scandal.  The Washington Post, March 27, 2015, Morning Mix.  Available on the internet at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/27/fabricated-peer-reviews-prompt-scientific-journal-to-retract-43-papers-systematic-scheme-may-affect-other-journals/ .

[3]  Rasko, J. and Power, C., 2015.  What pushes scientists to lie?  The disturbing but familiar story of Haruko Obokata.  The Guardian , February 18, 2015.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/feb/18/haruko-obokata-stap-cells-controversy-scientists-lie .  SPECIAL NOTE:  This is an extremely well-written and very perceptive report.  All scientists should read it!  Ditto for grad students and postdocs!

[4]  The Japan Times, Opinion, 2015.  Blight of research misconduct.  The Japan Times, February 18, 2015.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/02/18/editorials/blight-research-misconduct .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP!   TO MENU 

                                                          UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

UNASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT RESEARCH GRANTS FOR SCIENCE, AND MY ANSWERS!

Answers are badly needed for the many questions about research grants in science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Answers are badly needed for the many questions about research grants in science!      (http://dr-monsrs.net)
 

Research grants pay for all the many expenses of doing scientific research in universities, and now are the primary focus for faculty scientists.  Size and number of grants determines salary level, promotions, amount of assigned laboratory space, teaching duties required, professional status and reputation, and, ability to have graduate students working in a given lab.  Research grants typically are awarded to science faculty for 3-5 years; grant renewals are not always successful, or can be funded only partially.  Without continuing to acquire and maintain this external funding, it is basically impossible to be employed or doing research as a  university scientist in the United States.

This condition causes many secondary problems, all of which impede research progress.  In my opinion, the very worst of these is the hyper-competition for research grants (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  Every scientist  is competing with every other scientist for an award from a limited pool of money.  For university scientists, this activity consumes giant amounts of time that would and should be spent on research experiments, burns up large amounts of personal energy, distorts emotions and disturbs sleep,  causes and encourages dishonesty, and, is very frustrating whenever  applications are not successful.  I previously discussed how all this causes so many university scientists to be dissatisfied with their career (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job?  Part I” , and, “Part II” ). 

This essay gives questions about the present research grant system that usually are not asked, and my best answers to them no matter how disturbing that might be.  I have phrased these questions just as they would be given by non-scientist readers of this website.  Everyone should know that I have reviewed grant applications as a member of several special review panels, held several research grants (for which I am very thankful!), and, also had several of my applications rejected.  Hence, my responses to these questions are based upon my own personal experiences as a faculty scientist.  

Maybe the hyper-competition actually is good!  Isn’t it true that the very best research scientists always will be funded? 

Not always!  Sometimes the “best research scientists” also get rejected, or are only partially funded; despite their status, they can get careless, arrogant, or too aged.  Nevertheless, leading scientists are favored to stay funded because  they understand exactly how the grant system works, and have easier interactions with officials at the granting agencies.  In my opinion, only indirect correlations exist between success in acquiring very many research dollars, and production of many breakthrough research results.  Excelling in either one says little about results in the other.  

Do scientists doing very good research always get funded? 

Not always!  Getting a grant or a renewal always is chancy and never is certain, since this decision involves strategy, governmental budgets, contacts with officials at the granting agencies, which side of the bed reviewers get up from, and many other non-science factors.  Young scientists spend very many years with their research training and early work as a member of some science faculty, but then can be abruptly discharged for having trouble or failing at this business task; remember that these scientists are trained to be researchers, and are not graduates of a business school!  

Don’t university scientists mainly need to get good research publications? 

The main job of university scientists today is no longer to get good publications, but rather is to acquire more research grant funds!  I doubt that science graduate students ever intend to work for over a decade to become a faculty scientist just so they can spend their professional life chasing money (see: “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” ).  But, that is exactly what the hyper-competition forces them to do!  For most researchers, the hyper-competition for grants in universities badly distorts what it means to be a scientist; hence, I believe it is very bad for science. 

Aren’t scientists trained about how to deal with this research grant problem when they were graduate students or postdocs? 

There certainly are no organized sessions or courses in finance, commerce, or business given to graduate students in science, even though university science now certainly is a big business (see: “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” .

Isn’t there some way faculty scientists can avoid this situation? 

Yes indeed, but it ain’t so easy!  Switching to a research job in industry or to a non-research job outside universities will resolve this problem situation.  The main way  university scientists try to preclude this problem is to acquire 2 (or more!) research grants; then, if one award later is not renewed, the other one then will keep the faculty scientist’s career intact.  Of course, this strategy of seeking to acquire multiple research grants has its own costs and directly serves to make the hyper-competition even more intense. 

Why not simply require all faculty scientists to get 2 research grants?  

This idea ignores the fact that running a productive research lab in academia takes up a huge bunch of precious time.  Faculty scientists with 2 research grants usually become so short of time that they must switch gears so as to function as a research manager, rather than continue as a research scientist.  Some managers even reserve one half-day per week where they are not to be interrupted for any reason by anyone while they work in their own lab.  Another fact to be recognized is that most university scientists today do not ever hold 2 concurrent research grants. 

Isn’t there counselling and help given to faculty members who lose their grant? 

At some universities this now is done, thank goodness!  However, at many others, the affected professionals must try to get funded again all by themselves.  It is a sign of the vicious nature of the hyper-competition for research grants that any scientists who try to help a fellow faculty colleague (i.e., a competitor) necessarily are also hurting themselves.

Cannot some research experiments be done without a grant?  

This could be done, but it is not permitted!  Upon rejection of an application for renewal, faculty scientists soon lose their assigned laboratory space, thus precluding any more experiments; at some institutions, each then is viewed as a “loser” and is suspected of being a “failed scientist”.  I consider this system of “feast or famine” to be horribly ridiculous; nevertheless, it does show loud and clear what is the true end of scientific research in modern universities (see: “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”). 

Is there some other way to support science without causing such difficult problems? 

This is theoretically possible, but in practice it is nearly impossible because the present research grant system is so deeply entrenched.  There is a very large activation barrier to making any changes since universities and leaders at the granting agencies both are very happy with the status quo (i.e., universities get good profits from the research grants of their science faculty, and research grant agencies receive an increasing number of applications for financial support).  Although this question is discussed in private by university scientists, I am not aware of any open general discussions about trying out some alternative approaches to support research activities in science. 

If the research grant system really is so troubled and has such awful effects, why don’t all the university scientists protest? 

Every university scientist holding a research grant knows better than to complain about being a slave in the modern research grant system, because they want to continue being funded.  As the saying goes, “Do not bite the hand that feeds you”! 

My comments and conclusions. 

I see the present problems with the research grant system as being very unfortunate for science.  The current situation has bad effects on research progress and clearly is very vicious to some scientists.  This system is  strongly supported by both all universities and the granting agencies.  Any proposals to make any changes will be strongly opposed by all the beneficiaries of this system, including funded scientists working at universities. 

My main conclusions are that (1) business and money now rule science, and (2) everything about scientific research at universities now is money (see: “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” , and, “3 Money Cycles Support Scientific Research” ).  I  certainly am not the only one to reach these conclusions (i.e., search for “money in science” on any internet browser, and you will see what I mean!). 

Quality of experimental research, creative ideas for experiments, derivation of innovative concepts, and working hard with a difficult project are no longer very important.  All that matters now is to get the money!  All these negatives form a strong basis for why I regretfully believe that science now is dying (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ). 

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                          UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

MICROSCOPY FOR EDUCATION, SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH, AND FUN! PART 4: MICROSCOPY FOR EARLY SCIENCE EDUCATION.

 

Different kinds of microscopy present a wealth of information.    ( http://dr-monsrs.net )
Different kinds of microscopy present a wealth of info!  ( http://dr-monsrs.net )

 

Few research instruments are as widely used in science as are microscopes.  They are very extensively utilized in universities, industries, hospitals, specialized assay services, forensic labs, mineralogy, crystallography, etc.  Microscopes and microscopy recently have become more available and more adapted for science education, beginning in primary (elementary, grade) schools.  For those of us working with microscopes, they not only let us do our specialized job in scientific research, but also provide quite a lot of fun.

The fundamental concepts and terms for using microscopes and understanding microscopy in general (see: “Part 1” ), and, light microscopy (see: “Part 2” ) and electron microscopy (see: “Part 3” ) in particular, have been covered previously.  This fourth article gives my views about the value of microscopy for teaching science in primary and secondary (middle, high) schools.  Beginners reading Part 4 should first study Part 1.

Why is microscopy really, really good for early science education? 

I believe that early science education is not only essential for future scientists, but also is badly needed for everyone else.  I am especially enthusiastic about using microscopy for science education in primary schools, since it:  (1)  features hands-on learning, (2) is not selective for any one branch of science, (3) involves doing, seeing, thinking, questioning, and discussing, (4) can be open-ended since the young students will utilize their native curiosity to look at additional specimens of their own choice, and (5) raises early interest in some students for becoming a scientist.  Addition of hands-on microscopy to primary and secondary school science classes  will make them wonderfully better than the traditional science teaching that emphasizes memorizing facts and figures.  That old approach neither elicits student enthusiasm and individual interest in science, nor prepares students to live in a modern world that is dominated by new and changing  technology.  Education with microscopy is education in science and technology.

Microscopy for science education: what will actually be learned? 

In addition to learning how to operate light microscopes, young students will relate this to many other areas of knowledge and activity.  Coursework with microscopy teaches at 2 distinct levels: direct  knowledge, and indirect knowledge.  Direct knowledge covers essentials in optics, design and features of different microscopes, specimen preparation, imaging, and measuring.  Microscopy in secondary schools should include introductory instruction about electron microscopes, crystallography and diffraction, and, spectroscopy.  Indirect knowledge is given when an image from microscopy is shown to illustrate a didactic subject in some other course (e.g., flowers or minerals, disease bacteria or viruses, the human eye, biofilms, LEDs, solid state computer devices, normal and cancer cells, polymers, etc.).  Understanding microscopy thus helps students to learn about many other subjects.  Specimens selected for classroom use always should include some objects already familiar to students, and, be coordinated with concurrent other courses.

What does microscopy do for science education that books and videos do not do? 

For young students in primary school, looking is not enough!  They must learn to see (e.g., substructure which is not visible to the naked eye), to think (e.g., why do we not always look at specimens only with the highest magnification lens?), to discuss (e.g., how can the diameter of human hairs best be measured?), and to ask questions.   For learning, classes using  microscopes have at least 7 major advantages over reading textbooks:

1.  microscopy is a hands-on activity;

2.  microscopy simultaneously involves activity by the eyes, hands, and brain;

3.  “facts” are not learned; instead, how to use visual information, how to operate this optical instrument, and what exists in unseen worlds, are learned;

4.  microscopy is very conducive to classroom discussions and Q&A, and is suitable both for individual efforts and group work;

5.  optics of microscopes can be extended to also involve binoculars and telescopes;

6.  students will learn both about optics and microscopes and about the different specimens being examined and discussed; and,

7.  microscopy is fun!  Dr.M. and some other scientists even consider microscopes to really be toys, as well as research tools!

One example of a primary school science class using light microscopy. 

This laboratory class uses magnifying glasses (see: “Part 2” ) and dissecting light microscopes to examine a paper towel, a sheet of notebook paper, a bird feather, and skin on the human arm.  It is preceded by a full introductory class that defines and explains lenses, magnification, resolution, and the basic design of the dissecting light microscope.  Students each will study one specimen at a time; between specimens, their teacher engages them with questions and discussion.

In this primary school science class, the students should learn:

1.  the practical aspects of what was presented in the preceding introductory class;

2.  differences in magnification and resolution for the naked eye, a magnifying glass, and a dissecting light microscope;

3.  that not everything which exists can be seen by our own eyes;

4.   that papers are made of small fibers compressed together to varying degrees;

5.  that flight feathers of birds are complex structures made of regularly spaced fibers attached to a stiff  backbone strut; and,

6.  that several sizes of hairs are present on normal human skin.

Duration for this lab session can be from 1-3 hours.  If needed (e.g., because class time is limited to 45-60 minutes in length), the session described can be enlarged to become 2-3 consecutive sub-sessions;  in that case, the specimens can be divided amongst the different periods.  Note that everything listed above is done without imaging; if imaging is available, it certainly should be used and additional time will be needed.  Ideally, this class can be followed later by another class working with compound light microscopes.

One example of a set of secondary school science classes involving microscopy. 

For secondary schools, science classes using microscopy can be more detailed, and will include: (1) more emphasis upon  the specific specimens being examined, (2) making actual calibrated measurements with a light microscope, and, (3) discussions and Q&A at a more advanced level.  Electron microscopy also should be included (see next section).

This example uses a set of 3 consecutive sessions.  The first class will instruct about the general design of a compound light microscope.  A second class either will use compound light microscopes, or will watch projected images of one being used by their teacher, with 4 specimens: (1) a piece of a paper towel, (2) a piece of notebook paper, (3) a stained blood smear, and (3) a drop of pond water containing some protozoa.  If available, imaging is performed and copies are distributed for each student’s notebook.  The third class will be a Q&A session covering measurements of length; this features how images are calibrated for making size measurements, and an introduction to the standardized science scales for length.  The first and third sessions will last for one hour each; the second class might require 2 or more hours.

In this secondary school science class, the students should learn:

1.  the concepts for magnification, resolution, and practical usage with magnifying glasses, dissecting light microscopes, and compound light microscopes;

2.  what can be visualized in a paper towel and a piece of notebook paper with a  magnifying glass, dissecting light microscope, and compound light microscope;

3.  what differences can be visualized in a stained smear of blood cells with the naked human eye, a dissecting light microscope, and a compound light microscope;

4.  what are the standard scales for linear size;

5.  how are accurate length measurements of small sizes made with microscopy; and,

6.  how small are red blood cells?

Treatment of electron microscopy for science classes in secondary schools. 

Only very few secondary schools have an electron microscope in-house.  This important aspect of microscopy thus must be taught by showing images and videos, both of which are readily available on the internet (see “Part 3” ).  At the very least, secondary school students should learn (1) the basic design of the transmission and scanning electron microscopes, and (2) their operational capabilities; this instruction can be given in one hour.  In addition, a second hour-long class will present discussion of the most fundamental differences between light microscopes and electron microscopes:

1.   electrons are charged, but photons are uncharged (i.e., they are neutral); thus, electron microscopes use electromagnetic lenses, while light microscopes use glass lenses;

2.  electron microscopes have better resolution and give higher useful magnifications than do light microscopes;

3.  electron microscopes can visualize individual atoms, unlike light microscopes;

4.  light microscopes can image living cells, unlike electron microscopes;

5.  light microscopes easily can produce no radiation damage, unlike electron microscopes;

6.  light microscopes can examine wet or hydrated specimens much more easily than can electron microscopes; and,

7.  electron microscopes cost much more to purchase and operate than do light microscopes.

Lets go beyond the usual classroom teaching! 

One very special approach for teaching about electron microscopy in schools is to invite an electron microscopist from a local university or industry to present a gratis illustrated session describing what they do with electron microscopy in their work.  For this teaching activity to succeed in secondary schools, the visitor absolutely must: (1) simplify their presentation from the usual very detailed coverage, (2) not use more than a few specialized terms, and (3) leave a good 15 minutes (out of 50-60 total) for student questions about electron microscopy.  I know that almost all electron microscopists would be pleased to contribute to local science education of schoolchildren (or adults!) in this way; the Microscopy Society of America provides instructions on “Locating a Microscopist-Volunteer” , which offers helpful advice for finding a suitable presenter.

Resources for science teachers about using microscopy in their classes.

There is an amazing amount of help available!  Science teachers need not fear the fact that they have never before operated a microscope, because there are good instructional programs for their learning to do that.  These include workshops on “how to do it” for light microscopes.  Very much guidance, instruction, and practical help is available on the internet, including articles by teachers about their experiences with using microscopy in a school classroom.  For example:

(1)  Commercial manufacturers of light and electron microscopes, digital cameras, and microscopy accessories often offer extensive instructional material on their websites.

(2)  Some light microscopes now are specifically manufactured for use in school classrooms, and cost much less than any used or new research instrument.  Look up “light microscopes for schools” or “teaching light microscopy” in any Web Browser, and you will see prices and descriptions about what is available.  For extensive guidance on the essential tasks of selecting what to buy and finding funds for purchasing, see:  https://www.microscopy.org/education/projectmicro/buying.cfm .

(3)  Some well-designed classes and needed materials for light microscopy are available commercially.  These include complete kits with teaching guides and student manuals, raw specimens and prepared slides, and, all needed small equipment.

(4)  Useful advice from teachers who already are using microscopy in their science classes is presented on quite a few websites (i.e., search for “Microscopy in the classroom” or “Teaching microscopy in schools”).

(5)  “Microscopic Explorations” is a much acclaimed guidebook by GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) that is targeted to Grades 4-8 in primary schools  ( http://lhsgems.org/GEMmicro.html ).

Concluding remarks. 

Both light and electron microscopy are used extensively in industry and in all 3 branches of science.  Microscopes can play a significant role for science education in primary and secondary schools.  Use of microscopy in the classroom is distinctive because it: (1) involves eyes, hands, and the brain; (2) emphasizes learning for doing and understanding, rather than just acquiring another bunch of facts; and, (3) is directly related to learning about other topics in science and non-science.  Teachers of science should seek to become more aware  of what class modules already are available, and of the opportunities that teaching microscopy will provide to elevate the effectiveness of their classes.

Recommended by Dr.M for science teachers: further good internet resources. 

1.  Several very useful instructional materials for using microscopes in the classroom are offered by the Microscopy Society of America (see “Project MICRO” at:  https://www.microscopy.org/education/projectmicro/index.cfm ).  This national science society offers over 300 educational DVDs on all aspects of microscopy; some are good for young students in schools (see: https://www.microscopy.org/education/dvdlibrary.pdf ).   

2.  Hooke College of Applied Sciences and the McCrone Group offer a good description of their programs to instruct science teachers to use light microscopes, so they then can teach this in their classes (see:  “Education – Helping Teachers Use Microscopy to Engage Students in Science” ).

3.  For a fascinating video story about a graduate student (Mark McClendon) giving presentations on scanning electron microscopy to classes of young students, see: “Beyond the Bench: Bringing Electron Microscopy into the Classroom” by Bethany Hubbard (2014).

4.  A good list of microscopy websites is available from the John Innes Centre in the U.K. at:  http://www.jic.ac.uk/microscopy/links.html .  The Microscopedia web site features applications of microscopy to primary school education, and, includes a variety of news and reports from the world of microscopy (see: http://www.microscopedia.com/Resource/Application/22?ccgid=4 ).

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                         UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE 

MICROSCOPY FOR RESEARCH, EDUCATION, AND FUN! PART 3: ELECTRON MICROSCOPY.

 

Schematic Diagram showing Major Parts in a Transmission Electron Microscope.   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Schematic Diagram showing the Major Parts in a Transmission Electron Microscope.    (http://dr-monsrs.net) 

Few research instruments are as widely used in science as are microscopes.  I will present a very brief description of microscopy and the many different types of microscopes by this series of articles.  These are not in-depth discussions, but rather are designed to provide an understandable background about microscopy for teachers, technicians, students, parents, and other beginning users.  Since I want to keep everything concise and suitable for non-experts, I will not give the usual optical equations and mathematics, ray path diagrams, or standard instructions about how to use these microscopes!

The fundamental concepts and general terms for using microscopes and understanding microscopy were covered by “Part 1” , and light microscopy was presented by  “Part 2” .  Part 3 now presents electron microscopy; all beginners should first study Part 1

Waves and optics: electrons and photons. 

Electron waves/particles have several differences from light waves and photons: (1) electron waves are much smaller, meaning that resolution in electron microscopes is better than in light microscopes; (2) electrons are negatively charged, while photons are neutral, meaning that electron microscopes must utilize electromagnetic lenses rather than the glass lenses used for light microscopes; (3) electrons can be transmitted through only very thin specimens (e.g., 50-100 nanometers in thickness), meaning that the usual 5-10 micrometer thickness of slices used for light microscopy are not usable for electron microscopy because far too few electrons will be transmitted to reach the detector; and, (4) unlike photons,  electrons interact very strongly with all atoms and molecules, therefore necessitating keeping their pathway inside electron microscopes at a high vacuum level.  Beyond these prominent distinctions, the optics of electrons in electron microscopy have counterparts with the optics of photons in light microscopy; however, a multitude of controls for the vacuum system, high voltage generation, coordinated electronics and monitors, cameras, and associated accessories make electron microscopes much more complex than any light microscope. 

General design of electron microscopes. 

The chief components in electron microscopes are shown in the highly schematic diagram given above under the title.  Many other parts are not depicted (see text for details!).  This diagram can be readily compared to that given for compound light microscopes in the previous article (see: “Part 2”).  Electron microscopes commonly are divided into 2 fundamental types depending upon how the specimen is irradiated by the beam of electrons (i.e., all at once, or point by point).  

Different kinds of electron microscopes: common transmission electron microscopes.  

For these instruments. an entire area of a specimen is irradiated by the electron beam all at once.  Major components are kept in a high vacuum inside the column.  Electrons are generated at high voltage (e.g., 50-1,000kV) from the electron gun (electron source) by emission induced from a hairpin or a pointed filament.  An anode in the gun then draws the stream of electrons down the column into the several condenser lenses; these focus the beam onto the specimen.  After transmission through a very thin specimen, the beam then passes into the objective lens.  This strong lens contains an objective aperture (i.e., a sheet or disk of metal with a precise very small hole centered on the optical axis); this intercepts those transmitted electrons which have been strongly scattered by atoms in the specimen and prevents them from reaching the plane of detection, thereby   creating image contrast.  A series of several other electromagnetic lenses follows and acts to  increase the magnification of the transmitted image; magnifications can range from 100X up to 1,000,000X.  The transmitted electrons finally are received by an electron detector in a photographic or digital camera which records the image (i.e., an electron micrograph).  In addition to images, electron diffraction patterns from crystalline specimens also can be recorded.  Special attachments to transmission electron microscopes extend the capabilities of these instruments for diverse samples (e.g., frozen-hydrated specimens with cryomicroscopy, special specimen chambers for chemical reactions with in-situ microscopy and analysis, etc.).   

Different kinds of electron microscopes: scanning electron microscopes. 

These electron microscopes are functionally analogous to dissecting light microscopes, in that the natural or sliced surface of specimens is imaged.  The beam of electrons is focused to a fine point by condenser lenses, and then is directed onto a specimen with a raster pattern, similarly to the way a television image is formed.  Unlike transmission electron microscopes, minute parts of the specimen area to be examined are irradiated consecutively rather than all at once.  Scanned imaging uses different electron detectors to capture one of several available signals (e.g., secondary electrons emitted by the specimen surface in response to being hit by the incoming primary electrons, backscattered electrons reflected from the specimen surface, etc.); these electron signals are received by a detector located above the specimen (i.e., the electrons forming an image are not transmitted through the specimen).  Magnifications generally range from 10X to 30,000X. 

Contrast in scanned images is mainly due to differences in topography and atomic composition of the specimen.  These mechanisms produce different numbers of detected electrons, thus providing image contrast.  Images from secondary electrons in scanning electron microscopes often have a 3-dimensional character due to shadowing by neighboring parts of the specimen.  Image resolution levels usually are influenced by the characteristics of each specimen.  Scanning electron microscopes mostly are used to image much finer details in surface structures than are given by a dissecting light microscope; however, resolution is poorer than that produced by transmission electron microscopes. 

Different kinds of electron microscopes: scanning-transmission electron microscopes.

 A third version of electron microscopes also exists, and is a hybrid of the two described above.  Scanning-transmission electron microscopes irradiate the sample in a sequential raster pattern like scanning electron microscopes, but still form images from those electrons that are transmitted through the specimen (i.e., the electron detector is on the far side of the specimen, unlike the case for scanning electron microscopes).  This optical arrangement can achieve atomic resolution and is utilized particularly for compositional mapping and for very high resolution imaging.   

A number of specialized and experimental electron microscopes also are available for research usage, but will not be covered in this introductory presentation.  

Specimen preparation for electron microscopy. 

For study by transmission electron microscopy, good  preparation of samples is vital in order to achieve high quality, reproducible, and artifact-free results.  Samples most frequently are mounted onto a very thin film of carbon or plastic; this support film is held upon a metallic grid (i.e., similar to a window screen, but much thinner and smaller).  Rocks and minerals, tissues, organs, and industrial products all must be prepared by slicing, thinning, or polishing into a thin enough state to permit the electron beam to penetrate through the specimen.  In biology, specimens are chemically (i.e., buffered cross-linkers) or physically (i.e., very rapid freezing) fixed, then are dehydrated and embedded, and finally are sliced into ultrathin sections using an ultramicrotome (i.e., a special finely controlled cutting machine); these slices commonly are stained by heavy metal solutions in order to increase the image contrast.  Electron microscope immunocytochemistry with specific antibodies is used to locate various protein components in ultrathin sections.  Rapid freezing is used to prepare macromolecules and cells for electron cryomicroscopy; the frozen-hydrated unstained specimens are kept at liquid nitrogen or liquid helium temperature inside the electron microscope, thereby maintaining their native structure. 

For scanning electron microscopy, non-conductive specimens must be treated by coating them with a conductor so they become conductive.  Sample preparation aims to produce specimens that are (1) dry (i.e., simply putting a moist specimen into the high vacuum of an electron microscope will cause its collapse and other structural changes), (2) conductive (i.e., non-conducting samples give bad images due to their becoming charged under the beam), (3) producing a high level of signal (i.e., coating with a thin layer of metal produces increased numbers of secondary electrons, thus giving a brighter image), (4) compatible with higher resolution imaging, and, (5) free from artifacts.   

What are electron microscopes actually used for? 

The several different kinds of electron microscopes are used very extensively for imaging, diffraction, and analysis in all 3 branches of science, and also in industry.  For research, they are utilized to examine normal, abnormal, and experimental structure, along with the amount and distribution of compositional elements.  Other major uses include atomic level imaging, spectroscopy, and experimental electron optics.  For crystallography in bioscience and materials science, electron diffraction patterns are essential for structural characterization; electron crystallography is an important special branch of applied electron optics.  Enormous efforts have been devoted to producing better specimen preparation, since that has such a clear importance for determining exactly what can be imaged, detected, and meaningfully studied.

Correlative microscopy uses electron microscopes to obtain higher resolution details for specimens that first were imaged at moderate resolution and magnifications (e.g., by light microscopy).   Their enormous range of magnifications can permit correlative microscopy to be conducted by a single transmission or scanning-transmission instrument.   As one real example, defects and inclusions in semiconductor devices are first characterized by scanning electron microscopy and then analysis of their elemental distribution is mapped with a scanning-transmission electron microscope.  

For those of us using electron microscopes in our daily work, they also provide quite a lot of fun!  Electron microscopists are analogous to airline pilots looking down at a landscape!  

The chief advantages and the chief problems of electron microscopes. 

All electron microscopes stand out for their ability to image structure at higher resolution levels than can be achieved by light microscopy.  Atomic-level structure now can be directly imaged; this capability is usable for many kinds of specimens, and excels for nanomaterials and materials science.  

Electron microscopes are quite costly and purchase often can be justified only when made for a group of multiple users.  Routine and special specimen preparations frequently are expensive, hazardous (due to exposure to toxic chemicals and nanoparticles), and give good results only with much training and experience of the technician or microscopist.  The biggest problems for electron microscopy of biosamples, polymers, and wet materials are that: (1) they must be either frozen or dried, both of which easily can cause undesired changes in their native structure, and, (2) the same illuminating electrons that enable imaging also cause radiation damage to the specimen, thereby changing their native structure.  Good images of artifacts are commonplace. 

Recent developments in electron microscope instrumentation. 

Modern electron microscopes have become increasingly sophisticated and specialized in their capabilities.  The recent commercial production of correctors for electron optical lens aberrations now permits the measured level of resolution to be equal to the calculated theoretical resolution limit; this permits better atomic imaging and better compositional analysis to be achieved.  New experimental approaches for the electron source, camera, and optical design are progressing nicely; new instrumentation accessories and new software are being developed every year. 

Electron microscopy in science education. 

Electron microscopy is very widely used in science education at secondary schools and colleges, but all that is almost completely hidden from students by their teachers!  The source and nature of the many images from electron microscopy shown in classrooms are only rarely indicated!  Examples of this silent treatment include cells and tissues, organelles and macromolecules, bacteria and viruses, solid state devices, polymers, fibers, minerals, metals and alloys, nanomaterials, etc. 

Courses on electron microscopy mostly are found only in larger universities and specialized educational institutions.  Recently, some manufacturers and certain institutions are offering opportunities for students and classes to use scanning or transmission electron microscopes having computerized control systems, either via the internet or by visiting a working facility.

Concluding remarks. 

The different kinds of electron microscopes have a high practical importance for enabling diagnosis of kidney diseases by examination of renal biopsies, reliable detection of causes for manufacturing defects and malfunctions in semi-conductors, advancement of understanding of normal and pathological cell substructure, detection and identification of disease microbes, development of nanomaterials and nanomachines, etc., etc.  Technology developments for electron microscopes and for advanced specimen preparation are progressing vigorously in the modern world.   

Let us now take a look at some images from electron microscopes!

Examples of images produced from all 3 kinds of electron microscopes are easily available on the internet.  The following are recommended to you by Dr.M.  

(1)  A GOOD PLACE TO START:  The semi-popular monthly journal, Microscopy Today, will give a good taste about what is going on currently (see: http://microscopy-today.com/jsp/common/home.jsf ).  Most manufacturers of electron microscopes and related accessories have full-page advertisements in each issue.  Articles about microscopy in education are a regular feature of this publication.

(2)  A GALAXY OF IMAGES:  For galleries with a multitude of images and diagrams, look up each of the 3 kinds of instruments (“transmission electron microscope”, “scanning electron microscope”, and “scanning-transmission electron microscope”) in the image section of your favorite internet browser.  When you find something of personal interest among the many hundreds of panels shown, click on its thumbnail and you will be taken to the explanatory details directly provided by its source.

(3)  ELECTRON MICROSCOPY OF NANOPARTICLES:  Electron microscopy excels with specimens from nanoscience!  Go to the website of the Nanoparticle Information Library at http://www.nanoparticlelibrary.net/results.asp and enter a search for “electron microscopy”; you will receive electron micrographs for 24 quite different nanoparticles, along with a brief report for each.

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                         UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

INTRODUCTION TO ART AND SCIENCE

 

Electron micrograph of one mitochondrion within a mouse liver cell (hepatocyte).  The cytoplasm surrounding this organelle contains free polyribosomes, cisternae of rough endoplasmic reticulum, glycogen granules, and vesicles.  May 20, 2015 © Dr.M   (http://.dr-monsrs.net)
Electron micrograph of one mitochondrion within a mouse liver cell (hepatocyte). The cytoplasm surrounding this organelle contains free polyribosomes, cisternae of rough endoplasmic reticulum, glycogen granules, and vesicles.      May 20, 2015 © Dr.M   (http://.dr-monsrs.net)

 

As a scientist, I believe that I also am an artist!  My science is my art, and my art is my science!  I am not referring only to esthetic beauty of the output from scientific research, but also to the mental beauty found in numbers and equations, spectroscopic curves, theoretical concepts, and crystallography.  Science certainly is distinctive, but also has many similarities to art.

Similarities and differences between science and art. 

The standard opinion is that science and art are nearly opposite endeavors.  My own view is that  science and art often are interchangeable!  Art frequently is a representation of something real or imagined, and so is analogous to a model or hypothesis in science.  Art can be quite stylized (e.g., portaits), and so can the output of science (e.g., histograms of measurements).  Both art and science are produced by an individual or a small group of people, and usually reflect some of their special skills and personal characteristics.  A sculpture by a modern Italian artist differs in style from a sculpture produced by an Inuit artist even if they use the same stone and depict the same subject; such differences can be described with language and words for art, or with numbers and measurements in science.  Sculpted figures clearly are three-dimensional representations, and so are the detailed structural models for a virus.

Most artists like to produce something that is new, personal, and striking.  Scientists can have exactly this same goal for their research work!  Creativity has the same meaning for art and science.  Whether scientific research studies produce spectroscopy curves for a new nanomaterial, images of living genetically-modified cells, or, tables of numbers from astronomy and astrophysics, their output is quite beautiful for the eyes of scientists and also for those of many non-scientists.  Rather than create images from their imagination, as do some artists, scientists make them by skillful use of research experiments, instruments, and data analysis. 

One very large difference between art and science immediately pops into view: science often is displayed in black and white, but art mostly is displayed with colors.  Some scientists purposely add colors to their grayscale images or data plots so as to make them more comprehensible and more interesting.  A very simple, but good, example of the significance of colors is given in the text figure below, shown both in its purely black/white condition (upper panel) and with one added color (lower panel). 

Colored text_edited-1

The information or statement provided in these 2 versions is identical, but the human mind is definitely more attracted to and tickled by the one with color(s)!

Images from science can be seen as abstract art! 

People looking at graphic art often do not know exactly how this was constructed, yet they  either like or dislike the display.  Similarly, viewers seeing images from science often have zero understanding about what they are looking at or what it means; nevertheless, they will feel that one of several displayed images is prettier or more interesting than the others.  I believe that this phenomenon is directly similar to the emotional judgments of viewers (including scientists and other artists!) regarding a piece of abstract art where nothing at all is recognizable.  In both art and science, the emotional reactions of viewers are quite independent of their knowledge. 

As one example of what I mean here, let us look together at an electron microscope image of a mitochondrion (see image shown under the title for this article).  That object is one of the energy-producing organelles found inside all nucleated cells of humans, onions, sharks, jellyfish, butterflies, yeasts, and protozoa.  All mitochondria (plural) have the same basic structure, but often differ in small details from one cell type (e.g., cells in salivary glands that produce and secrete saliva) to another cell type (e.g., islet cells in the pancreas making and secreting insulin). 

Let’s say you have never before seen an image of a mitochondrion and had not even known they existed until now.  Despite this ignorance, when you first looked at the foregoing image, certain feelings popped into your mind (e.g., “how cute!”, “how bizarre!”, or, “does it bite?”).  You were reacting solely to the art within this science image!  You can convert your reaction to the science inside this same image simply by learning more about the parts, structure, and functional activities of mitochondria; then, when looking again at the same image you might feel “how interesting!”, or wonder “what happens in cancer cells?”.  The art and the science are both parts of this same display! 

Beauty in science. 

For Dr.M, beauty in science is everywhere!  If one looks with a special light microscope at a solution of DNA while it is in the process of drying, one will see images that are exquisitely beautiful (see images and videos at:   http://biancaguimaraesportfolio.com/mssng/ ).  Many people will dispute my judgement, because they will say that chemicals or chemistry could not truly be beautuful and any apparent beauty is only some artifact or optical trick.  My answer is that this example has all the elements needed for artistic drama: special characters, different paths of movement, balance or imbalance, discrete stages of development, boundaries, suspense, stylized situations, and the possibility for unanticipated endings; further, the videos show the specimen and colors moving and changing similarly to a troop of dancers gliding about on a stage.  All of this easily can lead to a judgment of being pretty.  Can you see beauty here? 

Good examples of striking beauty in science. 

A wonderful example of what I am trying to describe as “beauty in science” is shown in the collection of images from the Hubble telescope, taken as part of its astronomical research mission (e.g., see:  http://hubblesite.org/gallery/wallpaper/pr2007030c/ ).  Even without knowing exactly what real objects are present in these fantastic images from outer space, most people will perceive contours and boundaries, several repetitive components, some symmetries, connections and groupings, and certain repeated shapes, all of which lead to their conscious or subconscious judgment about the presence of beauty in these images.  There is no true up or down in these images from outer space (e.g., view them at different rotations and you will see that these give quite different impressions to the human mind). 

Another excellent example of artistic beauty in science is found in 3-D representations of the structure of viruses or protein complexes.  These come from research into their structure using electron microscopy or x-ray diffraction; the reconstructions displayed on a computer monitor are color-coded 3-D representations that the scientist can rotate into various orientations.  A large gallery of such images for the 3-D structure of poliovirus is gathered by Google (see gallery at : https://www.google.com/search?q=3D+structure+of+poliovirus&client=opera&hs=01j&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=dJ5XVYD8Lcu4sAW2koGYBg&ved=0CCsQ7Ak&biw=800&bih=502#imgrc=MFsAz8D1Bzj2WM%253A%3BFiyXCzSZPuuKVM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fvirology.wisc.edu%252Fvirusworld%252Fimgency%252Fp1mPOLIO12.jpeg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fictvdb.bio-mirror.cn%252FICTVdB%252F00.052.0.01.001.htm%3B641%3B487 ).  All these images are scientifically meaningful representations of Nature’s sculpting, but also are esthetically very pretty.  Do you see beauty in any of them?  Note that it is not necessary to understand anything at all about science in order to perceive beauty in many displays at this gallery! 

Concluding remarks. 

Science and art have a number of common aspects, including beauty, simplicity vs. complexity, mood, and tension.  On the one hand, an artist creates a canvas or sculpts a figure; on the other hand, a research scientist collects experimental data and derives conclusions from their analysis.  Both artists and scientists feature creativity, mental vision, hard work, experience, and personal talent.  The outputs from both art and science can be pretty, stimulating, and meaningful, or, can be ugly, boring, and meaningless; each individual viewer must make this judgment. 

Some scientists can be almost as creative as are artists.  Some artists are as concerned about very small details as much as are scientists.  Both workers produce outputs that stimulate the senses of onlookers.  Both scientists and artists are essential for human society, and both types of authors should be more widely appreciated by everyone for their creative talents and expressive output. 

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                         UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART V: LESSONS TO BE LEARNED ABOUT ARGUMENTS BETWEEN SCIENTISTS.

 

Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Scientists love to question each other and argue about science all the time!  Following the previous examinations of professional scientists arguing with other scientists (see: Part I: “Background to controversies involving scientists” , Part II: “Why is there such a long controversy about global warming and climate change?” , Part III: “Is glyphosate poisoning us all?” , and Part IV: “A closer look at a scientist whose research causes immense controversy!” ), the final essay in this series will briefly summarize my views about what lessons can be learned from this common activity.

What results come from controversies between research scientists? 

The result of controversies between scientists basically is either a decision about which position triumphs, or a continuation of the unresolved dispute.  Some loud controversies do not yield any settlement for many decades and sometimes never end (e.g., Darwin’s theory about evolution was published over 100 years ago, but still remains controversial).  Disputes between scientists often have inputs from outside science (e.g., governments, religions, other cultures, dedicated institutions, businesses, associations, etc.); in such cases, arguments that originally were about science often shift into debates about official national or local policies, public health regulations, cultural and religious restrictions, predicted expansions of business profits, policy alliances, international interests and conflicts, etc.  These non-science factors make such disputes much more complex, and easily can prevent any agreements about the science aspects from being reached. 

Where a controversy can be kept at the level of science and research, further experimental investigations usually will permit some agreement or a consensus to be reached.  In principle, if good experimental data are available, then any controversy between scientists should be settled readily; failure to arrive at a decision for a pure dispute about science can simply indicate that the needed experimental data are not yet available.  

What can we learn about disputes between scientists? 

In my personal opinion, all the following generalizations about controversies between scientists are valid and worthy of recognition. 

(1)      Arguments about science occur between scientists all the time, but infrequently reach awareness of the public.

(2)      Issues in disputes that strictly involve science often are settled when further or better experimental data are acquired.

(3)      Disputes between scientists are normal and good for science; the progress of scientific research always depends upon asking questions about everything.

(4)      Many controversies between scientists about research are settled, particularly when further experiments are conducted; however, some other controversies never end.

(5)      External factors often enter controversies involving science; this always makes the issues become more complex, since non-science factors inject self-interest, ignorance, and money into the dispute.

(6)      Scientists in complex controversies often are being used; giving expert testimony about science commonly is intended to gain support for some non-science position.

(7)      When scientists work for a company or a governmental agency, they must only support the views of their employer and so are not really free to objectively seek the truth; thus, expert testimony by doctoral scientists can have aims quite outside science.

(8)      In theory, it would be better to initially let expert scientists argue and decide about the science, and only then let outside interests start disputing what should be done (e.g., by authorities, government, industries, lawyers, officials).

(9)      Controversies between scientists can be ended outside science (i.e., by external authority, laws, or institutions); although an official decree can stop a dispute, the issues for science might not be settled.  

(10)    It takes personal courage and strong determination for a professional research scientist to maintain their position when confronted and opposed by traditional beliefs, esteemed authorities, government figures, or large crowds of opponents; those individuals who do continue to argue against such opposition always should be highly respected for their personal integrity and dedication to science.

Types of disputes involving science and scientists.  

Based upon the above generalizations, we can identify and characterize several fundamental  types of controversies involving science and scientists.

(1)      Small disputes (e.g., 2 scientists do not agree about the best interpretation of some research data) vs. large disputes (e.g., many scientists and many in the public disagree about what should be done about humans intentionally altering the weather).

(2)       Disputes within science (e.g., scientists in a discipline of science disagree about whether some new technology is truly a part of their research focus) vs. disputes with outsiders (e.g., scientists working in a laboratory facility disagree with local officials about whether their research activities pose any hazard to local residents).

(3)       Simple disputes (e.g., some scientists disagree with others about whether the use of satellite data to measure surface temperatures of Earth is truly accurate) vs. complex disputes (e.g., debates by scientists, governments, and industries about global warming and climate change; see Part II:  “Why is there such a long controversy about global warming and climate change?” ).

Concluding remarks. 

Controversies between scientists are a prominent feature of science and research.  These disputes are wonderful since they halp ensure that scientists are succeeding in seeking and actually finding the truth.  When interests outside science enter disputes between scientists, the arguments become much more complex and more difficult to settle.  The input of scientists into large and complex disputes is most meaningful when made for  issues involving science and research, versus those issues involving the entire public (including scientists as citizens).

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                         UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART III: IS GLYPHOSATE POISONING US ALL?

 

Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

The small organic chemical, glyphosate, kills many broadleaf plants and is the chief ingredient of the very popular herbicide, Roundup®, produced by the Monsanto Corporation.  Glyphosate is used in agriculture to kill weeds and also for pre-harvesting applications to wheat.  Its usage on farms rose dramatically when Monsanto also developed Roundup® Ready crop seeds (see:  http://www.monsanto.com/products/pages/monsanto-agricultural-seeds.aspx ); these mutants of corn, soybeans, and other crops have resistance to higher levels of glyphosate that kill their nonresistant counterparts  Today, (1) Roundup® and strains of crops more tolerant to glyphosate are in very widespread use on farms all over the world, (2) normal pollination by airborne dispersal easily results in crossbreeding of resistant and non-resistant strains, (3) widespread usage of Roundup® in modern agriculture means that resistant strains automatically spread and take over any neighboring fields originally planted with only non-resistant strains, and, (4) the amount of glyphosate-containing agricultural products consumed by humans is substantial and is increasing.

The first article in this series provided a general background for controversies involving scientists (see: Part I ).  The second article discussed the ongoing controversy about global warming and climate change (see: Part II ).  This essay examines the ongoing controversy about whether glyphosate is benign or harmful to humans.  

How does glyphosate get inside humans?  

Glyphosate enters human bodies via several different routes: (1) ingestion of agricultural crop products containing glyphosate due to treatment with Roundup®, (2) drinking of water having small or large glyphosate contents, (3) breathing of atmospheric glyphosate microparticulates due to its widespread dispersal during agricultural applications, (4) ingestion of farm aninals which ate corn or other plant material treated with Roundup®, and, (5) ingestion of bovine milk, chicken eggs, and other animal products. 

Basically, everyone living on this planet now has glyphosate within their body.  Monsanto originally performed short-term research studies showing that glyphosate has very low toxic effects upon humans.  However, long-term research data for chronic exposures are missing.  Very high levels of glyphosate inside human food sources mostly are being ignored by regulatory agencies, many farmers, and most scientists.  The primary question for health researchers and clinical doctors is, “Does glyphosate have any toxic and pathological effects in humans?”.  This is a very straightforward research question and should be readily answered by scientific investigations. 

What does scientific research on glyphosate find about its safety? 

An extensive examination of published biochemical investigations recently showed that glyphosate could have quite a few undesired consequences upon humans and mammals, aquatic organisms, and bacteria [1].  The changes in metabolism caused by glyphosate affect cytochrome P450, enzymes, sulfate balance, amino-acid dynamics, and the human gut microbiome; these changes are alleged to be involved in such pathological states as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, breast cancer, developmental anomalies, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and vitamin-D deficiency [1].  People already have been exposed to Roundup®  for many years, but its causation of disease states remains uncertain; plausable associations alone are not sufficient to establish causality.  Worrisome new research findings showing involvement of glyphosate in human pathology are disputed by Monsanto and some other scientists. 

A good published, but retracted, experimental study by Séralini et al [2] investigated chronic toxicity in rats exposed to glyphosate in various forms and dosages.  This professional research report aroused an amazing degree of controversy [3,4], resulting in empty disputes, personal attacks, and improper activities by the publishing journal [4].  Regretably, that dispute includes documented examples where scientists associated with Monsanto have restricted publication of research manuscripts showing that glyphosate can be quite harmful to the health of humans and animals; this has caused accusations that some science journals are not honest, use double standards for review of manuscripts, and have become subordinate to commerce [4].  

The United States Food and Drug Administration.

If Roundup® might be dangerous, why is it not being researched and regulated more?  The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with monitoring and regulating public safety of all the many chemicals, foods, and materials used in our country ( http://www.fda.gov/Food/ ).  Toxicologists working at the FDA investigated glyphosate toxicity and established that anything below a certain level is not harmful to humans.  Toxicologists in other countries conducted similar evaluations to establish a safe level, but some of their approved values are smaller than that validated by the FDA.  Certain countries even ban use of glyphosate and genetically-modified crops resistant to glyphosate.  Nevertheless, millions of pounds of glyphosate now are used annually on farms around the globe [1]. 

Almost all Americans are totally reliant on the FDA to keep them safe from poisons and dangerous foods.  What does the FDA say about the glyphosate controversy?  The answer is “not much”, since their scientists apparently are not conducting all the needed measurements.  Why have these not been conducted?   Or, why were the needed assays indeed conducted, but the results are not released?  Is Monsanto influencing risk assessment by the FDA?  

Could human diseases be caused by glyphosate? 

Several different disease states now are postulated to be caused directly or indirectly by glyphosate [e.g., 1].  Where the incidence of these pathological states has risen in time, data for the amount and distribution of glyphosate in people runs a closely parallel course.  The health implications of the glyphosate controversy are very extensive; it has even been proposed that the problem associated with gluten in bread actually is a problem with its glyphosate content [1].  Clearly, much more research is badly needed; despite the increasing association of glyphosate with pathology, definitive causality of human diseases by this chemical has not yet been proven.  

Many glyphosate-containing weed-killers now are being marketed to farmers.  These contain different additives (e.g., adjuvants, detergents, surfactants) that enhance the toxic effects of glyphosate upon plants.   This enhancement is due to augmented absorption by agricultural plants, thereby giving humans eating them an increased dosage [5].  The amount of glyphosate in foods also is increased by the fact that many farmers now are adding additional Roundup® to their crops to deal with the new presence of glyphosate-resistant weeds.  Global governmental regulations of approved glyphosate levels have conveniently been raised by large amounts to handle this new situation [1].  Thus, despite the increasing evidence suggesting that glyphosate could have some bad effects upon human health, people eat more and more Roundup® each and every year [5]. 

Concluding discussion. 

The controversy about the alleged human toxicity of glyphosate and Roundup® already is more than a decade old.  Despite the suggested pathology, the amount of glyphosate eaten by humnans and accumulating inside them constantly increases [5].  It is alarming that the potential public health disaster of chronic glyphosate toxicity is not being researched much more vigorously by scientists. 

This ongoing controversy not only has scientists arguing with other scientists, but also has scientists disputing with a very large well-established commercial company.  The scientific issues regarding glyphosate toxicity are rather straightforward, but the needed research studies are not being conducted; it is suspected that these investigations are being hindered by Monsanto’s total focus on business profits.   

While this controversy drags on, what should people do?  Foods now are grown by some farmers without using exposure to Roundup® and are becoming more readily available in grocery stores.  As one researcher involved with the glyphosate controversy has advised, “Go organic!” [6]. 

 

[1]  Samsel, A., and Seneff, S., 2013.  Review.  Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome: Pathways to modern diseases.  Entropy  15:1416-1463. 

[2]  Séralini, G. E., Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Gress, S., Defarge, N., Melatesta, M., Hennequin, D., and de Vendômois, J. S., 2012.  Retracted.  Long term toxicity if a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.  Food and Chemical Toxicology  50:4221-4231.

[3]  Séralini, G. E., Mesnage, R., Defarge, N., Gress, S., Hennequin, D., Clair, E., Malatesta, M., and de Vendômois, J. S., 2013.  Answers to critics: why there is a long term toxicity due to NK603 Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize and to a Roundup herbicide.  Food and Chemical Toxicology  53:476-483.

[4]  Robinson, C., and Latham, J., 2013.  The Goodman affair: Monsanto targets the heart of science.  Independent Science News, May 20, 2013.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.independentsciencenews.org/science-medical/the-goodman-affair-monsanto-targets-the-heart-of-science/ ).

[5]  Bohn, T., and Cuhra, M. 2014.  How “extreme levels” of Roundup in food became the industry norm.  Independent Science News, March 24, 2014.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.independentsciencenews.org/news/how-extreme-levels-of-roundup-in-food-became-the-industry-norm/ .

[6]  Seneff, S., 2014.  Slide #48 from presentation on glyphosate hosted by the MIT and Wellesley Alumni Associations, April 28, 2014.  Available on the internet at:  http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/California_glyphosate.pdf .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                           UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART II: WHY IS THERE SUCH A LONG CONTROVERSY ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

 

Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

The much disputed controversy about global warming features scientists, politicians, business leaders, and ordinary people arguing for or against it.  Questions about global warming have shifted into a general debate about climate change.  Clearly, this ongoing dispute is not yet even close to being resolved.  This essay examines how and why this prolonged controversy is so very difficult to resolve despite the input of many professional scientists; the previous article in this series provided a general background for controversies involving scientists (see Part I at:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2015/04/18/what-happens-when-scientists-disagree-part-i-background-to-controversies-involving-scientists/ ).

What is global warming?

In a nutshell, global warming is a worldwide increase in ambient temperature.  This environmental parameter has been measured directly for recent periods or estimated indirectly from analysis of antarctic ice cores for hundreds and thousands of previous years.  Global temperature has increased since the industrial revolution began (ca. 1870) and has risen more rapidly since 1970.  It is known that elevating the amount of certain gases in the atmosphere (e.g., water, carbon dioxide, and methane) causes increased retention of heat; this is known as the “greenhouse effect”.  It is postulated that the global temperature is rising largely due to increased levels of carbon dioxide coming from burning of the fossil fuels, coal and oil.  Since further warming will cause melting of glaciers, increased ocean heights, changes in weather patterns, and other disruptive effects, the use of coal and oil must be decreased globally to stop any further rises in temperture.  Climate change includes global warming, as well as global cooling and other large environmental changes in the modern world. 

For those wanting more information about global warming and climate change there are very many materials available on the internet.  I recommend several informative presentations for general readers: (1) “Causes of climate change” at: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html ), (2) “How are humans responsible for  global warming?” at:  http://www.edf.org/climate/human-activity-is-causing-global-warming ), and (3) “5 scientific reasons that global warming isn’t happening” at: http://townhall.com/columnists/johnhawkins/2014/02/18/5-scientific-reasons-that-global-warming-isnt-happening-n1796423/page/full ).  An especially good gathering of arguments both for and against the official standard concept of global warming is available ( “Is human activity primarily responsible for global climate change?” at:  http://climatechange.procon.org ), and will help readers to come to their own judgment.  

The standard very official concept about global warming. 

The standardized viewpoint about global warming accepts that the temperature worldwide is indeed rising.  The primary cause of this temperature increase is human activities; people cause global warming by burning coal and oil to produce increased amounts of greenhouse gases, and also by paving and urbanization, generating carbon black microparticulates, deforestation, etc.  Much emphasis in the standard concept of global warming is given to the production increased carbon dioxide.  If no intervention is taken, this concept predicts more  warming that will cause very alarming changes in ocean levels, weather patterns, and life as we know it. 

What are the main issues in the global warming and climate change controversy? 

Global warming and climate change involve several different assumptions, all of which are being questioned.  (1) Is there really an increase in global temperature?  (2) What are the main causes of this rise in global temperature?  (3) Is there actually a recent large increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide?  (4) What causes the increased carbon dioxide?   For all these queries, the chief question that must be asked is, “What is the evidence?” 

Starting at the very beginning, one must first ask what is the evidence that there really is any global warming? (i.e., are measured global temperatures actually increased in recent times.  A positive answer leads to several other related questions.  (1) How much warmer is this average figure?  (2) How was surface temperature of the entire planet measured or estimated?  (3)  Are all countries and regions warmer, or are some simultaneously cooler?  (4) Have similar variations in global temperature ever been observed previously?  These questions involve science, and should be answered and debated by expert scientists (e.g., climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, atmospheric physicists, etc.). 

Anyone seeking answers to questions about global warming must inquire what is the primary cause of such climate change?  A big controversy involves the hypothesis that human activities cause this environmental change.  There are several other possible causes, including natural weather cycles, large shifts in solar energy discharges, changes in Earth’s orientation and distance from the Sun, large increases in the global number of humans and animals producing atmospheric carbon dioxide through their normal respiration, etc.  Good science demands that alternative explanations must be examined. 

The controversy about climate change engages all the foregoing plus corresponding questions about global cooling.  From our knowledge about forming and melting glaciers in the ice ages, we know that there have been very prominent changes in temperature during the distant past.  The causes of these well-known changes still are not clear.  Today, some portions of the globe have very increased temperatures and severe droughts.  Shorter term increases or decreases in temperatures occur in response to natural changes in the environment, including activity of the Sun, humidity levels, patterns of ocean currents, rain cycles, seasonal effects, etc. 

What have scientists said and done in this ongoing controversy? 

In additional to gathering and analyzing data, scientists debate what conclusions are valid and ask lots of questions.  In 1988, the United Nations convened a panel of expert climatologists to assess global warming and advise about what new policies are needed.  That group, the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) constructed the official standard concept of global warming described above.  An independent non-governmental panel of expert climatologists has been established more recently; this group, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), has issued reports with conclusions about global warming that are very different from those of the UNIPCC.  Many other scientists have been involved from the beginning, and continue to dispute almost everything.  A survey of the literature by climate scientists (1991-2011) revealed that around 97% endorsed the consensus position that humans cause global warming (see J. Cook et al. 2013 Environmental Research Letters 8:024024 at: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024 ).  However, that figure directly contradicts the assertion that 31,000 other scientists, including many not working in climatology, do not see any conclusive evidence that the standard concept is valid ( http://ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/myths/31000-scientists-say-no-convincing-evidence ).  Clearly, in 2015 many scientists disagree about the official standard concept of global warming and climate change! 

What is the present status of this ongoing dispute? 

Almost everything in the controversial official version of global warming now is being questioned and debated vigorously.  Expert scientists are arguing against other expert scientists.  Many science organizations accept and support the official concept about global warming as being due to human activities producing increased levels of carbon dioxide.  All government agencies monolithically endorse the official viewpoint and promote activating strong intervention by the government.  Groups of environmentalists also support the official viewpoint. 

On the other hand, some former supporters of the standard position now strongly deny the validity of global warming.  These dissenters even include some members of the original expert panel (UNIPCC) that constructed the standard concept for global warming!  Many individual scientists and science groups now are contrasting predictions made from the official viewpoint with recent measurements showing cooler temperatures and enlarging sizes of polar icecaps; thus, the recent data support global cooling, rather than global warming!  Predictions from the official coincept do not match the reality. 

Debates about this controversy involve politics, finances, emotions, and egos, as well as science.  Questions and dissenting views by scientists are increasing despite documented efforts to suppress dissent against the standard concept  [e.g., 1-5].  It is most disconcerting that this and other unethical behavior has been uncovered for some of the scientists strongly involved in this controversy [e.g., 1-5]; that distracts attention from the actual scientific issues being debated, and reduces trust by the public in all scientists. 

Why is global warming and climate change so hard to establish or deny conclusively? 

Several distinct reasons can be identified why expert scientists have not been able to resolve this ongoing controversy.  First, the standard official concept of global warming increasingly seems to be invalid.  It’s predictions about rising temperatures, melting of polar icecaps, and alarming changes in weather patterns do not match reality.  It cannot explain large environmental changes that currently are observed.  Solid evidence for a recent rise in temperatures is questionable or missing.  One commentator recently has even dared to ask, “Is global warming a hoax?” [5].  Second, the complexity of this controversy is enormous.  In addition to science, it involves finances, politics, industries, and governments.  Arguments involve much more than scientific facts and figures; egos, emotions, careers, repression of questions, and, predictions of alarming disasters are prominent.  Third, the use of “global” in the questions being addressed is questionable because there are very many quite different regions and different human activities involved; many so-called global datapoints actually are averages or extrapolations.  How exactly can the temperature in Nepal be meaningfully averaged with that of Greenland, New York City, Tunis, and Tahiti?  Similarly, how can the different human activities within these 5 parts of our planet be averaged in a meaningful way?  Fourth, this long dispute has been made more difficult for science to resolve by the uncovering of data manipulations and repressions of dissent [e.g., 1-5].    

Concluding discussion. 

From the materials given above and all the pro/con data now available, I must conclude that this controversy is a quagmire, and that it is unlikely to be resolved.  Both sides in this long dispute have developed very hard positions, and both are supported by some scientists, some research findings, and some group organizations; those conditions can only lead to a stalemate.  Additionally, politics and commercial interests now have strong involvement in this dispute, and often overwhelm the input of science.  Scientific research can produce new facts, figures, concepts, and ideas, but it cannot readily deal with a quagmire that is a jumble of emotionally and financially charged positions. 

The fact that new laws and regulations already are being proposed in advance of any consensus agreement by scientists and the public suggests that some unannounced agenda is at work here.  The primary purpose of trying to reduce carbon emissions and establish a global carbon tax appears to be installing greater regulation of industries, economies, and nations; reduction of carbon dioxide levels is only a phoney excuse for establishing increased governmental controls over everything and everyone.  

 

[1]  Jasper, W. F., 2012.  “Climate science” in shambles: Real scientists battle UN agenda.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/11998-%E2%80%9Cclimate-science%E2%80%9D-in-shambles-real-scientists-battle-un-agenda .

[2]  Newman, A., 2013.  Top scientists slam and ridicule UN IPCC report.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/16643-top-scientists-slam-and-ridicule-un-ipcc-climate-report .

[3]  Newman, A., 2014.  U.S. agencies accused of fudging data to show global warming.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/17500-u-s-agencies-accused-of-fudging-data-to-show-global-warming ).

[4]  Booker, C., the Telegraph, 2015.  The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/globalwarming/11395516/The-fiddling-with-temperature-data-is-the-biggest-science-scandal-ever.html .

[5]  Hiserodt, E. & Terrell, R., 2015.  Is global warming a hoax?  Available on the internet at:  http://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/19840-is-global-warming-a-hoax .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                           UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

SHOULD RESEARCH SCIENTISTS BE UNIONIZED?

 

Should Research Scientists be Unionized?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Should Research Scientists be Unionized?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Unions traditionally are for workers in factories, offices, or the trades (i.e., trade unions), but more recently also are active in many other situations where employees feel they need protection from their employer.  Most scientists working in universities or industrial research and development (R&D) centers presently are not unionized.  However, some university science teachers, workers in science-related jobs, and hospital staff do become unionized.  In recent times, many employers have set up grievance mechanisms in order to try to preclude the need to establish unions as a protection against perceieved or actual workplace abuses.  This essay takes a closer look at the present claims for research scientists to become unionized.

Background. 

Many scientists working as professional researchers in universities now have major job problems with (1) time management, (2) obtaining sufficient money from governmental grants to support their research, and, (3) demands for dishonesty (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” ).  These very general problems now cause much job dissatisfaction for university scientists (see:  “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job?  Part I” ).  All 3 large practical problems are due to misguided policies and practices with:  (1) modern universities, (2) the current research grant system, and (3) the commercialization of science (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” ). 

For faculty scientists at universities and medical schools, the research time problem bothers everyone greatly, but probably is not yet severe enough to support union-based strikes or job actions.  Different levels of the research money problem are faced by everyone doing laboratory research within universities; although dissatisfaction with this situation is very widespread, official complaints are strongly prevented simply because all grantees want to continue receiving research grant support throughout their careers (i.e., do not bite the hand that feeds you!).  The corruption problem in modern science is ignored by many scientists because they are too busy worrying about their time and money problems, and do not wish to become  involved with investigations and charges that do not directly involve them personally.  Hence, the very largest job problems for scientists in universities do not readily encourage unionization and union-based protests. 

For scientists in industrial laboratories, job problems are less frequent and seem less severe than in academia.  Their problems with time often are solved or at least minimized by gaining administrative approval to hire more support staff.  Any problems with research money frequently are dealt with internally when admninistrators shift job priorities and budgets.  Problems with corruption are less prominent in industrial labs, unless professional researchers are asked to change research results or interpretations of data in order to facilitate business aspects of their employer.  Industries are more on the side of their employees than are universities, and clearly need to promote the performance of their science employees as an important part of their drive for business success; thus, there presently is only a limited need for industrial scientists to seek recourse by unionization. 

Some special situations in science could lead to unionization. 

Certain job situations for today’s professional scientists increasingly recall the historical tradition where groups of ordinary (non-science) workers formed unions to protect themselves from abusive employers.  I will briefly discuss here 3 solid examples of modern instances where efforts with unionization now are either progressing or being considered. 

Postdoctoral Research Fellows typically spend several years doing full-time research before they are able to become good candidates for employment in universities, industrial  R&D centers, or science-related positions (see:  “All About Postdocs, Part I.  What are Postdocs and What Do they Do?” ).  When the number of available new science job positions declines, as in recent years, some Postdocs stay in these positions for at least a decade; although they are pleased to be paid to do research work, they are not truly independent, have minimal job security and limited retirement benefits, and, do not have a career or status appropriate to all their long training and professional research publications.  Postdocs easily can become captive workers.  Hence, these  temporary employees increasingly feel that “The Science System” is abusive and is taking advantage of them.  In response to complaints from Postdocs at many sifferent locations, universities try to make improvements by establishing some administrative post to handle all matters concerning Postdocs.  Little ever changes, so the complaints continue; any good changes are countered by the ready availability of many new foreign Ph.D.s eagerly seeking to come here as Postdoctoral Fellows (see:  “Why Does the United States now have so Very Many Foreign Graduate Students in Science?  Part I ” ).  Recently, some local or regional groups of Postdocs are critically discussing their predicament, and are seeking to develop changes in their present job status; whether this spreading discord will result in unionization of Postdocs remains to be seen. 

University faculty are becoming unionized at some educational institutions, both here in the United States and in some foreign countries.  Several unions and related organizations now deal with educational activities and business matters, but these associations also include numerous non-science faculty.  University faculty usually are reluctant to join a union, but sooner or later come to see that there indeed is strength in numbers.  Faculty unions sometimes elicit good adjustments and improvements in such factors as salary levels, employment benefits, and, issuance of documentation about what is expected from faculty employees.  Union-derived positive changes generally affect all the faculty, rather than only members of the union.  The harsher and more one-sided modern universities become, the more will unionization of their faculty be encouraged. 

Tenure for science faculty is a specific job problem that can be found both at universities and some industrial R&D centers.  Promotion to tenured rank uses somewhat different criteria at each school, and each individual candidate is at least slightly questionable.  Although nationally a subatantial number of scientists is involved with tenure each year, this issue at any one institution concerns only some few individuals; such fragmentation means that unionization of scientists as a means to improve this problem is very difficult.  If anyone compares the situation for tenure decisions at universities having faculty unions versus those that do not have unionized faculty, then it is obvious that the rules and regulations for achieving tenured rank are much more openly stated and carefully followed by the former institutions.  Due to mistakes and abuses with the tenure decision, this complex issue is actively discussed and of ongoing interest to the professional faculty unions. Junior faculty scientists constitute a hidden national class of good potential candidates for modern unionization.  

Are there any alternatives to unions for scientists? 

In my opinion, unions presently only play a minor role for professional scientific researchers.  Since science workers in universities do have serious job problems, one must ask whether there are any other mechanisms available to advance the general job status of faculty scientists.  The answer to this question is “yes”!  Most professional scientists are members of at least one science society.  These national associations sponsor annual meetings (see: “All About ScienceMeetings” ), publish professional journals, organize educational endeavors, and promote the advancement of their discipline.  These organizations often have thousands of dues-paying members, and thus have notable similarities to large unions.  Some of the current issues for professional scientists described above seem very suitable to be addressed by the national science societies. 

Concluding discussion. 

At present, unions are not numerous amongst all the many professional research scientists.  Some of the major job-related issues faced by research scientists at universities are well-suited to be ameliorated by unionization; however, the scientists actively confronting these issues at any one institution are not numerous, and so do not constitute the large number of workers traditionally engaged by unions.  When confronted with seemingly hopeless, unfair, and downright stupid job conditions, scientists are not  being unprofessional when they turn to unions so as to resolve the several difficult job problems in their profession.  Science societies have many features that are strongly analogous to unions, and should be encouraged to start helping their member scientists to better deal with major job-related issues.  

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                           UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

SCIENCE HAS BEEN MURDERED IN THE UNITED STATES, AS PROCLAIMED BY KEVIN RYAN AND PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS!

 Quotes (2015) from Kevin Roberts and Paul Craig Roberts (http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/02/17/guest-column-kevin-ryan-science-died-911/)

Quotes (2015) from Kevin R. Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts, about the murder of science (http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/02/17/guest-column-kevin-ryan-science-died-911/) 

Kevin R. Ryan was discharged from working at the Underwriters Laboratories after he began inquiring about test results for construction materials used for building the World Trade Center.  After their targeted destruction in 2001, he and others actively continue to investigate and question the validity of the government’s examinations and official explanation for that signal event in our country.  He has published several books about 9/11, and now co-edits several journals focused on that dramatic day (see:  http://digwithin.net/about/ ). 

Paul Craig Roberts is a very sharp and outspoken writer covering many topics about the economy, politics, history, and modern society, both in the United States (U.S.) and the world.  He acquired much inside knowledge about how our national government works during his earlier service as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy (1981-82).  Dr. Roberts holds a Ph.D. in Economics (University of Virginia), and has published many incisive books.  His website, “Institute for Political Economy” (see:  http://www.paulcraigroberts.org ), issues his perceptive examinations and forthright conclusions for many current events and the difficult problems we all face.

A very recent essay by Kevin Ryan, entitled “How Science Died on 9/11” (see:  http://digwithin.net ), forms the core for Dr. Roberts’ thoughts about the viability of science in the modern U.S. (see:  http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/02/17/guest-column-kevin-ryan-science-died-911/ ).  Both authors feel that science in America died after the 9/11 catastrophe when it was murdered by the numerous research scientists remaining silent about the many contradictions and false evidence for what really did occur and what could not have happened on that tragic day.  If research scientists fail to stay 100% honest then they have forsaken the main ideal of science (i.e., a search for the truth); there can be no such thing as partial or part-time honesty for scientists.  Ryan characterizes the government’s evidence and conclusions as involving “pseudo-science”, rather than real science.    

For several years, a slowly increasing number of engineers, architects, and physical scientists have joined together to dispute the truth of the official explanations proposed for 9/11 by the U.S. federal government (see: “Science at 9/11” at:  http://www.ae911truth.org ).  Ryan and Roverts believe that some or many of the other American scientists must have: (1) foresaken their search for the truth, (2) knowingly espoused false conclusions, or (3) remained silent about the scientific and engineering evidence supporting demolition as the true cause for the collapse of the 3 buildings on 9/11.  

Roberts then goes even further, by ascribing the unexpected silence of many scientists to the facts that: (1) science today can be bought, (2) money now can determine results in science, and. (3) university research scientists all are totally dependent during their career upon the continued flow of research grant money from the governmental science agencies, and therefore they dare not dispute the methods or conclusions of the official governmental investigation of 9/11.  

Both authors conclude that science now is dead in the U.S.  Ryan and Roberts use their own analysis and critical reasoning to come to many of the same conclusions about the dismal health of modern science that I described earlier (see: “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” ).   Although I do believe that science now is dying, I must reject their all-encompassing conclusion that science is dead, because some good researchers do continue their productive search for new truth and thereby are making important new advances in science and technology.   Thus, I feel that science is in a morbid state, but is not yet dead.  Nevertheless, I must agree with their contention that most or all otherwise good scientists have not protested or spoken out about the falsity of research and the trashing of standards for total honesty in science, with regard to finding the true causes of the events on 9/11.  Truth no longer matters for modern science as much as does money; it is indeed very sad that today money is supreme at modern universities (see “Money now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ), thereby badly undercutting the integrity of university science.    

Kevin Ryan should be complimented for his courageous questioning about the many scientific and engineering findings that contradict the official conclusions for what happened on 9/11.  Paul Craig Roberts emphasizes exactly what is wrong with today’s university science in the U.S.  Clearly, the misuse of money has made traditional science so hard to pursue with honestly that it has either murdered or mortally wounded scientific research.  These 2 authors should be praised for realizing the bad consequences of money upon being totally honest in science, and for forcefully bringing public attention to the vigorous dispute about what is true and what is false concerning 9/11.   Eventually, everyone else will recognize both the unpleasant truth about 9/11, and the bad consequences of the current morbid decay in science. 

Dr.M most heartily recommends that everyone should read and think about this very stimulating and provocative essay by Kevin Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts (see: http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/02/17/guest-column-kevin-ryan-science-died-911/ ).  

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                         UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

WHY DOES THE UNITED STATES NOW HAVE SO VERY MANY FOREIGN GRADUATE STUDENTS IN SCIENCE? PART II.

 

Why does the United States have sp many Foreign Graduate Students?  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Why does the United States now have so very many Foreign Graduate Students? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

The first part of this essay (see:  “Part I” ) described the growing number of foreign graduate students now immigrating into the United States (U.S.).  They first study for a doctoral degree in science, followed by postdoctoral training, and then obtain a professional science job in U.S. universities and industries.  Part II will (1) examine what this situation means for U.S. science now and in the future, (2) identify the ultimate cause of this worrisome development, and, (3) explain how this problematic condition can best be resolved.

What does this situation mean for the future of science in the U.S.? 

Judgments of the balance between the positive  and negative aspects of this new situation (see: “Part I” ) are quite uncertain.  Discussions  about the quality and results of these immigrants always are difficult.  Nevertheless, important questions must be discussed!  My views here will be given about the following prominent questions.  (1) How does this situation affect the quality of science and scientists in the U.S.?  (2) To what extent does this situation decrease the number of graduates from U.S. colleges choosing to pursue advanced studies in science?  (3) What does this mean for the future of science in the U.S.? 

Regarding the effects upon science of the numerous foreign graduate students immigrating into the U.S., problems with intellectual maturity, skills with independent design of experiments and research manipulations, and, misguided practices in professional ethics, all seem to me to be rather equivalent between the foreign and domestic populations.  Thus, there is not much negative influence on the quality of scientists resulting from the added population of foreign students studying science in U.S. graduate schools. 

The question about whether the many foreign graduate students now here is influencing the decision of native-born college graduates not to enter a career in science is paralleled by another open question about whether the entrance of new foreign doctoral scientists into faculty positions in U.S. universities and high positions in U.S. industries makes native college graduates less likely to want to work with their foreign-born associates in science.  I feel that the answer to both these questions is “probably not yet”, because this situation is still at a fairly early stage of development.  Such questions currently are more a worry for the future, and are not so acute at present.  However, when there will be more research positions and science jobs having mostly or even exclusively foreign-born U.S.-trained scientists, then these questions will rise to the top of the pile. 

The future of science in the U.S. seems likely to be badly impacted as soon as the present situation matures and evolves with even greater numbers of foreign graduate students.  Many unpleasant questions about hidden policies and confused practices then will arise for the 2 populations of young scientists (e.g., should either population ever be favored, who is in charge, should some number of research grants be reserved for awarding to either population, is there really equal opportunity for acquiring research grants, is there really equal opportunity for advancement in industry, who exactly is foreign, how do foreigners differ from native citizens, should members of any ethnic group be forbidden to review research grant applications submitted by others in the same group, do all university faculty have to give lectures and to teach in undergraduate and graduate courses, etc.).  All of these queries deserve to be fully discussed. 

In my opinion, the very biggest and most important problem with the enlarging population of young foreign graduate students is are they now causing a decrease in the already weak interest of young Americans to enter a career in science?  If carried to extreme, some aspects of science in the U.S. then could become the exclusive domain of certain foreigners.  Nobody knows to what extent this already is happening now, due to the lack of surveys and data.  However, I believe that if such an imbalanced arrangement causes fewer American college students to want to study science, then that will have really bad effects upon the future of U.S. science

What exactly might happen? 

Part I only indicated in a rather gentle way the present degree to which this worrisome new trend has taken hold within the U.S.  Let us now look more closely at just how this peculiar situation could enlarge and mature in the near future.  I have seen some science labs in U.S. universities where there were outstanding graduate students and Postdocs, originating both from abroad and from the U.S.  I also actually have observed with my own eyes an active faculty laboratory with numerous foreign graduate students and postdocs, where there was not even one individual science worker born in the U.S.  These young foreign workers all were from the same country, and were working under a full professor originating from that same land.  This scenario is a notable situation that could become more frequent in the U.S.; I regard this to be both unhealthy and inappropriate.  All readers should be able to perceive that U.S.-born college graduates might not feel very comfortable working within such a research laboratory; that feeling is not due to racism, but comes from normal human nature for not wanting to be the “odd man out”. 

The most extreme extent for this worrisome development is best illustrated by the amazing story of a certain School of Engineering and Technology in the U.S. which I myself have personally observed.  I was told that over 75% of their graduate students are from the same foreign country, and that this School is much better known inside that country than is the very prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology!  Everyone suspects that before any doctoral candidate graduates, they must make arrangements for a new young student from their foreign undergraduate school or home town to send in an application for admission to this graduate program.  This unofficial policy is the basis for an especially successful business operation!  It results in that institution always getting lots of tuition since it never has the problem with decreasing enrollments now found in many other U.S. university schools, and always is able to produce many theses, patents, and professional research publications.  The level of success and its momentum in this very real example are so great that there would be no bad effects stemming from any future changes in economic or political conditions. 

I do not doubt that this special mechanism for ensuring the continuing success of a graduate school will be emulated and adopted by other universities.  This same educational institution now has been publicly noted to have over 90% of its graduate students in Electrical Engineering coming from foreign lands in 2013 [1]!  Even more shocking is the fact that there were 6 other universities and technology institutes in the U.S. with a similar very high percentage for this discipline [1]!  Thus, the prediction given in the first sentence of this paragraph now has come true!  Yes, the future already is here! 

Who or what should be blamed for this problematic situation? 

Foreign graduate students are not to be blamed for this new situation, since they are simply taking advantage of the available opportunity to get educated and find a good job in science here.  Foreign postdocs appointed to new a professional position in U.S. universities or industries also are not to be blamed, since they are winning an open competition for these jobs.  Foreign governments should not be blamed for facilitating the movement of their young students into U.S. graduate schools and jobs, since that helps young scientists from their country gain valuable education and  income not otherwise available. 

Some feel that blame should be given to the federal and state governments in the U.S., because these are approving the expenditure of money collected from American taxpayers to support the education of foreign graduate students.  It is not clear to me why these government offices award money to support foreign graduate students in science.  I have no doubt that many US taxpayers disapprove of any such use of their contributions.  Why don’t foreign governments pay for their students to come here for advanced education? 

Who then should be blamed?  To determine that we must look back to find the primary cause of this entire situation.  It is very clear to me that the ultimate cause of this condition is the rejection of entering a career in science by current American college students.  In turn, that creates the gap in graduate school enrollments.  The numerous unfilled slots for training domestic graduate students in science then are filled by eager young foreign college-level students because Nature abhors a vacuum!  We must blame whatever is inducing American college students to reject a career in science.

Many undergraduates now choose not to enter graduate schools for advanced training in science.  Students indeed are clever, and many now in U.S. colleges are easily able to perceive some of the serious reasons why so many university science faculty are very upset with their current job condition.  That stems from the misguided policies of U.S. universities and the research grant system.  Hence, I believe that it is those 2 entities, (1) modern universities, and (2) agencies in the research grant system, which must be blamed for the secondary problems arising from there being so many new foreign graduate students studying and doing science in the U.S..

What is the best approach to solve this problem? 

Identification of the primary cause means that the best solution to this entire problem now is obvious: American students need to be much better attracted to enter a career in science.  The best way to accomplish that is to reform the several major job problems making many faculty scientists conducting research in U.S. universities being so distressed, dissatisfied, and dismayed (see:  “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job, Part I” , and also “Part II” ).  If science and universities in the U.S. can be repaired and renewed from their present degenerated and decayed condition (see:  “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ), then many college undergraduates in the US will no longer be so repulsed from entering a career in science.  In turn, with more domestic college graduates entering graduate schools to study science, there then will result in many fewer openings needing to be filled by foreign graduate students.

Concluding remarks for Parts I and II. 

The population of numerous foreign graduate students now immigrating into the U.S. has both positive and negative effects on American science.  Much more attention must be given to fully understanding all the different aspects of this modern situation.  

Foreign graduate students studying in the U.S. for a doctoral degree in science now function very usefully to maintain ongoing university operations by substituting for the decreasing numbers of American students entering science studies.  Of course, these immigrants later compete directly with their domestic counterparts for science jobs in U.S. universities and industries.  

The ultimate cause of the large increase in foreign graduate students moving into the U.S. to study for a Ph.D. in science is the decreasing number of U.S. undergraduates now choosing not to enter graduate school for starting a career in science.  The best and most effective solution to this problematic situation will be to make careers in scientific research much more attractive to young American college students.  

 

[1]  Redden, E., 2013.  Foreign student dependence.  Article in Inside Higher Education is available on the internet at:  http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/12/new-report-shows-dependence-us-graduate-programs-foreign-students .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                           UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

WHY DOES THE UNITED STATES NOW HAVE SO VERY MANY FOREIGN GRADUATE STUDENTS IN SCIENCE? PART I.

 

Why does the United States have sp many Foreign Graduate Students?  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Why does the United States now have so very many Foreign Graduate Students?? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Modern science certainly is a very international activity.  The worldwide interactions of scientists, science educators, and science students produce many beneficial outcomes for everyone, but some recent aspects must be considered problematic.  Let’s now take a closer look at those.

Introduction. 

Many foreign students now are studying here at graduate schools to earn their Ph.D. in science.  They are following a very long global tradition in science and education.  Most of them are not able to get good research training for a science Ph.D. in their native land, so they undertake to do that in other countries having strong activity in scientific research, such as Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, U.K., and the United States (U.S.).  Postdoctoral research associates also frequently come to these countries for advanced training in scientific research.  Through these educational programs, the U.S. or other host countries have been seen to substantially help other nations to expand and develop their own activities for science.  Previously, these foreign students and postdocs were either expected or required to return to their native land for subsequent employment. The young foreign scientists returning to their native country usually found good jobs at universities, research institutes, industries, or government; this arrangement helped the home countries greatly, and even has led some of them to set up scholarship programs to sponsor and facilitate such studies abroad.  

Recent changes.   

The traditional situation with foreign graduate students in science recently has changed in the U.S.   There now is a general pattern that after young foreign graduate scientists earn their Ph.D. in science here, they then stay on for postdoctoral training and subsequently work in a good science job in the U.S. for the remainder of their life.  Currently, most foreign-born graduate students and postdocs now come here with little intention to ever return to their native country, except for vacations.  Instead, they aim to stay here and have access to more and better jobs, along with more and bigger research grants supporting their scientific investigations; both of these are not so available in their native country.  Many foreign students entering with some sort of student visa now openly are immigrants, since they strive to elevate their visa status or to change their citizenship very soon after arriving here. 

In 2013, there were reported to be 71,418 foreign graduate students enrolled in U.S. graduate schools [1].  That represents a 10% increase in this population over the previous academic year [1].  Of course, not all of these graduate students are studying science, and some are only working for a Masters Degree.

Although there is no question at all that most of these science students and researchers from abroad work hard and do good work here, this modern change raises several disturbing questions.  I purposely will ignore some common complaints about foreigners not speaking English very well, and not understanding how to design good experiments, since those qualities vary greatly among the many different individuals.  Instead, I will deal here with important questions about whole populations (i.e., we will mostly be looking at forests, and not so much at individual trees); these important questions are not frequently discussed in terms of general trends.   

Part I of this essay describes this new condition with numerous foreign science students immigrating into the U.S., examines its consequences, and discusses questions that are not asked openly.  Part II then will take a closer look at what this new situation could lead to, what it means for American science, what is its ultimate cause, and how this modern problem can best be resolved.  Readers should note that both Parts focus on graduate students, and not on undergraduate students.  

What are the consequences of having so many foreign graduate students in the U.S.? 

The situation just described certainly has both good and bad consequences.  Most foreign graduate students are successful with their pre-doctoral research work, thereby helping their mentor, their host institution, and science in the U.S.  The large inflow of foreign graduate students into universities in the U.S. fills a vacuum created by the diminishing number of young Americans now choosing to study for a career in science; modern universities now have become very dependent upon the growing population of entering foreign graduate students to maintain their full enrollments.  The vigor of the grant-supported research enterprise in the U.S. strongly needs more foreign postdoctoral research associates, since the supply of new domestic Ph.D.s in science is not large enough for the demand; the research success of foreign postdocs greatly contributes to U.S. science, and prepares them for subsequent productive employment.  These immigrants later gain employment here, and many continue as successful professional researchers in universities and industries.  Some achieve such exemplary success with doing high quality innovative scientific research that they even very deservedly win a Nobel Prize (e.g., Prof. Ahmed H. Zewail (California Institute of Technology), Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1999) [2]; also see: “Scientists Tell us About their Life and Work, Part 3, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar” ). 

For science in the U.S., this modern situation is very positive since it increases both the number of practicing professional researchers and the total output of published research works.  In addition, it ensures full enrollments for most graduate schools in the U.S.  However, certain other consequences of this condition seem to be both negative and worrisome.  The effects of this situation upon native-born graduate students and holders of science faculty jobs in U.S. universities are quite controversial.  Discussions already have debated whether foreign-born graduate students crowd out and displace their native-born counterparts when seeking a postdoctoral position or a full-time science job.  In the future, the effects of the growing large immigrant population probably will become increasingly negative.  Since a greater number of foreigners now competes with their domestic counterparts for the same job openings, the foreign population of applicants thereby will have some advantage if all else is equal.  When applying for a faculty job opening in a university science department where there already are many foreign-born members of the science faculty, the new graduates from certain lands undoubtedly will be favored over those born in the U.S.  It also is likely that some American college students now are less enthusiastic about entering certain university graduate schools because they feel they would not fit in readily with all the foreign professors and foreign students there. 

Questions that need to be discussed. 

Asking polite or impolite questions about the policies, problems, and peculiarities involving young foreign scientists in U.S. university graduate schools is made very difficult by 3 different factors.  (1) Faculty scientists at some very prestigious U.S. universities now openly visit certain other countries every year to recruit new graduate students; thus, this new system is being promoted and progressively locked into the status quo, just as has been done already for undergraduate students in colleges.  (2) Cheating on applications for admission to graduate schools, and during long-distance telephone interviews, not only occurs, but is well-accepted in some foreign cultures; this corruption is not always uncovered, and then increases the level of dishonesty within American science (see: “Why would Any Scientist ever Cheat?” ).  (3) Modern precepts for political correctness try to preclude any discussion of different characteristics for national origin and intelligence, such that any and all questions now are deemed to be very impolite and improper; I believe everything needs to be discussed more, and do not recognize any such restrictions.  

The most important key questions about this entire situation can be phrased as follows.  Are young American students being denied participation in U.S. graduate schools and postdoctoral positions because the slots for admission already are filled by their foreign counterparts?  Are new American doctoral scientists being denied employment at universities because faculty job openings already are filled by newly-degreed and newly-hired young foreign scientists?  Are funds from US taxpayers collected and issued by the federal and state governments being used to support foreign graduate students and postdocs for their education and research training here? 

I regret that I cannot answer the first 2 questions because there appears to be no adequate data or surveys with which to analyze all possibilities for this situation.  For the third question, I know that some private and public schools do provide financial support for graduate students in science, regardless of their national origin; it is likely that some or even all of these funds come from American taxpayers and donors.  That ongoing practice seems very questionable. 

Why am I addressing these questions now? 

Many readers undoubtedly will jump to the conclusion that I must be very prejudiced against all foreigners and especially against young foreign scientists in training.  That just ain’t so!  Two of my own postdoctoral associates were born in foreign countries (Japan, and Italy).  They both worked hard and produced outstanding research work in my laboratory; it was very satisfying to see them succeed at research, and was fun to work with them.  Both returned to their native land to start professional employment with a new job opportunity in science.  My actual general prejudice always is to seek higher quality regardless of national origin or irrelevant individual characteristics.  Some foreign-born students and postdocs most certainly have a very high quality; since I know that some American students and young scientists also have a very high quality, I am looking at the questions given above only to make certain that the domestic young scientists are not being put at some disadvantage by this new situation. 

I raise these questions because they are very important.  The large number of foreign graduate students now moving into the U.S. is rarely discussed, clearly is increasing, and needs to have its negative implications challenged.  If no questions are asked, then this situation will only expand to become more troubling.  The best place to start getting the negative effects of this situation analyzed will be in collecting numerical data for each branch of science in the entire U.S.; to the best of my knowledge adequate data are not yet available.  Nobody can hope to draw solid conclusions or recommendations until the  extent of this situation and its effects are much better known.   

The cause, consequences, and best solution for this problematic new situation in U.S. science will be further examined in the forthcoming second portion of this essay. 

 

[1]  Porter, C., and Belkin, D., 2013.  Record number of foreign students flocking to U.S.  Wall Street Journal article is available on the internet at:   http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304868404579190062164404756 .

[2]  Zewail, A., 2015.  Ahmed Zewail at a glance.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.zewail.caltech.edu .

 

 GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                           UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

SOME UNIVERSITY RESEARCH SCIENTISTS DO INDEED HAVE GUTS!

 

Don't Laugh, since He can See the Truth very Clearly!!  (http://dr-monsrs.net}
Don’t Laugh!    He can See the Truth very, very Clearly!!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Most people have a distorted view about what scientists working at universities really are like.  There certainly is some truth in the common feeling that scientists researching in the ivory tower have it easy while living a safe and comfortable life without ever working up a sweat.  In the modern era many university scientists worry more about their research grant(s) and their lab space assignment than they do about how to get a difficult experiment to finally work, or whether alternative explanations for their recent results make more sense than a traditional interpretation. 

There are a few exceptions to such generalizations, and some university science faculty do maintain their individuality and personal standards.  These persons frequently are known as troublemakers, weirdos, hard boiled eggs, creative geniuses, misfits, or ambitious workaholics.  Some of the same characteristics desired for successful research scientists also are found prominently in these distinctive individuals; such features include curiosity, creativity, and  inventiveness, as I have explained earlier (see: “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science” ).  In addition, these same scientists often are characterized by such features as idealism, pig-headedness, not fearing to speak the truth, and, dedication to being a scientist. 

This report relates a few true stories about actual university scientists I have known.  All have the personal courage to fight the system, and are unconventional.  Their identity must remain a secret in order to protect the guilty! 

University scientist X attacks the glorified institution of tenure! 

Scientist X is a very successful cell biologist who is hard-working, creative, well-liked, and highly individualistic.  He works at a very large state university, and has had his research grants renewed throughout his career.  He was overwhelmingly qualified to be promoted and tenured.  However, because he is independently wealthy, he decided to forego all the time and scrutiny involved with this academic ritual.  All other faculty are totally enthusiastic to accept whatever is necessary to get tenured.  His Chair, the Dean, and the senior professors in his department all tried to persuade him to accept becoming tenured, but he just would not give in. 

Academic tenure traditionally gives a faculty member the right to speak their opinion without fear of being fired by the employer.  How in the world can any university faculty not want to become tenured?  Prof. X readily explained his most unusal decision with something like the following (paraphrased):  “I do not have time for tenure.  I do not need tenure, since I can easily get a new faculty position elsewhere if I am fired here.  I always say what is on my mind, so tenure means nothing to me.  I am doing a good job here, so why do I have to get it?”  No-one could remember such statements ever being offered before!  His fellow faculty frequently commented about Prof. X (paraphrased):  “What is wrong with him?  He is just unbelievable!  Tenure is so important and utterly necessary!   Poor Prof. X must be mad!  No professor can survive without tenure!” 

For university faculty members, the decision about tenure is required, meaning that faculty candidates either must be retained with the promotion or else they are discharged from employement (i.e., “up, or out”).  After much further disputation, Prof. X still would not give in!  He reportedly told his superiors that he would be pleased to just continue doing his usual very good work without having any tenured status, but that was impossible according to the University bylaws!  Finally, a special arrangement was worked out when his employer realized that they strongly wanted him to continue working at this university; Prof. X became tenured without being evaluated further or having to sign any papers. 

This real story is amazingly unusual!  Nobody else ever rejects the chance to be promoted to the tenured rank, or actually offers reasons for that rejection.  Prof. X must be admired for having the guts to be outspoken and self-directed.  He stuck to his personal beliefs and challenged a long-standing university tradition.  In retrospect today, it is totally clear that becoming tenured made no difference at all to the continued good success of Prof. X as a professional research scientist. 

University scientist Y pays for some of his own research expenses! 

Scientist Y is unusual because he, unlike all other university faculty, is willing to spend his own personal money for some of his business expenses (i.e., payment for purchases of some small research supplies and for transportation to national or international science meetings).  Other science faculty at his urban university never ever do that; they could not understand Prof. Y and condemned his judgment about using his own funds.  They would simply not go to any science meeting unless their travel and hotel expenses were paid for by external funds.  Some of the other faculty thought that Prof. Y definitely must be some kind of weirdo! 

When asked to explain his unusual willingness to spend his own personal money for travel expenses to participate in a science meeting, he said that he viewed this as an investment in himself as a professional research scientist.  He actually was buying additional knowledge (i.e., the talks and posters he witnessed), making new contacts, asking questions about research to scientists he met, and interacting with some attendees as a potential collaborator.  Putting these same funds into investments indeed might get him more money, but that did not really help his science career as much as what he gained by being at the meetings. 

This unusual use of personal money undoubtedly was an expression of Prof. Y’s very strong  commitment to science.  Many famous scientists show this same commitment as a notable feature of their professional success.  Such personal commitment unfortunately is becoming infrequent in the modern age. 

University scientist Z calls into question whether a research grant is necessary for  faculty  scientists to continue researching and publishing! 

Professor Z lost his research grant 1 year ago, and is trying either to get it back or to acquire a new award.  Traditionally, for all faculty at his university, losing their external grant support means that they will soon have to relinquish their laboratory space assignment unless they can soon acquire new research funding.  Although composing several applications takes up almost all of his time, Prof. Z continues to work actively in his research lab and has published several new research reports.  He openly maintains that: (1) he had purchased enough research supplies to last for another few years, (2) he and one graduate student continue their research work, so no additional lab personnel are needed, (3) his output of new peer-reviewed research reports in good journals continues just as it did before he lost his grant, and, (4) he wants to continue his lab research. 

Other faculty now complain to the Chair that they need more lab space for their grant-supported projects, and want Prof. Z’s space assignment to be re-assigned to them.  It is totally unheard of that any former grantee can continue to do research and to issue new publications without having a research grant award.  His Chair is very uneasy with this situation, particularly because Prof. Z is still actively researching.  Prof. Z’s intention clearly calls into question whether researching can be done without having a grant. 

This dilemma arises because all positions are seen only as being black and white, rather than as different shades of gray.  Even Prof. Z admits that he did even more when he was funded than at present.  Nevertheless, it is completely false to state that Prof. Z presently is not producing good research, because he obviously still is doing so.  As more and more university faculty members lose their external research grant awards, this entire situation now will arise more frequently; with the vicious cut-throat hyper-competition for research grants now in effect (see:  “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ), the former grantees almost always rapidly lose their argument and become very bitter.  The usual response to this situation indicates that modern universities are after profits from research grants more than seeking additional contributions of significant new knowledge and understanding; in other words, the inflow of money is more valuable to them than the production of new knowledge.  

Concluding remarks.  

These stories illustrate that some individual scientists at universities do have much personal integrity and a strong commitment to their work.  But, it certainly takes guts to be different!  Scientists in academia usually must restrain their individualism in order to function and succeed in their job situation.  The personal courage and strong determination of the individual scientists described above should be applauded by all the other faculty; instead, those individuals usually are ridiculed.  It never is easy to stand up and do what one believes to be right when many others have the opposite opinion.  These real stories show that some academic traditions and rules are made to be broken.  The story about Prof. X particularly shows that modern universities must be forced to do the right thing!   

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU 

                                                         UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

WHAT DOES SCIENCE MATTER TO ME, AN ORDINARY PERSON IN 2015?

 Science is everywhere! Everybody needs science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Science is everywhere!  Everyone uses science!  Everybody needs science!  (http://dr-monsrs.net) 

The general public is estranged from science and is afraid of scientific research (see: “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ).  This sad state is due to several interrelated causes: (1) very defective education of people about what science is and what research does, (2) a general decrease in the educational status, such that most adults feel they cannot possibly understand anything having to do with science or research, (3) the issuance of science news on TV and the internet as gee-whiz stories that are strictly for amusement, (4) scientists are viewed as some weird creatures wearing white coats in labs with lots of strange machines and computers, and, (5) almost nobody has ever met and talked to a real living research scientist.

Basic research, applied science, and engineering: what does each do?

The research work resulting in some new commercial product or an amazing new medical development typically arose through the work of quite a few different scientists and engineers.  Basic research starts this process by investigating the whys and wherefores of something; this seeks new knowledge for its own sake, irrespective of practical uses.   Applied research takes some basic findings and seeks to develop their practical usage by improving their qualities and capabilities; this seeks to expand knowledge so that some potential practical use (i.e., a product or process) can be derived.  Engineering development then pushes the progression of development further by making it economically feasible to produce, and commercially effective to sell, something that is new or better; this seeks to enable a new or improved commercial product to be manufactured and marketed.  The 3 phases of this process can take place within the laboratory setting of a university or an industrial research and development (R&D) center.  The entire process often takes years or decades to be completed. 

Why does scientific research matter to everyone? 

Ordinary people should feel emotionally attached to the progress of science and research, for several reasons.  First, the public pays taxes for the research enterprise, and therefore everyone has some interest in the success of these studies.  The basic research by scientists requires time, money, and good luck to be successful; the money from commercial profits or tax collections pays for all the salaries, supplies, and other essential research expenses.  Second, the applied research and engineering R&D efforts are entirely devoted to satisfying the expectation of some future usage by the public.  This anticipation is based upon the self-interest of numerous  people in the public concerning practical matters in their daily life (e.g., better communication, better treatments for medical ailments, cheaper transportation, cleaner environment, less work and time needed to do something, more widespread good nutrition, etc.). 

All people visit commercial stores, food markets, gasoline stations, sites for laundry and cleaning, etc.  During all these transactions, they are using the results of research and development by scientists and engineers, whether they realize this fact or not.  Naturally, devices and tools for daily life need to be modified, thus giving rise to development of improved commercial offerings; the wishes of the public, as well as the financial hopes of marketers, serve to encourage progress in technology.  When people realize that scientific research impacts literally everything in their daily life, then they will begin to understand what scientists do and to be more enthusiastic about science and research.  Modern science not only builds spaceships and manipulates atoms, but it also helps people to live and work in a more satisfying and healthy manner. 

Can better education solve the estrangement of people from science? 

Education must be remodelled so that all adults can comprehend the organization of the branches of science, what researchers and engineers actually do in their daily work, and, how  science is a vital part of life that has importance for everyone.  The divisions and subdivisions of science should be taught early, and should be explained with everyday examples.  If the public saw scientists as being fellow people, instead of as some bizarre creatures from another planet, they would be much better able to learn about real science rather than pseudoscience.   The stories about how some key discoveries actually were made by “famous scientists” should be taught in middle school.  Selected laboratory exercises in science classes should be given in middle schools and colleges, but with much more background so that students will see these as concrete examples of how science and research lead to some important practical event(s); this cannot be accomplished by meaningless exercises to memorize as quickly as possible before all is forgotten forever.  To see, touch, and hear scientific research in the real world, all students should have the opportunity in high (middle) school to visit a university or commercial research lab, along with the chance to ask questions and meet some actual doctoral scientists, graduate students, and research technicians working there.  

Instituting these changes could remove many of the problems the general public now has in  understanding and appreciating scientific research.  However, I do recognize that this approach is made difficult or even impossible because most teachers of science working today in high schools have themselves been maleducated.  If these teachers first will learn to be more fully knowledgeable and will develop the needed good understanding of their subject, then they will be able to show their students how science is involved with daily life and how interesting it is.  Some recent programs on the internet are aiming to improve the regard of the public for science, but because they are using an entertainment medium to present a serious subject they will continue to achieve only very limited success. 

Concluding remarks

Scientific research is everywhere in our daily life!  All that we consider to be facts originated through the activities of scientists and other research scholars.  It is not only prersent when a doctor prescribes a new medicine to alleviate some disease, but also is there when we eat a piece of dried pineapple or ride in a modern bus.  People must be better educated so they can recognize the giant role science and research have in our daily lives, and see the activities of scientists and engineers as contributing much to progress in all aspects of our activities as individuals.  

The main message is that science is for everyone, everybody uses science, and everyone needs science!  Science is both fascinating and mysterious, but it should not be feared.  It is time that ordinary people more easily recognize the very large roles scientific research and engineering developments play in their daily life! 

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

BASIC VERSUS APPLIED SCIENCE: ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES TO FUNDING BASIC RESEARCH BY GRANTS?

Both basic research and applied research need to be supported by grant awards!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Two high school teachers discuss basic and applied research at universities!!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Basic science uses experimental research to seek new truths and test hypotheses.  Applied science seeks to improve or invent devices, methods, or processes so they have better output (e.g., faster or slower, lighter, more efficient, less expensive, more durable, etc.).  Research in basic and applied science at universities both need to be supported by external research grants.  At present, the large federal granting agencies increasingly seem to favor making awards for projects with applied research; awards to acquire knowledge for its own sake in basic research studies now are not considered as worthwhile for funding as formerly. 

What good is pure basic research? 

The classical work of the great pioneers in science, ranging from Galileo to Linus Pauling, all was pure basic science.  Nevertheless, research studies in modern basic science typically are seen as ridiculous or worthless by ordinary adults (e.g., What happens if entire chloroplasts isolated from plant cells are inserted into living animal cells?).  This viewpoint is very short-sighted because it ignores the simple fact that all research progress is part of a continuum of investigations by many different scientists.  Almost all new devices or items of practical use follow this general pathway of development; the final output of applied research can occur several decades after the original discovery by basic research.  Thus, esoteric new knowledge from basic science studies often becomes useful and important when it generates later research in applied science and engineering.  

The basis for all later developments in applied science is the open research in basic science. The number one example of this is the transistor.  When transistors were first made by Bardeen and others, they were viewed as “lab curiosities” that had no potential for practical usage [1].  No-one foresaw their eventual revolutionary significance for the myriad electronic devices and computers in today’s  world.   

How is it decided what research actually is conducted? 

In an ideal world, professional scientists with a Ph.D. decide what to investigate and how to carry out the needed experiments.  In the present world, faculty scientists at universities investigate only what can be supported by external research grant awards.  This necessity  influences and restricts university scientists right from their first job since applicants for a new research grant always very carefully inspect published announcements stating which topics and areas are currently being targeted by the governmental funding agencies; these agencies thereby have a very large influence on which research studies can be pursued.  Governmental officials at agencies awarding research grants can silently direct research efforts into chosen directions, and ensure that certain research topics receive more attention by university research scientists.  An analogous direction of work occurs for most industrial researchers, since they must work only on those research questions having significance for their commercial employer. 

The governmental control of funding for research investigations in science is problematic since the funding agencies increasingly seem to favor funding of research projects in applied science.  This is due in part to the understandable desire to obtain progress within their area of special interest (e.g., energy, fuels, health, military, etc.), and to show the tax-paying public that their support for research studies produces useful new devices or new processes with practical benefits to many.  The funding agencies unfortunately do not understand that basic studies almost always are the precursors for later developments by applied scientists and engineers.  Thus, these funding agencies have an inherent conflict between providing funding for the basic or applied categories of research. Decreasing the awards for basic science later will cause decreases in the output of applied science.  

What are the consequences of favored funding for applied science? 

Any favoring of applied science over basic science for receiving external funding awards inevitably has negative consequences on the progress of science.  First, it decreases the amount of research funds available to support pure basic research.  Second, it conflicts with the well-known fact that almost all important advances and engineering developments originate from some earlier finding(s) by pure basic researchers; decreased funding for basic research later will cause fewer results with applied research.  Third, all the research subjects not selected for targeted funding in applied science thereby are disfavored, and these consequently become less studied.  Fourth, the origin for most new ideas, new concepts, breakthrough developments, and new directions in science is the individual research scientist (see earlier discussions on “Individual Work versus Group Efforts in Scientific Research” and “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science” ).  Applied research tends to decrease the freedom to be creative; that also encourages formation of research groups and decreases the number of grant-holding scientists functioning as individual research workers. 

Are there alternatives in funding or support mechanisms for basic science?

Very small short-term research studies often can be supported by either personal funds or crowdfunding (see earlier discussion in: “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part III.  Unconventional Approaches to Find or Create Employment Opportunities” ).  Some granting agencies have programs offering small amounts of financial support for one year of work; these special opportunities are particularly valuable for scientists seeking to conduct pilot studies.  Where larger research expenses are needed, those mechanisms for support of small research are insufficient, and it is necessary to obtain a standard research grant from the external support agencies.  For subsequent investigations, most grant-holding scientists at universities choose to apply for renewal of their current award; once on the train, it seems easier to stay on board instead of trying to jump off to transfer onto a different train! 

It is not always recognized that a few organizations offer substantial cash prizes for certain targeted competitions (e.g., design a safe human-powered aircraft, develop an efficient system for producing bulk proteins from single-celled algae at special indoor or outdoor farms, construct a practical and inexpensive all-electric gasoline-free automobile, etc.).  Such projects are strongly involved with applied research, although they do involve whatever materials and directions the scientist-inventor wishes to utilize.  These special competitive prizes are retrospective awards given after the research studies and engineering developments are finished; that is totally the opposite of standard governmental research grants which give prospective awards for planned research work before it has been conducted. 

Retrospective research grant awards also are found in ongoing support programs of some other countries, but are not usual in the USA.  Those countries support their research scientists at universities and institutes by routinely awarding them general operating funds (e.g., $30,000/year); these funds provide support for such needed expenses as the work of graduate students, purchase of research supplies, unanticipated research costs (e.g., repair of a broken lab instrument), travel to a science meeting or to the lab of a collaborator, etc.  This supportive practice is a lifesaver whenever an active scientist’s research grant is not renewed. 

Support for basic research inside the current federal research grant system

The diminishing support for basic research necessitates looking for alternative funding sources.  It is not always recognized that normal federal research grants do allow some awarded funds to be utilized for new basic science investigations, so long as these have some relationship to the main subject of interest and do not require very large amounts of money.  This usage of research grant funds usually is considered as a justified expense when the Principal Investigator approves these expenditures.  Such side-projects often are labelled as being pilot studies, since they can produce enough important data to later be included in an application for a new separate research grant.  

Concluding remarks

Support by the research grant system for basic research studies now is decreasing while  support for applied research studies increases.  Knowledge for its own sake always will be important, and is the basis for subsequent developments in applied science and engineering.  Both the basic and applied types of research studies are valuable for the science enterprise and society.  The current disfavoring of basic research studies should be stopped, because that hurts the future promise of research studies in both basic and applied science; at present, basic science needs to be encouraged more.    University scientists must develop and use additional or unconventional means to enable them to conduct the needed basic science investigations. 

[1]  Mullis, K. B., 1987.  Conversation with John Bardeen.  Available on the internet at:      http://www.karymullis.com/pdf/interview-jbardeen.pdf .

 

 GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                           UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

AFTER SPENDING BILLIONS, WHY HAVE SCIENTISTS NOT YET FOUND A CURE FOR CANCER?

 

Cancer Research is having some Good Effects, but even More Progress is Needed!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Cancer Research is having some Good Effects, but Much More Progress is Needed! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 Just about everyone on this planet would dearly love to honor any research scientist who can find a cure for cancer.  Despite all the money and time already poured into extensive research efforts in labs and hospitals, the goal of curing this devastating clinical disease still remains elusive; about 589,000 cancer patients are expected to die from cancer in 2015 [1].  A big question thus arises, “What good is all the research and money spent on trying to conquer cancer, if a cure still has not been found after all these years?” The more you know about cancer as a biological phenomenon, the better will you be able to understand why attaining a general cure is so very, very difficult.  This brief essay will teach you about the reasons for this frustrating situation that seems to damn the efforts of dedicated researchers in both basic and clinical science.

A brief background of essentials about cancer

At its most fundamental level, the biological phenomenon of cancer takes place in our cells.  All cancers are thought to originate from one normal cell that changes into a cancer cell when it becomes “neoplastic”; this term means that the abnormal cell(s) divide independently of the regulatory mechanisms controlling cell growth and division.  Multiple causes for development of cancer are recognized (e.g., chemicals, chronic inflammation, genetic heredity, mutagenesis, radiation, viruses).  Unrestrained growth of neoplastic cells usually results in a “tumor”; this term specifically means some localized enlargement or swelling filled with the proliferating neoplastic cells.  A neoplasm can be benign, meaning that it enlarges but does not spread to distant locations; this is contrasted to malignant neoplasms, where the abnormal cells can metastasize (i.e., spread to other regions of the body and start growing there). 

About 1.67 million people are expected to be newly diagnosed with cancer in 2015 [1].  Cancer is not always lethal (i.e., some 14 million cancer survivors now are alive and kicking (see:  http://www.cancer.org/ ))!  Some cancer patients are being cured (i.e., their neoplastic cells can be removed, caused to die, or to stop proliferating).  Cures can be the result of surgical excision, localized exposure to lethal irradiation (i.e., radiotherapy), treatment with chemicals that cause cell death (i.e., chemotherapy), systemic exposure to high tech antibody treatments (i.e., immunotherapy), or, other newly developed experimental therapies.  When treated cancer patients retain their disease, therapy can slow its progression and ameliorate their quality of life.   Even if no treatments work, the situation for any cancer patient is never absolutely hopeless because there are some spontaneous remissions where the neoplasm miraculously regresses and disappears. 

“Cancer” is a very complex and variable entity  

Cancer ian extremely complex biological phenomenon showing enormous variability (e.g., age of patient, cell of origin, general health status, genetic background, location in an organ, nutritional status, presence or absence of continued development of neoplasia (i.e., carcinogenesis), presence or absence of enhancers, rate of growth and division, type and dosage of therapy administered, etc.). There are over 200 different types of cells in the human body, many of which can become neoplastic.  Neoplastic cells are very similar to normal cells, but show some changes that give rise to aberrant functional activities.  In particular, neoplastic cells reproduce without regard to the normal controls that restrict cell growth and division.  Almost all the different varieties of cancer cells divide more frequently than do their normal (non-neoplastic) counterparts.  In addition, neoplastic cells usually change their normal shape(s) and adhere to each other less strongly.  

The enormous complexity and variability of neoplasia are the fundamental factor making the search for a general cure of cancer truly difficult.  These features also make it wrong to refer to cancer as a singular term, e.g., “the disease, cancer”, because there are so many different cancers and each shows variability.  The term “cancer” thus can be thought of as being analogous to the generic term “paint”; that label says nothing at all about the type of paint, its color, what it is made of, which kinds of  surfaces it can be applied to, how it is applied, its durability, etc.  The great complexity of cancer is strongly evidenced by the fact that a chemical agent completely curing one type of cancer typically has few effect(s) on many other kinds of neoplasms.  

What can laboratory research do for cancer patients? 

The most essential reason why cancer can not presently be cured despite therapeutic advances and improved methods for early detection is that this family of neoplastic diseases involves multiple different causes, many different cell types, and numerous variable conditions of human existence (e.g., quality and quantity of nutrition, hygiene, exposure to dangerous environments, screening and early detection, clinical monitoring, availability of expensive therapeutic protocols, etc.).  The targets of treatments for cancer are the neoplastic cells; these are dynamic targets that change their status, properties, and metabolism as clinical therapy progresses.  Despite tons of research, there still is no accepted general or molecular distinction known between the normal and neoplastic states of each cell type; this essential information will become available later through additional laboratory research studies.  The complexity and variability of cancers, along with the absence of full knowledge about many key parts of neoplasia, have even led some to speculate that the long-sought goal of finding a general cure for cancer actually might be impossible. 

At present, basic understanding about the whys and wherefores of neoplasia remains very incomplete.   Once there will be much greater understanding about the nature of neoplastic versus normal cells, and about the mechanisms for carcinogenesis, then the chance for applied research to develop cures for cancer undoubtedly will increase.  The main hope for finding a general cure for cancer therefore is to continue basic research vigorously; in my view, especially needed are development of very new approaches for clinical therapy, and formulation of very innovative concepts or unconventional theories that can be tested experimentally by lab studies.  Any proposals that all research grants should be awarded only for cancer research, or that all scientists should work only on studies of cancer, are idiotic and as misguided as are proposals that it is pointless to spend more billions trying to find a general cure for cancer.  All of us, and particularly cancer patients, must have great patience while the needed enormous amount of experimental work by both experienced and new investigators progresses. 

What can clinical research do for cancer patients? 

The fight against cancer now involves current efforts by clinical scientists (i.e., oncologists, who are MDs specializing in treating cancer patients) to find: (1) ways for earlier detection, (2) more effective means to kill cancer cells while leaving neighboring normal cells intact, (3) the genetic and physiological conditions needed to allow cancer cells to proliferate, (4) prevention of metastasis, (5) induced modulation of the immune system for experimental immunotherapy, (6) invention of new and better ways to use chemotherapy, (7) invention of new ways to improve specificity and lethal effects of radiotherapy, (8) identification of anti-neoplastic nutritional effects upon cancer cells, (9) development of new very innovative mechanisms and approaches to target and kill cancer cells, and, (10) development of more effective and less toxic multimodal therapies for cancer patients, etc.  All this activity requires the work of doctoral scientists in many labs, and of clinical oncologists in many hospitals.  Adjunctive work for the production and research use of very special new materials (e.g., new antibodies and immunomodulators, new genetic strains of cultured cells, new chemicals, new nanostructures as targeting devices and carriers of toxins, new detections of small cancers via advanced imaging assays, etc.) also are needed.  Extensive clinical trials must be conducted to determine the efficacy and safety of all newly successful  research treatments for human cancer patients. 

Is research progress against cancer being made?  

All basic or clinical studies of cancer are neither easy nor inexpensive.  It is reassuring to know that good progress is being made in the clinical treatment of some previously untreatable cancers.  Clinical applied research often is based upon previous basic research findings.  Many cancer patients now live longer and more actively due to their new clinical treatment(s).  Research progress indeed is being made; all the money and time spent with cancer research is having some very good effects for cancer patients, even though the final victory has not yet been accomplished.

Many scientists and clinicians working with cancer have the feeling that if there was a much greater fundamental understanding of neoplasia at the cellular, molecular, and genetic levels, then improved therapies and better preventive measures could and would be developed.  Current research is looking closely at the interactions of different gene expressions and protein networks, within normal versus neoplastic cells.   Further progress towards the goal of curing cancer undoubtedly will involve tackling difficult questions in both very basic science (e.g., exactly how does the metabolism of neoplastic cells differ from that of their pre-neoplastic or normal counterparts?) and applied clinical science (e.g., how can oncologists cause repression or expression of certain target genes in a safe manner within human cancer patients?).  The road to a cure will be long, hard, and not straight; thereby it will take great determination, long persistence, and very creative experiments before success eventually can be obtained. 

Concluding remarks

The materials presented above should enable all readers to have a basic idea of the nature of cancer, and to recognize why cancer in human patients is a very difficult disease to understand and to cure.  Although the ultimate goal has not been reached yet, cancer research continues to progress slowly and incrementally.  In my view, this will be made speedier by (1) more emphasis on cancer prevention, (2) evaluating completely new ideas for clinical treatment of cancer patients, and (3) development of innovative concepts about the fundamental nature of neoplasia.  Patience with the progress of cancer research now is needed more than is additional support money.  Cancer research requires intense dedication and long efforts by laboratory scientists, clinical oncologists, and cancer patients.  These efforts necessitate spending additional enormous sums of money to support the hospital and lab work.   Research results that do not produce a general cure for cancer still are valuable since the new facts acquired can be used subsequently for the generation of better experimental studies and of advanced clinical treatments

A  postscript from Dr.M

For those seeking further information or news about cancer, treatments for cancer patients, incidence, clinical cures and new trials, cancer research, costs, etc., I recommend that you visit the excellent websites of the Americal Cancer Society (see:  http://www.cancer.org/ ) and the National Cancer Institute (see:  http://www.cancer.gov ). 

 

[1]  Simon, S., for the American Cancer Society, 2014.  Facts and figures report: 1.5 million cancer deaths avoided in 2 decades.  See:  http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/news/facts-figures-report-cancer-deaths-avoided-in-2-decades .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

NEW MULTIMILLION MEGAPRIZES FOR SCIENCE, PART II

 

Please Tell Me, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Very Best Scientist of Them All ??   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Please Tell Me, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Very Best Scientist of Them All ?? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Part I of this 2-part series presented the origins, characteristics, and benefits of the several new megaprizes for outstanding scientific research (see “New Multimillion Megaprizes for Science, Part I” at:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/11/20/new-megaprizes-for-science-part-i/ ).  Part II now examines and discusses several unintended effects that these programs are likely to produce, all of which will hurt science, research, and scientists.

What will be the Effects of the New Giant Cash Prizes on Science and Scientists? 

Nobody anticipated that new rewards for outstanding scientific research would arise with cash rewards of several million dollars to each honoree, but this now is history!  In addition to the several good features of the new award programs by the Breakthrough Prize and the Tang Prize for Biopharmaceutical Science, several major unintended consequences of instituting these multimillion megaprizes will arise. 

The first negative effect is to set off an ongoing competition to establish additional new awards having even larger cash prizes.  This is caused by a mentality that mistakenly regards the very largest pot of gold as being the most significant way to honor the very best scientists. 

A second negative effect will be to induce some university scientists to shift their ongoing career from trying to make important discoveries through experimental research into working to get rich by winning one or more science megaprizes.  The traditional idealism in scientists then goes out the window!  These effects  move along nicely to solidify the increasing commercialization and rising significance of money in modern university science (see “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ).  I already have presented my view that such a financial situation has very destructive consequences for science and research (see essays on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” and “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” ). 

A third negative effect involves public perceptions of science.  Since some of the new megaprizes are presented at an ostentatious extravaganza, the whole spectrum of public opinions is encouraged to shift from having interest and curiosity for research and  technology, to viewing science as an entertainment and research as an amusement.  That will merge with the very common mistaken belief that science has no real importance for daily life (see essay “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ).  Scientists then will become part of the entertainment industry, and will be competing for public attention and acclaim with professional athletes, movie stars, opera singers, rock musicians,  political celebrities, new billionaires, etc.  The directors of the new megaprizes evidently do not see the inherent contradiction between trying to increase public appreciation for scientific research, and putting the award ceremonies on global display as some new sort of Hollywood amusement.  Substituting movie stars for royalty just does not do the job!  

These misguided features will change the very nature of a research career, solidify the conversion of university science into a business activity, and encourage the public to view science as some kind of nonsense.  These unintended effects will be strongly negative and destructive for science and research, as I have already explained (see my essay on “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).

 Some Predicted Bizarre Developments have Become Past History! 

When I first composed this essay, I wrote that this whole new scenario could later become equivalent to the Academy Award ceremonies in the movie industry.  I now read that the 2014/2015 Breakthrough megaprizes just had an Oscar-style private gala for the presentation of its awards by popular celebrities [e.g., 1-3]; my first prediction has happened already!  It seems likely that some new science megaprize soon might replace the traditional medal given to the winners of a Nobel [4] or Kavli [5] Prize with a special very expensive artwork; that could be a bronze bust or an engraved portrait, to be permanently displayed in some science museum.  Further escalation could include an additional part in the award ceremonies featuring a bejewelled crown bestowed onto the head of each winner while they are seated on a throne with lots of flashing lights.  Any of this is ridiculous and inappropriate, sends the wrong message, and demeans science, research, and scientists!  

My Suggestions for a New Direction in Science Megaprizes 

The money problem that most university scientists worry about is not the size of their bank account.  Rather, it is the size and continuation of their research grant support.  The new megaprizes do not directly address this very prominent feature of modern science (see “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” and “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” ).  It is possible, and even likely, that winners of these megaprizes will spend some portion of their large financial reward to support their own research efforts; that might be used to either supplement their current research grant funds, or to start a new research project that they always wanted to work on, but could not get funded.  My suggestion here is that additional new megaprize programs should directly reward both the personal activities and the science ambitions of the most outstanding research scientists; the new Tang Ptize in Biopharmaceutical Science does exactly that [6]. 

Why not go even farther?  If some new science prize would offer 3-5 million dollars to be spent exclusively for unrestricted research expenses over an 8-10 year period, then that would be truly meaningful!  Not only would any university scientist be extremely overjoyed and utterly excited to receive that amazing reward, but it also would strongly encourage the progress of science. 

Concluding Remarks for Parts I and II

Some features of the multimillion megaprizes for excellence in science certainly are good, but it remains to be seen if these new programs can consistently result in honoring research achievements to the same high level as do the Nobel and Kavli Prizes [4,5].  Their other features seem to me to be very likely to cause further decay and degeneration in science and research. 

New entries in the unannounced contest to be the very biggest prize for science all base their claim on the amount of cash offered as a financial reward.  This loud emphasis on dollars is inconsistent with what scientific research is all about.  Any new programs with the bigger or biggest pile of money cheapen science, change the nature of university research in undesirable ways, and, present a false view of science to the public (i.e., it is some kind of Hollywood entertainment).  The wonderful article by Merali [1] presents the candid opinions of several other scientists having similar misgivings to my own about unintended negative effects of the new multimillion megaprizes on science (see: http://nature.com/news/science-prizes-Are-new-nobels-1.13168 ). 

References Cited

[1]  Merali, Z., 2013.  Science prizes: The new Nobels.  Nature  498:152-154.  Available on the internet at: http://nature.com/news/science-prizes-Are-new-nobels-1.13168

[2]  Sample, I., The Guardian, 2012.  Biggest science prize takes web tycoon from social networks to string theory.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jul/31/prize-science-yuri-milner-awards .

[3]  BBC News, Science and Environment, 2014.  ‘Biggest prize in science’ awarded.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29987154 .

[4]  Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at:  http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ .

[5]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  About the Kavli Prize.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.kavliprize.org/about/ .

]6]  Tang Prize Foundation, 2014.  Introduction, award categories, and 2014 Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.tang-prize.org/ENG/Publish.aspx .

 

 GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

NEW MULTIMILLION MEGAPRIZES FOR SCIENCE, PART I

 

Please Tell Me, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Very Best Scientist of Them All ??   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Please Tell Me, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Very Best Scientist of Them All ?? (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

There are a very large number of awards and honors given to research scientists every year!  Most are much smaller than the 2 highest awards for excellence in science, the Nobel Prize [1] and the Kavli Prize [2].  Many of the other honorific prizes are local or narrowly dedicated to a certain subject, activity, location, or aspect of science.  A few of these others have achieved a wonderful record of significance such that they commonly are labelled as being precursors for receiving a Nobel Prize; the Lasker Awards for clinical and basic research in medicine are a very good example of this [3].  Receipt of any award for excellence is a gratifying honor for all the hard work and many challenges to being an outstanding research scientist.

Recently, several large new prizes for outstanding scientists have been initiated, featuring gigantic cash awards.  These major new honors generally are attempts to modernize awards for science, to elevate the public’s low esteem for science, and to bypass some of the restrictions for the Nobel and Kavli Prizes.  Part I of this 2-part series reviews the origin and features of these new megaprizes.  Part II then will evaluate their effects upon science and scientists. 

New Award Programs for Outstanding Scientific Research

A very well-written article about the new science megaprizes was written by Zeeya Merali and published last year in Nature [4].  I highly recommend that you read this dramatically informative  report (see: http://nature.com/news/science-prizes-Are-new-nobels-1.13168 ).  Some of the new programs with large awards include the: 

(1)    Breakthrough Fundamental Physics Prize (2012), awarded annually to several honorees, with a prize of 3 million dollars to each person [5-8];

(2)    Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2013), issued annually to several awardees, with a prize of 3 million dollars to each one [5-8];

(3)    Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics (2013), awarded annually to several selections with a prize of 3 million dollars to each person [6-8];

(4)    Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science (2013), awarded every 2 years to several honorees, with a prize of up to 1.6 million dollars to each [9]; and,

(5)    Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (2013), aimed to be a Nobel Prize for engineering research and development, with a prize of 1.5 million dollars [5].

All these ‘new Nobels’ now have been actually awarded to very meritorious researchers [6-9] .  Yet other megaprizes undoubtedly will be added to this enlarging line-up.  In the following lists, numbers do not correspond to the same number in the list above.

What are the purposes of these additional awards?  The new Breakthrough Prizes  were established with funds generously donated by Yuri Milner and several other very successful leaders in  Silicon Valley and the internet world [5].  A variety of reasons have been given for the purposes of these new megaprize programs:

(1)   elevate  and encourage more public interest and appreciation for modern science;

(2)   encourage students to pursue a career in science or engineering;

(3)   attract more research funding for certain less prominent disciplines in science;

(4)   stimulate more development of science and research in certain regions of the world;

(5)   bring Nobel-level attention to other dimensions of research (e.g., engineering);

(6)   bring Nobel-level attention to new and novel areas in modern science;

(7)   give acclaim to outstanding younger researchers before they get old or die;

(8)   increase unrestricted research funds for support of outstanding scientists; and,

(9)   remedy problems and flaws in the Nobel Prize award programs.

What prompted individuals to fund the establishment of these mega-awards?  The story about how and why Yuri Milner, who resides in California and Moscow, established the Breakthrough Prizes is indeed fascinating [5].  Milner said that he “wanted to send a message that fundamental science is important”.  Several other prominent leaders in internet companies joined Milner to expand the Breakthrough Prize programs.  A host of possible motivations immediately are suggested for the extreme generosity of these cosponsors, including:

(1)     promotion of ego (e.g., ambition to become a mover and shaker in science);

(2)     self-interest (e.g., buying fame, power, and recognition);

(3)     politics and business interests;

(4)     acquiring publicity for a favorite cause; and,

(5)    inducing changes in the present direction of science and society.

Why are the new science awards so very large?  The cash rewards for the new science megaprizes all are greater than the one million dollar size of the rewards given by the Nobel or Kavli Prizes.  At the very least, this feature draws much more attention and publicity to the new award programs and new awardees.  Some donors to the Breakthrough Prizes have said that they want outstanding scientists to be recognized as corresponding to the ‘superheroes’ in comic books.  In most cases, the several million dollars in prize money awarded to each individual is unrestricted, and theoretically could be used for buying a new house, starting a small business, taking several round-the-world cruises, making large gifts, supplementing available research grants, investing to earn income, etc., etc.  Almost all modern scientists are not used to having such large amounts of personal money available, and are reported by Merali to be hesitant to decide what they will do with their new pile of big prize money [4] . 

How do the New Megaprizes Differ from The Nobel and Kavli Prizes? 

Several of the new award programs have been claimed in news accounts as being a greater honor than the Nobel or Kavli  Prizes, largely because they feature a bigger cash reward.  However, just because their prize money indeed is larger, it does not follow that the new awards are more prestigious honors.  It must be recognized that the size of awards for the Nobel and Kavli Prizes already are very large.  To receive even more money moves scientists into today’s realm of star athletes, heads of governments, and entertainment figures.  If that acts to normalize who and what modern society values, then the result could be good.  However, it seems more likely that giant awards will also have some very undesirable consequences; these negative effects will be examined later in Part II.   

The several good features of the new megaprize awards modify usual practices for the Nobel Prize by having: open nominations (also used by the Kavli Prize); selection by other scientists or by previous winners; much less secrecy in judging;  an increased number of awardees (e.g., an entire team, rather than just the one director); emphasis on unconventional subjects or special concerns ; and, inclusion of science areas not honored (yet) by the traditional Prizes (e.g., mathematics).  

The new Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science is given to outstanding scientists  in this one sub-branch of biological science  [9].  The other large prizes awarded by the Tang Foundation are for projects within Sustainable Development, but outside of science [9].  Headquartered in Taiwan, this megaprize program is notable because part of its large cash reward is given to the individual person being honored, and part is given specifically to support their further experimental research efforts. 

Conclusions for Part I

The new multimillion megaprizes for outstanding scientific research serve several useful purposes for science and society: the number of scientists being honored each year is increased, realms of science that are not used by traditional major award programs will be inaugurated and encouraged, and, the financial rewards for the honorees will be substantially elevated.  Subsidiary benefits include providing greater publicity and education  of the public for science and research, bringing recognition to entire teams of scientists working together, and, encouraging more good students to enter a career in science. 

Although the intents of these new award programs are very commendable, some of these also seem likely to result unexpectedly in negative outcomes.   The following Part II will discuss the unintended problematic features introduced by the new megaprizes. 

References Cited

[1]  Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at:  http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ .

[2]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  About the Kavli Prize.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.kavliprize.org/about .

[3]  Lasker Foundation, 2014.  The Lasker Awards overview.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.laskerfoundation.org/awards/ .

[4]  Merali, Z., 2013.  Science prizes: The new Nobels.  Nature  498:152-154.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nature.com/news/science-prizes-Are-new-nobels-1.13168 .

[5]  Sample, I., for The Guardian, 2012.  Biggest science prize takes web tycoon from social networks to string theory.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jul/31/prize-science-yuri-milner-awards.

[6]  Breakthrough Prize, 2014.  Recipients of the 2015 Breakthrough Prizes in Fundamental Physics and Life Sciences announced.  Available on the internet at:  https://breakthroughprize.org/?controller=Page&action=news&news_id=21 .  

[7]  Flam, F.D., for Forbes, 2014.  Winners announced for the world’s richest science award: The $3 million Breakthrough Prize.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/fayeflam/2014/11/09/winners-announced-for-the-worlds-richest-science-award-the-3-million-breakthrough-prize/ .

[8]  BBC News, Science and Environment, 2014,  Breakthrough science prize: Big names add glitz to ceremony.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29987154

[9]  Tang Prize Foundation, 2014.  Introduction, award categories, and 2014 Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.tang-prize.org/ENG/Publish.aspx .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

November 14, 2014: SPECIAL NOTICE TO ALL FROM DR.M !

 

No More Spam!November 14, 2014: No More Comments  Means No More Spam!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

My website now has been active for one year!  It is pleasing to note that there have been over 75,000 visitors, and that number still goes up at an increasing rate every week.  I hope that all visitors have found something here that is either new, unusual, disconcerting, surprising, provocative, important, or interesting.  There is a lot more to come!

I have received over 30,000 comments, but at least 99% obviously are spam.  There are always many dozens of identical and very similar comments every single day, coming from several different continents and many different countries; since some messages arrrive within seconds of their duplicates from other addresses, this sounds like a botnet to me.

To solve this problem, I AM HEREBY DISCONTINUING ALL FURTHER COMMENTS.  I do regret the necessity for doing this, but I have no other choice.

                                                                                                      Dr.M

 

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WIN THE BIG PRIZES IN SCIENCE?

 

There are easier ways to acquire a million dollars than winning a Nobel Prize or a Kavli Prize !!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
There are easier ways to acquire a million dollars than winning a Nobel Prize or a Kavli Prize !!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

 Most persons regard the Nobel Prize [1] and the Kavli Prize [2] as the very highest award any scientist can earn.  Only a handful of researchers ever win one of these supreme honors.  The 2014 awards for both Prizes recently were announced (see “The 2014 Nobel Prizes in Science are Announced!” and “The Kavli Prizes are Awarded for 2014!” ); an introductory background to these most prestigious awards was given in an earlier article (see “How do Research Scientists Become Very Famous?” ).  This essay looks at the characteristics of the 9 new awardees for each Prize, and discusses what conclusions can be drawn about which capabilities and activities let a scientist achieve such high renown.  

Key Features of the Nobel Prize and the Kavli Prize

Both Prizes aim to honor the most outstanding research scientists, but they also have a few significant differences.  The Novel Prize [1] was first awarded over a century ago, and uses a closed nomination process.  The Kavli Prize [2] is of very recent origin, and uses open nominations. The large financial reward offered to honorees by both Prizes is similar (i.e., about one million dollars for the prize in each topical area is divided between the several Laureates for any year.  Both Prizes feature week-long special festivities that include formal presentation of the awards to the Laureates by royalty from Sweden or Norway.

The Nobel or Kavli Prizes have prominently different coverages.  The Nobel Prize deals with areas in all fields of science (biology, chemistry, and physics), but the Kavli Prize is restricted to only consider astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.  Selection of the Nobel Prize awardees therefore must evaluate many more candidate scientists annually.  For example, Nobel Laureates who surpass others in achieving supreme excellence of research in their topical area (e.g., mammalian endocrinology) also must have outscored those who have made an equivalent high level of accomplishments in many other subfields of biology.  That differs from the Kavli Laureates, who only have to surpass other scientists within their own topical discipline (e.g., nanoscience). 

Characteristics of the 2014 Laureates

All the new awardees for both Prizes [3,4] are dedicated and distinctive individuals researching for many years.  These scientists come from many different countries, reflecting the global nature of science.  All honorees are at least in their middle age, and the senior honorees are still conducting further investigations.  Both males and females are being honored as this year’s Laureates for both Prizes.  The greater number of male honorees reflects the larger number of male scientists currently conducting research in universities; since there now are more females than males studying in graduate school, this will lead to many more female honorees in the future. In some cases research work of the new Laureates already has led to commercial  products put into widespread daily use (e.g., light bulbs with emitting diodes that produce white light). 

The subjects the 2014 awardees work on are diverse, but 2 areas of study, memory in the brain, and, theoretical and applied optics for imaging, are common to both Prizes this year.  Two of the new Laureates, Prof. John O’Keefe and Prof. Stefan W. Hell, even won both Prizes [3,4].  These 2 award programs thus have consistent criteria for selecting topical areas and the awardees.  This convergence of judgment counters the common criticism of the Nobel Prizes for not being appreciative of modern and novel subject areas.   This also suggests that producing dramatic new findings and working in a hot area having widespread investigations by other scientists can increase the chance of winning these Prizes.  

One might think that the attention of the Kavli Prizes given to very large and modern topical areas would produce more awards to younger scientists.  The 2014 awards show no evidence for this presumption; most new Kavli Laureates have researched for decades.  This is easier to understand if one realizes that progress in scientific research flows and advances in a progression, such that supreme accomplishments often result from important contributions and extensions made by many other scientists after the major initial  discovery by one individual.  

Both the Nobel and Kavli Prizes typically select to honor 2-3 different individual scientists working in the same topical area.  All 3 usually are well-known to each other, but they need not be direct collaborators.  The policy of selecting only a few awardees for each topical area also means that one research scientist doing very meritorious work as an individual in an area where few others are researching might become quite famous, but does not have the momentum needed to win one of these Prizes. If we look at the early history of the Nobel Prize in science, some single Laureates are found (see complete list of all Nobel Laureates on the internet at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ ).  

Common Questions about the Nobel and Kavli Prizes

Non-scientists often wonder if earning one of these supreme awards is an outcome that can be planned?  My impression is that the glory of winning a Nobel or Kavli Prize mostly is not directly sought and usually is a dramatic surprise to the awardees.  The Laureates, just like most other research scientists, simply strive to do meritorious investigations, find answers to important research questions, get their research grants renewed, and thereby become famous; both the most famous researchers and all other scientists are very aware that only a small handful of scientists can ever win either Prize.  Characteristics of the 2014 Laureates suggest that one promising strategy for success is to try to obtain breakthrough results in an area of intense importance, and to stimulate an increasing number of other scientists and engineers to undertake research studies in the same topical area. 

Another common question is why there never are more than 3 awardees for the Prize in each topical area?  The answer is that the administrators of the Nobel and Kavli Prizes impose this restriction.  That stringent limitation certainly elevates the prestigious character of these awards.  Sometimes this same policy unfortunately causes awarding one Prize to only half of a 2-person team, even where both are widely believed by many other scientists to have made equivalent contributions and to be very equally meritorious.  

A frequent criticism about the Nobel Prizes is that they mostly honor only very senior scientists.  Nevertheless, the youngest winner of a Nobel Prize in science (1915), Lawrence Bragg, was only 25 years old [5].  The limited number of Nobel or Kavli Prizes awarded also produces the result that some very meritorious senior scientists might die before any award is bestowed.  It is not publically known whether the 2-3 awardees or the topical area is selected first for either Prize

A substantial number of Nobel Prizes in science have been awarded for research on certain subjects, e.g., cholesterol, crystallography, and subatomic particles.  Why is this?  These areas and methods influence multiple other research subjects, and so have a wider impact and importance than do many others; as one example, research on cholesterol involves biochemistry, biology, biophysics, clinical medicine, methodology, pathology, pharmacology, and physiology. 

Concluding Remarks

Looking at the 2014 version of the Nobel and Kavli Prizes, I can draw 5 general conclusions: (1) one individual scientist no longer is selected as the exclusive winner, and no more than 3 persons are honored with an annual  Prize in any topical area, (2) more senior scientists than younger workers are selected for these awards, and no Prize can be given to deceased scientists, (3) basic scientific research can be honored particularly where applied science and engineering developments have subsequently amplified and solidified these large advances, (4) theoretical science can be honored where this is modified and subsequently extended by other researchers, such that the theory becomes consistent with ongoing studies and is widely applicable, and (5) there is no general formula assuring earning the award of either supreme honor, and thus a certain amount of good luck also is needed to become a Laureate.

Several new types of science awards with gigantic c ash prizes recently have been established.  Their nature and distinctions will be described and discussed in the subsequent article. 

[1] Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/facts/ . 

[2] The Kavli Prize, 2014.   About the (Kavli) Prize.   Available on the internet at:  http://www.kavliprize.org/about / .

[3] Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prizes 2014.  Available on the internet at:   http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/year/index.html .

[4] Kavli Foundation, 2014.  The Kavli Prize 2014 Laureates.  Available on internet at:
http://www.kavlifoundation.org/2014-kavli-prize.  

[5] Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Laureates by age.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/age.html .  

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 8

 

Quotations by Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (from pages 20 and 23 of his Living History essay in ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Summer 2014, Number 2, pages 19-23)
Quotations by Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (from pages 20 and 23 of his Living History essay in ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Summer 2014, Number 2, pages 19-23)

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.

In the preceding segment of this series, the story of a very celebrated basic research scientist working on Protein Dynamics in Cell Biology was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 7”).  Part 8 presents the life story of a research scientist who dreamed up and established an amazingly novel new branch of chemical engineering based upon the well-known double-helix of DNA.

Part 8 Recommendations:  NEW NANOSTRUCTURES BASED ON DNA

Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (1945 – present) originated several new fields of science and engineering: DNA Nanotechnology, DNA-Based Crystallography, and DNA-Based Computation.  His very creative investigations and innovative new concepts for “Structural DNA Technology” often were developed for practical applications (e.g., better production of highly ordered macromolecular crystals, nanocomputation, nano-electronics, nanomedicine, and nanorobotics); thus, he is both a basic and an applied researcher.  All of his dramatic innovations and unusual research topics are based on the structure and properties of DNA.  Numerous other research labs around the world now also are working with DNA-based nanostructures.

DNA is known to most as the double-stranded genetic material making up chromosomes.  The binding between each of the 2 associated strands takes place by specific pairing between their individual nucleotide bases; this binding is very specific and fairly strong.  In the laboratory, segments of synthetic single-stranded DNA can be  hybridized (reassociated) to form new double-stranded DNA; branch points and unpaired base sequences at the termini can be produced as desired, and are key points of technology for using DNA to produce new nanostructures.  Seeman developed and used these characteristic features from the early 1980’s to form self-assembled DNA polygons, and, 2-D and 3-D lattices; subsequently, he went on to invent nanomechanical devices (e.g., synthetic computers, robots, translators, and walkers), and other nanostructures (e.g., superstructures of DNA associated with other species, and nano-assembly lines).  In 2004-5, he was the founding president of a new professional science association, the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation and Engineering (see:  http://isnsce.org/ ).

Seeman’s unconventional research involves unique combinations of biochemistry, biophysics, chemical engineering, computer science, crystallography, nanoscience and nanotechnology, structural biology, and, thermodynamics.  His creative ideas and amazing lab studies for making new nanostructures involve both theory and practice, and are also being used to advance scientific knowledge and understanding about the biophysics of intermediates in the recombination of chromosomal DNA during its replication.

Prof. Seeman chairs the Department of Chemistry at New York University.  He has received many honors for his pioneering research, including the Sidhu Award from the Pittsburg Diffraction Society (1974), a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health (1982), the Science and Technology Award from Popular Science Magazine (1993), the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology (1995), and the Nichols Medal from the NY Section of the American Chemical Society (2008).  He is an elected member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (U.K.), and holds an Einstein Professorship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  In 2010, Prof Seeman and Prof. Donald Eigler (IBM Almaden Research Center, San Jose, California) were jointly honored as awardees of the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience [1]; also see the photo of these 2 awardees receiving their Kavli Prize from H. M. King Harald of Norway [2].  Seeman is without question an embodiment of what Dr.M wrote about in an earlier essay on the significance of curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, and individualism in science (see:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/02/25/curiosity-creativity-inventiveness-and-individualism-in-science/ ).

[1]  Kavli Foundation, 2010.  2010 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.kavlifoundation.org/2010-nanoscience-citation .

[2]   Kavli Foundation, 2010.  The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (2010).  Available on the internet at:  http://registration.kavliprize.org/seksjon/vis.html?tid=27454 .

Lots of interesting information about Prof. Seeman is displayed on his laboratory home page (see: http://seemanlab4.chem.nyu.edu/ ).  My recommendations (below) start with Seeman’s own explanation of his research in DNA Nanotechnology, as written for non-scientists (1A).  For working scientists, his review article provides a stimulating overview (1B).  The second recommendation (2) is an official summary of why Seeman and Eigler were selected for the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience in 2010.  The third item is Prof. Seeman’s personal description about his own career in science (3), and is filled with stories and anecdotes about both his difficulties and his triumphs; all readers will find this to be a very fascinating account.  Dr.M considers that essay to be extraordinary, since it is probably the most unusually forthright and outspoken piece ever authored by a modern scientist.

(1A)  Seeman, N. C., 2004.  Nanotechnology and the double helix (preview).  Scientific American  290:64-75.  Available on the internet at:
 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nanotechnology-and-the-double-helix .

(1B)  Seeman, N. C., 2010.  Nanomaterials based on DNA.  Annual Review of Biochemistry  79:65-87.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-biochem-060308-102244 .

(2)  Kavli Foundation, 2010.  2010 Nanoscience Prize explanatory notes.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.kavlifoundation.org/2010-nanoscience-prize-explanatory-notes .

(3)  Seeman, N. C., 2014.  The crystallographic roots of DNA nanotechnology.  ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Number 2, Summer 2014, pages 19-23.  Available on the internet at: http://www.amercrystalassn.org/documents/2014%20newsletters/Summer%202014%20WEB.pdf .

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

SCIENTISTS TELL US ABOUT THEIR LIFE AND WORK, PART 7

 

Quotation from Prof. David D. Sabatini (from 2005 Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, volume 21, pages 1-33)
Quotation from Prof. David D. Sabatini (from 2005 Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, volume 21, pages 1-33)

 

In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.                                     

In the preceding segment of this series, the story of a very determined clinical research scientist working in Transplant Surgery and Immunology was recommended (see  http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/09/17/scientists-tell-us-about-their-life-and-work-part-6/ ).  Part 7 presents the activities of a very celebrated cell biologist whose research succeeded in untangling and explaining the extensive subcellular and molecular interactions occuring during the synthesis, trafficking, sorting, and secretion of proteins by our cells. 

 Part 7 Recommendations:  PROTEIN DYNAMICS IN CELL BIOLOGY

David D. Sabatini has led modern research efforts to understand the very complex interactions taking place with the dynamics of proteins during their biosynthesis, co- and post-translational processing, sorting, and, secretion.  After receiving his M.D. degree in Argentina he came to the USA and earned a Ph.D. in 1966 at The Rockefeller University (New York).  His training and early research studies flourished at the very special research center established at Rockefeller by several founding fathers of cell biology (Profs. George Palade [1], Philip Siekevitz [2], and Keith R. Porter (see Part 2 in this series at:   http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/08/07/scientists-tell-us-about-their-life-and-work-part-2/ )).   Much of Sabatini’s reseach efforts have centered on ribosomes, the ribonucleoprotein assemblies that synthesize new proteins inside cells; his lab investigations led to breakthrough findings about the molecular mechanisms directing newly-synthesized proteins to their different intracellular or extracellular target destinations. 

Prof. Sabatini is especially renowned for co-discovering the signal hypothesis in collaboration with Prof. Günter Blobel (Rockefeller University).  This concept nicely explains the dramatic initial passage of all secreted proteins across the membrane (translocation) of endoplasmic reticulum via the presence of a short initial segment of aminoacids that is absent from non-secreted proteins retained for intracellular usage; this segment is termed ‘the signal for secretion’.  Subsequent research studies in other labs added to this hypothesis by discovering additional signals that directed different  newly synthsized proteins to other destinations inside cells;  the generalized signal hypothesis now explains much of the intracellular trafficking of proteins. 

By his nature, Prof. Sabatini always is intensely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about research questions and controversies in cell biology.  His numerous research publications always feature analysis of very detailed experimental results where data and interpretations are elegantly used to form groundbreaking conclusions.  Sabatini led the Department of Cell Biology at the New York University School of Medicine since 1972, and developed that into a leading academic center for modern teaching, scholarship, and research in cell and molecular biology.  He has served as the elected President of the Americal Society for Cell Biology (1978-79), and was awarded the E. B. Wilson Medal jointly with Prof. Blobel by that science society (1986).  In 2003, he received  France’s highest honor in science, the Grande Medaille d’Or (Grand Gold Medal).  Prof. Sabatini has merited membership in the USA National Academy of Sciences (1985), the American Philosophical Society, and the National Institute of Medicine (2000).   His celebrated research career exemplifies the important contributions that scientists from many other countries have made to USA science.   Prof. Sabatini recently retired, but his family name will continue to appear on many new research publications since several of his children have become very productive doctoral researchers in bioscience. 

[1]  Farquhar, M.G., 2012.  A man for all seasons: Reflections on the life and legacy of George Palade.  Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology28:1-28.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-cellbio-101011-155813

[2]  Sabatini, D. D., 2010.  Philip Siekevitz: Bridging biochemistry and cell biology.  The Journal of Cell Biology, 189:3-5.  Available on the internet at:  http://jcb.rupress.org/content/189/1/3.full.pdf . 

All 3 of my recommendations (below) provide exciting glimpses into real scientists in action. The first recommendation (1) is a short video presentation by Prof. Sabatini at the conclusion of the special Sabatini Symposium held in 2011 to honor him upon the occasion of retirement.  My second recommendation (2) is a superb autobiography giving many interesting stories about his life and career as a research scientist.  Non-scientist visitors are urged to read (only) pages 5-11; these present a fascinating account of his exciting adventures as a young scientist researching first with Barrnett at Yale University, and then with Palade and Siekevitz at The Rockefeller.  Doctoral scientists should read all of this very personal account.  The third selection (3) is a brief obituary he wrote about his teacher and mentor, Prof. Siekevitz; the stories told here illustrate the importance of scientists as people, and show that some of the controversial items discussed on Dr.M’s website also are of concern to other scientists.    

(1)    Sabatini, D. D., 2011.  Speech at awards ceremony and closing.  Sabatini Symposium, Dec. 2, 2011, New York University School of Medicine.  Available on the internet at:  http://sabatini.med.nyu.edu/videos/awards-ceremony-and-closing . 

(2)     Sabatini, D.D., 2005.  In awe of subcellular complexity: 50 years of trespassing boundaries within the cell.  Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology21:1-33.  Available on the internet at: 
http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.cellbio.21.020904.151711

 (3)     Sabatini, D. D., 2010.  Philip Siekevitz: Bridging biochemistry and cell biology.  The Journal of Cell Biology189:3-5.  Available on the internet at:  http://jcb.rupress.org/content/189/1/3.full.pdf

 

GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

DOES THE USA REALLY NEED SO MANY NEW SCIENCE PH.D.’s?

 

Are There Too Many New Ph.D.'s in Science Being Produced?   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Are There Too Many New Ph.D.’s in Science Being Produced?   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

In 2011-12, there were about 67,200 new doctoral degree’s awarded by universities in the USA [1].  Many of these are for studies in science, medicine, and engineering.  In addition, there are numerous new foreign Ph.D.’s in science who come here to work on research.  After finally getting an academic job, all new faculty scientists immediately seek to attract as many graduate students as possible to work in their new laboratory.  This ongoing scenario thus is a Malthusian progression in the number of new doctoral scientists.

This dynamic immediately runs headlong into the several difficult practical problems involving imbalances of supply and demand.  At the top of the list, there is not enough money available to support all the new research projects proposed by the ever-growing number of new research scientists in academia.  This same shortage of funding actually impacts on all faculty scientists, whether new or senior.  The end result is that this money problem gets worse every year (see earlier article on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”).  Another large practical problem, the limited number of open science faculty positions in universities, also is made worse by the enlarging number of new doctoral scientists.

I have never heard of any official or unofficial discussions about the wisdom of constantly generating more and more new doctoral scientists than can be supported adequately by the pool of available tax-based research grant funds.  In this essay, I will (1) describe the causes and consequences of increasing the number of new science Ph.D.’s, (2) explain how this is bad for science, and (3) then will lay out my view of what could be done to stop this ongoing problem, and discuss why nothing can be changed now.

Causes of this Malthusian problem 

One must look closely at the never discussed reasons why this peculiar ongoing generation of more and more new science Ph.D.’s remains in operation, in order to recognize the actual causes of this problematic situation.  The ultimate causes are the practices of universities.  The graduate schools at universities had been under financial stress for several decades, and so sought to maximize their inflow from tuition payments by enlarging their enrollments.  Since tuition can only be increased so much, the tactic utilized is to raise the number of enrollees paying tuition.  This fits in nicely with nature of modern universities as businesses where money is everything (see earlier essay on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).

Consequences of this Malthusian problem 

The direct consequences of the yearly production of more and more new science Ph.D.’s now are apparent, and indicate that these are having bad effects on science.  The expanding enrollment in university graduate schools means that their standards for admission will continue to get lowered; to increase enrollments they must accept and later graduate more students regardless of their deficient qualifications.  I myself have observed 2 graduate students utterly undeserving of a Ph.D. be awarded that hallmark of advanced education; one of them even had a crying spell in the midst of the oral presentation for her thesis defense.  Modern university graduate schools feel they must do everything and anything to further increase their enrollment and awarding of degrees in order to help deal with the current financial realities.  Pressures to further “modernize” standards for the doctoral degree will increase as the graduate student population continues to be enlarged.  In addition, more teaching responsibilities will be shifted onto graduate students.  The science faculty usually are reluctant to work in the very large introductory courses, and are happy to be able to reduce their teaching load.  The consequences of this problem for university education are obvious.

As the number of unfunded or partially funded academic scientists grows larger every year, federal research granting agencies will need to obtain increased appropriations from the Congress.  Generally, this means increased taxation.  These agencies additionally will need to increase the size of their support programs for graduate education in science, thereby making the problem with finding support for research activities even worse.  Both these needs add to the current negative impact of this Malthusian problem on science.

Are graduate students or scientists to blame for this ongoing problem? 

We must note that the graduate students working to earn a Ph.D. in science are innocently entering a career path that is their choice.  They mostly are unaware of being used as cash cows in a business, and so are blameless for the resultant problems.  Faculty scientists become trapped within the university system for getting promoted and tenured.  Foreign students and scientists will continue to move here despite whatever difficulties they encounter since the situations hindering and restricting the conduct of scientific research in their own countries are much greater than exist here.  They cannot be blamed for making this choice.  The important contributions of foreign professional researchers to the science enterprise in the USA are very widely recognized to be substantial.  Blame for the Malthusian problem lies mainly with the universities.

What will result for science if the number of new science Ph.D.’s is decreased? 

Directly, a reduced number of new Ph.D.’s in science will significantly decrease the number of applicants for new research grants.  That result is equivalent to providing more tax-based dollars to support research investigations, and will be obtained miraculously without any increase in tax rates.

The ultimate results for science of stopping the problematic Malthusian progression will be dramatic, and will include several very good secondary effects.  (1) The quality of the new incoming graduate students will be raised, since there will result a more rigorous selection of the capabilities and aptitude of applicants for admission into graduate training programs.  (2) In turn, the better graduate students should lead to a general increase in the quality of scientists and of science.  (3) The enlarged pool of funds available for research support will enable more good proposals and more scientists to be fully funded than is the case at present.  These several positive effects will combine to produce an important derivative benefit: a general increase in the quality of scientific research.

How could this Malthusian cycle be stopped?

In theory, a single step could solve this problem!    A reduction in enrollments of new graduate student candidates into Ph.D. programs will stop this Malthusian progression, since that will decrease the output of new science Ph.D.’s!

As one example of how this theoretical solution can be accomplished at graduate schools, each science training program currently accepting 20 new students every year will have a 10% reduction, so that only 18 new students will be accepted for the next (second) year.  In the following (third) year, another 10% decrease will occur, so only 16 new students will be enrolled.  These annual decreases will continue for at least 5 years, until the number of new students enrolling reaches a level of 50-60% of the original figure; this cutback will produce a corresponding decrease in the number of new doctoral degrees awarded.  Use of incremental progressive decreases, rather than trying to do everything all at once, will prevent large disruptive effects and will allow sufficient time for each graduate school to make the needed adjustments to the new system. The graduate students already enrolled will simply continue their course of advanced education just as at present.

This change in size of enrollments in each program must be made for the total number of graduate students, since otherwise the present widespread practice will continue with accepting foreign applicants to officially or unofficially fill the absent places scheduled for occupancy by USA students.  Thus, the 10% annual decreases in enrollment must apply to the total number of all students enrolled, and not just to those from the USA.

Can this proposed cure for the Malthusian cycle actually be installed? 

The answer to this question seems to me to be “Never!”.  Universities as businesses always are happy to obtain more profits, and so will never agree to decrease their number of new Ph.D.’s being  graduated.  In principle, the federal granting agencies could mandate such decreases based upon their provision of research grants and education grants to many universities.  From what I have seen, these agencies like their growing budgets and increasing influence, and so are very unlikely to ever change their present operations.  Thus, I am forced to view the problem of too many new science Ph.D.’s as being unsolvable.

Concluding remarks

The answer to the question proposed in the title clearly is “No!”.  Dr. M considers it to be both sheer insanity and very wasteful to ordain more new doctoral research scientists than can be supported adequately during their subsequent careers in academia.  The number of new Ph.D.’s in science .should be balanced with the amount of financial support for research.  It now seems to be badly imbalanced.  The current production of too many new Ph.D.’s is bad for graduate students, bad for science, and bad for research.  It is time to put an end to this idiocy!  Unfortunately, there appears to be no way at present to prevent this problem from continuing and becoming even worse.

Dr.M welcomes questions about this essay and other opinions about this controversial question, via the Comments!

[1]  Council on Graduate Schools, 2013.  U. S. graduate schools report slight growth in new students for Fall 2012.  Available on the internet at:
http://www.cgsnet.org/us-graduate-schools-report-slight-growth-new-students-fall-2012 .

 

 GO BACK TO HOME PAGE    OR    SCROLL UP TO MENU

                                                            UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE

 

 

LET’S JOIN IN CELEBRATING THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF CRYSTALLOGRAPHY!!

 

Schematic of ordering in 1, 2, and 3 dimensions.  Top view looks downward onto the flat object; side view is at 90 degrees and looks onto the edge.  1-D ordering is a row of 5 associated subunits.  2-D ordering has 4 associated rows of 5 subunits. 3-D ordering has a layer of 12 subunits on top of the 20 subunits in the 2-D array.   (http:dr-monsrs.net)
Schematic of ordering in 1, 2, and 3 dimensions. Top view looks downward onto the flat object; side view is at 90 degrees and looks onto the edge. 1-D ordering is a row of 5 associated subunits. 2-D ordering has 4 associated rows of 5 subunits. 3-D ordering has a layer of 12 subunits above the 20 subunits in 2-D array.  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

2014 is the 100th year since the discovery that a beam of x-rays directed onto a single crystal comes out as multiple beams forming discrete spots.  That monumental finding has been called one the most important scientific research discoveries of all time.  Everyone in the entire public now is invited to celebrate this special 2014, designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Crystallography (IYCr2014)!  Below, I give the briefest possible non-mathematical introduction to the basic essentials of crystals and crystallography, along with some recommended internet websites where much further information is available.

What are crystals? 

We all encounter crystals every day, but most know little about them.  Crystals consist of matter whose smallest subunits (i.e., molecules or macromolecules) are very highly ordered in all 3 dimensions (3-D), as depicted in the opening figure above.  Some typical examples of the numerous crystals we commonly see are table salt (sodium chloride), diamonds in rings and jewelry (carbon), ice (water), and small granules of sugar (glucose).  If you have a magnifier, take a look now at what is in your salt shaker and you will observe many tiny crystals!

The 3-D ordering of the components making up crystals is so perfect that each and every subunit has exactly the same orientation and positioning as do all its neighbors.  This means that the atoms making up each subunit also have identical positioning to those in other subunits.  When a beam of x-rays is directed onto a single crystal in a suitable manner, each atom in the highly ordered complex scatters the incoming radiation identically into discrete spots.  The array of different spots produced from one crystal is the sum of the rays scattered by all its component atoms; because the innumerable atoms are so highly ordered, the many scattered rays join to form discrete spots.

What is diffraction? 

Diffraction is a fundamental property of atoms whereby incoming x-rays, electrons, or neutrons are scattered at characteristic angles and intensities.  The numerous scattered rays form an ordered array of diffraction spots and rings known as a diffraction pattern.  A single crystal produces one set of periodic diffraction spots, 2 crystals produce 2 sets of spots (at different rotations), and multiple crystals in polycrystalline materials will produce diffraction rings (i.e., many sets of the same spots at numerous different rotations).  The periodic order in diffraction patterns directly corresponds to the ordered position of the different atoms inside crystals; this means that diffraction patterns show atomic structure of the material making up each crystal.  The diffraction pattern is totally distinctive for each crystalline material, since the locations (atomic spacings) and brightness (kinds and numbers of atoms) of spots or rings are unique for each kind of crystalline matter.

What is crystallography? 

Crystallography is a research methodology for studying crystals.  Diffraction patterns are used in crystallography to tell us about the arrangement of the component atoms inside many different materials.  Since the beginning of x-ray crystallography one century ago, many thousands of materials have been crystallized and examined by crystallography; these include catalysts, enzymes, metals, minerals and biominerals, newly synthesized chemical compounds, proteins, salts, viruses, etc.   Because the atoms inside crystals are so highly ordered in an identical manner, diffraction patterns can be recorded, measured, and then processed by computation to determine structure down to the level of individual atoms.  This atomic structure determination of crystalline matter is the magic of crystallography!

Crystallography is a global activity for both science and industry, and almost all countries have scientists working as crystallographers.  X-ray diffraction is the most frequently used approach for crystallography, and now is quite automated through the use of computers to carry out the extensive numerical calculations needed to define an unknown structure to a high level of resolution.  Crystallography can be performed with laboratory x-ray sources or with very powerful and very fast x-rays produced by synchrotrons.   The hugely expensive synchrotron facilities are rather few in number, but have well-organized programs permitting their use by many visiting scientists.  Diffraction of electrons or neutrons also provides valuable special knowledge about structure at the atomic level.  When all is said and done, crystallography simply is a special way of looking at structure.

Not all materials are crystalline

Not all substances are naturally crystalline or can be induced to form crystals.  If the atoms in some substance are not ordered at all (i.e., they are randomly distributed), then this material is said to be in the amorphous state.  Examples of amorphous materials we see frequently include liquid water, many plastics, and air.  Inducing the formation of very highly ordered crystals is an essential requirement for structure determination by x-ray crystallography, since amorphous materials do not produce any diffraction spots or rings.

How does crystallography matter to you and me? 

Why do research scientists spend so much time and effort to use the magic of crystallography for determining the atomic structure of many kinds of physical, chemical, and biological materials?  The answer is that this knowledge about structure always provides information about functional capabilities and mechanisms for activities.  As one example, consider what can be derived from new knowledge about the high resolution structure of a virus; this will often increase  understanding about its biogenesis, mechanism for infecting host cells, immunoreactivity, and differences from other viruses.  Knowledge about functional capabilities  always is immensely valuable for both science and industry; for example: functioning of some inorganic catalyst or enzyme (e.g., mechanisms for activity and activation), interactions with other ions and molecules (e.g., changed functioning upon binding), formation of functional complexes (e.g., complex multi-protein assemblies), arrangement to form some more complex object (e.g., associations of 2-D polymers), changes producing specific toxic effects, prerequisites for binding to various ligands. sequential steps in genesis, characteristics of new materials (e.g., nano-materials made in university or industrial labs), etc.

Where can more information be found about crystals, crystallography, and IYCr2014? 

In the year-long world-wide celebration of crystallography and crystallographers during IYCr2014, many very fascinating programs for non-scientists now are being featured on the internet.  A large directory of instructive videos about crystals and crystallography for IYCr2014 is available at: