The features and causes of a large imbalance between the number of doctoral scientists researching at academic institutions in the US and the amount of dollars available to support their research studies were described in Part I. Part II now examines the consequences of the imbalance problem for science and society. Those who have not yet read Part I should do so before starting Part II!
Overview: consequences of the imbalance problem for science and research!
The imbalance problem has bad consequences for science, research, and scientists in academia (universities, medical schools, research institutes). It results in: (1) hyper-competition for research grants, (2) a distorted atmosphere for conducting research, and (3) changing the nature of being a professional scientist in academia.
All modern academic scientists participate in a mad scramble to get one or more research grants. That intense struggle constitutes a hyper-competition for research funding (see “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants”) which is directly caused by the imbalance problem. Getting and renewing research grants now is a life or death matter for professional faculty scientists. It is hard to believe but true that many faculty scientists today spend more time composing and word processing research grant applications than they do conducting research experiments in their lab!
In turn, this hyper-competition poisons the entire atmosphere for conducting research studies in academia. This distorted milieu diminishes or prevents working in collaboration with other faculty scientists on research studies, because everyone fed by the research grant system is competing with everybody else for financial support. A chemistry scientist studying a new type of battery not only competes with all other chemistry scientists, but also struggles for funding against astronomers, clinical researchers, and plant cell biologists. Any faculty scientist applying for research support from the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health might not get awarded a research grant because one other faculty scientist was lucky and did get funded. That solid fact is deadly for collaboration in research!
The entire nature of being a faculty scientist at modern academia has changed! Faculty scientists now actually are businessmen and businesswomen, since they are working to make money for their employer. Scientific research now is only a good means for universities to increase their financial profits via getting more research grant money. This change supports accusations that research is for sale and modern science now is dead (see “Science has been Murdered in the United States, as Proclaimed by Kevin Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts!”). Career progress by faculty scientists formerly was evaluated by their ability to make important research discoveries and deliver quality teaching to students. Instead, it now depends mostly on success in getting and maintaining external research funding. Faculty scientists now are judged by counting numbers of abstracts presented at science meetings, collaborations developed, graduate students trained, invited seminars presented, pages published, postdocs mentored, research grant dollars acquired, etc. Judgments on quality of research output are sadly missing from all that counting!
Overview: Consequences of the imbalance problem for the general public!
The imbalance problem also has negative consequences for society. Those result in: (1) universities now are just profit-seeking businesses, (2) scientists in academia now chase research grants instead of new discoveries, (3) the educational mission of universities now is quite distorted.
At the top of any list of bad consequences for the US public is the conversion of universities into businesses where money is everything. Formerly, universities were stable sites for scholars and scientists to investigate everything from art history to zoology, and to teach advanced courses. The imbalance problem changes both public and private universities into a business, thereby distorting their traditional purposes; academic research now is similar to industrial research!. For society, these changes mean that universities now have quite different functions than formerly. An excellent and outspoken essay by Dr. Michele Pagano (NYU School of Medicine), “Don’t Run Biomedical Science as a Business”, recently dealt with this important issue; please don’t hesitate to read it!
Being a professional scientist researching in academia has been dramatically changed. Increasingly, open science faculty positions are filled by doctoral scientists receiving a “soft-money salary” (i.e., their salary comes exclusively from their research grants). Although such employees can produce significant research findings, they usually don’t participate in teaching. Modern universities are very happy to hire faculty with soft-money salaries because that maneuver magically both decreases their expenses and increases their income (see “Three Money Cycles Support Scientific Research”). Getting more profits now is much more important to modern universities than is discovering new knowledge or providing high quality advanced education.
The traditional educational mission of universities now is badly distorted. Standards for courses in science often are lowered, meaning all students pass so long as they pay their tuition fees; this fits nicely into the new identity of universities as profit-seeking businesses where money is everything. It seems likely that soon faculty scientists holding research grants will not have to teach any courses; that role will be taken over by full-time teachers. Then, members of the science faculty will be divided into either soft-money researchers or full-time teachers, and few will do both activities. Both groups will provide income to their employer from research grants or tuition fees.
Concluding remarks for Part II!
The nature of science in academia is distorted and degraded by the imbalance problem. The policies and practices of the research grant system and of modern academic institutions ultimately have bad effects on research progress and on advanced education in the US. The research grant system and universities both downplay basic research studies since applied research leads to more patents and more visible new commercial products. Current pressure on faculty scientists to focus on applied research is very short-sighted because all new commercial products and processes are preceded by purely basic research; limiting basic research now will diminish applied research later.
Although modern universities and the current research grant system both love the imbalance problem, its negative consequences will take their toll on academia, education, faculty scientists, science, and the public. It seems obvious that this imbalance must be rectified! Continuing to increase the number of new doctoral scientists every year beyond whatever can be supported by the present research support budget is easy to do, but seems very immoral to me.
Decreasing the number of scientists, but keeping the present dollars budgeted for issuance of research grants, will reduce the imbalance problem and decrease all its negative consequences. A proposal for how to do that will be presented in the following Part III.
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