Tag Archives: faculty scientists

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Foreground: How do these ultimate causes presently operate? 

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

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

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

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

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

A very brief discussion! 

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

Concluding remarks! 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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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!

 

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WHY IS THE DAILY LIFE OF MODERN UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS SO VERY HECTIC?

 

Daily Life for University Scientists is Very Hectic
Daily Life for University Scientists is Very Hectic (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

             Almost all scientists working on research as faculty members in academia will admit that their professional life is completely full of activities and that they often are quite frustrated trying to get everything done in time for the very numerous deadlines.  Many also will agree that the crowded schedule of all their daily work creates a hectic life that is amazingly different from what had been anticipated back when they were graduate students or postdocs; this even includes those scientists who are very successful with both obtaining research grants and producing many publications. 

 

Why do so many university scientists feel this way?  There are 5  chief causes of this self-judgment: (1) the main job of scientists working as faculty in universities now is to acquire more profits for their employer, rather than to discover more new knowledge via experimental studies (see my earlier post on “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists?” in the Scientists category); (2) their chief laboratory activity often is acting as a research manager sitting at a desk, rather than actually performing any experiments at the lab bench; (3) their busy life is a never-ending sequence of job deadlines (see my recent post on “The Life of Modern Scientists is an Endless Series of Deadlines” in the Scientists category) involving grant applications, grant renewals, grant reports and forms, course lectures, course laboratories, course review sessions, course examinations, course staff meetings, conferences with students, academic meetings, annual meeting of science societies, submissions of new manuscripts, submission of revised manuscripts, completing invited reviews of manuscripts submitted by other scientists, evaluations of graduate students, evaluations of laboratory staff, professional correspondence, making travel arrangements, etc.,  etc.); (4) their intended schedule of work often can require more than 24 hours each day (see my earlier post on “What do University Scientists Actually do in their Daily Work?” in the Scientists category); and, (5) it becomes harder each year in a science career to either do research on the subjects and questions of their own choice, venture into some new interdisciplinary research effort, or be able to relax despite the enormous pressures generated by the research grant system (i.e., applications for research grant renewal never are guaranteed to be successful, and laboratory assignments will change or disappear if a proposal for renewal is denied funding).  These many job worries are both understandable and unavoidable; however, they create dismay and result in increasing dissatisfaction for many faculty who originally were very enthusiastic at becoming a university scientist. 

 

Why do so many academic scientists feel trapped inside what must be called a rat race?  Typically, these unexpected conditions arise slowly as their career progresses; the end point often is not recognized until the perverse situation already is well-established.  Once one perceives how deep this hectic quagmire can become, the only obvious solutions are either to put up with everything in return for the several good features of modern academic life, or to seek to move into a better job situation with a new employer or even a new career.  Most university scientists facing this dilemma are at least some 40 years of age; for many, their future retirement already can be foreseen.  Thus, moving to a new job site is not so easily accomplished, and is known to often result in the loss of 6-12 months of research productivity.  Many faculty scientists feel overwhelmed in this situation, and are hesitant to try to do anything about it.  A good number of faculty scientists who reach this midcareer realization start spending much more of their daily job time with teaching, writing books, and administrative work; they also work more frequently at home, rather than working in their research lab or office on campus. 

 

For all the employing universities, there are few rewards that they could receive by trying to resolve the problems of their faculty scientists listed above.   For these academic institutions, the recognized hectic life of their faculty research scientists translates into more profits and greater employee productivity.  Thus, most modern universities are fully pleased and very satisfied with exactly the same job problems and situations that perturb their science faculty!  This means that the university system with faculty scientists is very likely to continue just as it is today for a long time.

 

In principle, improved  education could help professional scientists to handle these job problems more successfully.  In graduate school education, new more realistic courses could be offered concerning what to do when faced with the many large practical problems of prioritizing and handling deadlines, allocating time commitments, dealing with the perverse practices of the federal research grant system, etc. (see my recent post on “Education of University Scientists: What is Wrong Today?” in the Education category).  At present, these matters usually are not covered either by any courses, or by formal instructions; instead, counsel is sought on an individual basis by informal discussions in the hallway with more experienced members of the science faculty.

 

Another part of the reason why there are so few current efforts to make the needed changes in modern universities is that some particularly successful faculty scientists do rise to the top despite these difficult job problems, and their employer then uses them as models of what all the other university scientists should be doing.  This common practice has the obvious major flaw that the number of such eminently successful faculty scientists in any university undoubtedly is enormously less than the number of those other faculty who are frustrated and dissatisfied with their hectic professional life.  In addition, I suspect that even extra-successful faculty scientists also are dismayed at just how hectic their daily life is. 

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INTRODUCTION TO CHEATING AND CORRUPTION IN SCIENCE

 

Dishonesty in Science (http://dr-monsrs)
Dishonesty and Corruption in Science (http://dr-monsrs)

  

             How much cheating and corruption is there in science?  The best answer is that nobody knows!  Even today in 2014, there continue to be much-publicized instances where some professional research scientist is revealed to have published research results in peer-reviewed journal articles where the reported experimental data were either fabricated (faked) or were grossly changed (i.e., to construct a surprising pseudo-result) [e.g., 1,2].  While money is almost always involved in some way, for corruption in science money only rarely goes directly into the pocket of the dishonest scientists, unlike the usual situation for widespread corruption within politics and the business world.  Instead, it often goes into their professional purse and is used for such personally rewarding expenses as the purchase of additional research equipment not paid for by their grants, salaries for additional research coworkers, extra business travel, a new computer with special software, etc.). 

 

  Dishonesty in science includes several different types of unethical activity.  At a simple level, this corruption can involve such disgraceful events as (1) adding some imagined numbers to a chart of experimental results, so as to get better statistics, (2) changing or removing some numbers in a chart of collected results, so as to shift the conclusions being supported by these data, (3) misrepresenting the design of experiments, so as to support certain conclusions or deny others, or (4) not giving appropriate credit to internal or external collaborators and coauthors.  Thus, these simpler types of dishonesty involve research fraud by data fabrication and manipulation, drawing false conclusions, theft of intellectual property, etc.  At a more complex level, dishonesty in science can involve such activities as (1) stealing experimental research data from other labs, (2) stealing ideas or even research projects from other scientists, (3) fabrication of entire experimental datasets, or (4) constructing an application for a research grant using imaginary results or falsified statements.  These larger types of dishonesty thus involve theft of data, lying about the experimental results gathered, stealing of ideas, misrepresentation with the intent to deceive, etc.  Some or even many readers will wonder how in the world could any of these examples actually happen?  I assure them that I have heard rumors, seen and listened to stories, and, read reports about all of these!  Moreover, I have conversed with two separate doctoral workers who unsuccessfully pursued lawsuits for their claims of data theft.

   

  I personally believe that almost all faculty scientists are completely honest.  Any unethical behavior by professional scientists betrays the enormous trust given to them by the general public [3], and the necessary trust given by their fellow researchers.  Any dishonesty thus destroys both the integrity of science and the practical ability of other researchers to proceed forward from what they believe is the truth when designing new research experiments.  When dishonesty occurs in successfully acquiring a research grant, that event directly decreases the chance that some other scientist who is totally honest is able to acquire funding for their worthy project; this type of robbery is not often recognized as being a very important part of modern corruption in science.  A shocking and disgraceful example of successful cheating in order to get a large research grant award was uncovered very recently [1]. 

 

In addition to outright dishonesty and deception by scientists, where research integrity is discarded, there also is a gray area where some very limited portion of collected data (e.g., a very few outliers in a data plot) is eliminated from the total pool of experimental results displayed.  The opposite condition for this same kind of situation also occurs, where one or two pieces of individual data that are much better, clearer, or prettier than the average case, are selected to be shown in publications and in oral presentations.  These practices are not at all unusual and are known generically as “fudging the data”; both can simply serve to make the quality of the collected data look better and be seen more easily.  They commonly are not considered to be dishonest. 

 

 What happens when outright dishonesty by a faculty scientist is either proven or admitted?  In many cases, there has been almost no penalty given beyond having a published article withdrawn or being discharged from a laboratory group.  Part of this apparent lack of serious concern is due to the fact that in cases where some very celebrated scientist has been accused of being involved in corruption, long battles and countercharges in the courts have ensued [e.g., 4,5].  If famous research leaders are directing some very large laboratory in which the cheating allegedly occured, it usually is totally difficult to prove either that they were involved in the dishonest act(s) carried out by some individual lab worker, or that the leader even knew about the wrongful event(s) [4,5]; separation of the supervisor from actual technical workers is very widespread within giant laboratory groups (research factories), where the chief scientist really is only an administrative manager and does not even know the names of all the people who work there. 

 

Most corruption in science almost certainly remains undetected.  Unless there is some witness who is upset enough and courageous enough to report the dishonesty, and unless hard and fast documentation can be acquired, the loss of research integrity will never become known or proven. A good example of this is given by the very recent case cited earlier [1], where the dishonesty was discovered only when some other research laboratories found that they could not duplicate some of the experimental results published by the unethical scientist.  Despite new rules intended to protect whistleblowers and the recently increasing appointment of officials in charge of research integrity at academic institutions, it continues to remain very difficult to investigate and prosecute alleged dishonesty in science.  There is a natural reluctance for anyone working in academia, whether faculty or students or lab technicians, to make accusations that necessarily will involve official investigations, prolonged legal activities, and possible retribution.   

                      

Clearly, the present measures being taken to prevent, detect, and punish dishonesty in scientific research are inadequate.  There is too much lip service in dealing with cheating and corruption in science, and it seems likely that this problem will increase.  I suspect that the amount of dishonesty in applications for research grants particularly is increasing now, and soon will become the most frequent form of corruption in science.  The chief driver for my prediction is that it is very, very hard to detect, and nearly impossible to prove, any dishonesty in grant applications; moreover, there presently is only scanty attention and little concern being given to this problem by the different granting agencies.

           

Although all academic sicentists are quite aware of the problem of dishonesty and corruption in science, there generally are few casual or formal discussions about this issue.  Exactly why do some few scientists become dishonest?  What motivates cheating and dishonesty in science?  How can dishonesty and corruption in scientific research be decreased and eliminated?  What new penalties should be instituted for cheating in research?  Can an unethical researcher be made honest by some curative process?  I will discuss these complex questions and related issues within future postings. 

 

[1]  Mail Online, 2014.  Rogue scientist faked AIDS research funded with $19M in taxpayer funded money by spiking rabbit blood.  Daily Mail (U.K.), 26 December 2013.  Available online at:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2529541/Rogue-scientist-FAKED-federally-funded-AIDS-research-spiking-rabbit-blood.html

[2]  Callaway, E., 2011.  Report finds massive fraud at Dutch universities.  Nature, 479:15.  Also available on the internet at::  http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111101/full/479015a.html .

[3]  Pew Research, 2009.  Public praises science; Scientists fault public, media; Scientific achievements less prominent than a decade ago.  Available online at:                                       http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/public-praises-science-scientists-fault-public-media/ .

[4]  Wright, P., 2003.  Robert Alan Good.  The Lancet362:1161.  Also available on the internet at:                                                                                                          http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2803%2914489-3/fulltext .

[5]  Bombardieri, M., & Cook, G., 2005.  More doubts raised on fired MIT professor.  In: The Boston Globe, October 29, 2005.  Available online at:  https://secure.pqarchiver.com/boston/doc/404985132.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Oct+29%2C+2005&author=Marcella+Bombardieri+and+Gareth+Cook%2C+Globe+Staff&pub=Boston+Globe&edition=&startpage=&desc=MORE+DOUBTS+RAISED+ON+FIRED+MIT+PROFESSOR .

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