Tag Archives: hyper-competition for research grants

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 .

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Foreground: How do these ultimate causes presently operate? 

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

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

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

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

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

A very brief discussion! 

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

Concluding remarks! 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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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/ .

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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 .

 

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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?” ).

 

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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?” ). 

 

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THREE MONEY CYCLES SUPPORT SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

 The Research Grant Cycle at Universities   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

The Research Grant Cycle at Modern Universities   (http://dr-monsrs.net)


            Modern research with laboratory experiments is very costly for universities, research institutes, and industrial centers (see my earlier article in the Basic Introductions category on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”).  Without financial support, research investigations are either impossible or severely limited.  Most funding for scientific research in the USA comes from commercial companies and the taxpaying public (via grants from several agencies of the national government).  If one steps back and looks at the overall processes whereby funds to support scientific research activities are generated, several different money cycles become apparent.
                    (1) The Business Profit Cycle provides funds for research and development (R&D) in industrial settings.                                                                                                                                             (2) The Soft Money Cycle supplies funds to support experimental studies at research institutes, and, some large universities and hospitals.
                    (3) The Research Grant Cycle generates funds for laboratory investigations at modern universities. 

             All 3 money cycles have the general features that a relatively small input of money starts and maintains the cycle, which later produces an output of research findings (i.e., science) and additional money (i.e., profits).  The scientists function in these cycles as a catalyst to make this conversion from input into output.  An amazing ability of these 3 cycles is that all grow with time and become self-supporting.  I now will briefly describe and explain how each of these 3 cycles operates, so that both the general public and employed scientists will have a greater understanding about how modern laboratory research is being funded.

The Business Profit Cycle

            Large industries must develop new and improved products through research and engineering efforts, so as to increase their financial profits.  A portion of their total annual profits is designated for R&D work by scientists and engineers, and is used to pay for the needed personnel, instrumentation, and supplies.  Marketing of the new or improved commercial products then generates increased sales and additional profits; this output enables both rewards for the private or public owners, and an enlarged pool of money to pay for an increased amount of future R&D.  Thus, for a successful company, the profits and the number of investigations both grow bigger with time, and their Business Profit Cycle becomes self-supporting.  History clearly shows that money from this ongoing cyclic operation is very successful for enabling industrial R&D activities. 

 The Soft-Money Cycle

            Research institutes, large universities, and some hospital centers have full-time staff scientists who receive a salary exclusively from their research grant(s).  This is termed a soft-money salary, and differs from the hard-money salary of most university science faculty (i.e., their salary is guaranteed by some source, such as a state government).  Typically, staff scientists with soft-money positions are not eligible to receive academic tenure, and do not have teaching obligations.  In general, these scientists work in a circumscribed research area (i.e., as part of a focused group effort), have very specific job duties (e.g., operation of a complex special research instrument that provides data used by other researchers), or are successfully investigating some very hot topic.  The input for The Soft Money Cycle is research grant money, and the main output is science (i.e., published research results).  Scientists function to convert the input into the output via their research activities.  This soft-money cycle works quite well for supporting scientific research activities at some prominent research institutions. 

            In all cases, scientists with soft-money salaries enter their job with full knowledge that their continued employment directly depends upon their success in obtaining research grant renewals.  Due to the present hyper-competition for research grant awards (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “Why Would any Scientist ever Cheat?”), a certain number of soft-money researchers each year must terminate their employment as a scientist.  Not everything in this situation is bad, since soft-money salaries more frequently are not so restricted as hard-money salaries, and even can include some bonuses.  The soft-money scientists that continue to produce good research results and high quality publications actually do have some job security without needing to be tenured. 

The Research Grant Cycle

            Modern universities mostly now have become just another business (see my earlier article in the Big Problems category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  University profits are cold hard cash, and traditionally are obtained from several quite different sources: donations by alumni and corporations, income from endowments, ever-increasing tuition fees obtained from enrolled undergraduate and graduate students, and, portions of research grant money brought in by their science faculty.  For The Research Grant Cycle, the input is research grant money, and the output is science (i.e., published research reports) plus university profits (i.e., awarded grant money that has not been spent).  The Research Grant Cycle is successful because it both supports research by the science faculty and provides universities with profits. 

             The greater the number and size of research grant awards acquired, the larger are a university’s profits.  To fully understand this statement, it is necessary that readers comprehend what is meant here by “profits”.  University profits include the total funds entering a university,  which are not fully needed and used to pay for salaries and expenses of some designated group of employees (e.g., administrators, housekeeping staff, librarians, police department, secretaries, teachers, etc.), or for some specific activities (e.g., advertising and publicity, bookkeeping, painting, receiving deliveries of new purchases, safety office, etc.).  In other words, if total income exceeds actual expenses, then there is a net positive profit. 

            University profits in any single year include the following typical examples. 
                        (1) The sum of all tuition fees minus the actual expenditures for classroom maintenance, course handouts, faculty instructors, heating and air-conditioning, printing of course examinations, teaching assistants, etc.  Any net positive balance here is a profit. 
                        (2) Income from investments of endowed resources, minus all the costs for administration, bookkeeping, brokerage services, financial consultants, money transfers, etc.  Any net positive balance here is a profit. 
                       (3) Total research grant awards, minus actual payments for approved expenses with direct and indirect costs, financial bookkeeping, grant administration, purchases, salaries, travel, etc.  Any net positive balance here is a profit. 
All these profits initially are transferred into some special institutional budgets (e.g., Dean’s slush fund, fund for new building construction, fund for special programs, institutional emergency fund, reserve fund for future usage, unencumbered funds, etc.).  

 Can the Profit Level of The Research Grant Cycle be Increased? 

             Operation of the Research Grant Cycle at universities is diagrammed in the figure shown just under the title of this article.  This now has been expanded by the incorporation of certain features described above for The Soft Money Cycle.  By hiring some science faculty as soft-money appointments instead of into the usual hard-money positions, universities save very much money because they no longer need to provide salaries.   The reduced expenses readily enable the generation of greater net profits by The Research Grant Cycle. 

             I suspect that another new source of additional profits involves that portion of research grants awarded to pay for indirect costs (i.e., expenses for cleaning, heating and air conditioning, painting, safety, etc.).  For the necessary background, please see my recent article in the Money & Grants category on “What is Going on With the Indirect Costs of Doing Research?”.  Any profits coming from unused indirect cost awards can be used to enlarge the standard operation of The Research Grant Cycle, and/or diverted to pay for other university activities.  If I am correct about the use and misuse of indirect cost awards, the amount of extra profits could be quite large.  Universities undoubtedly have several responses always ready to counter any inquiries or allegations about whether their actual expenses are much less than the costs in their approved budget: (1) black and white documents giving work schedules and listing the activities performed, (2) entries in official accounting documents showing that all indirect cost funds were spent completely and exactly as planned, and (3) a signed agreement with the funding agencies about approved costs, coming from the earlier negotiations establishing a university’s indirect cost rate.  However, a paper document does not necessarily mean that listed work actually was done, or that the actual service activities described really do cost as much as their stated values.  Based upon my personal experiences, I simply say “bunk” to such “proofs” for their stated indirect expenses! 

How do the Money Cycles Actually Function? 

             All 3 different money cycles produce profits that support scientific research activities.  The 2 money cycles at research institutes and universities can be initiated as soon as the available institutional funds become sufficient to permit hiring only one new scientist on a soft-money salary.  This faculty member then wins a new research grant and also gains his or her new salary.  After initial success, this faculty researcher then is encouraged to obtain a second grant, publish many research reports, and submit strong applications for competitive renewals.  The total profits generated from this initial employee will enlarge the pool of unrestricted university funds, thereby ultimately permitting the hiring of some additional soft-money faculty scientists.  With time, this cadre grows further and the Research Grant Cycle becomes self-supporting (i.e., research grants of the employed scientists provide enough income to give a net profit level that more than pays for all the costs of operating this cycle).  The use of soft-money salaries also means that the universities never have any worries about what to do if a research grant unexpectedly is not renewed; any time that an annual soft-money contract is completed, the employing university simply can discharge the now unfunded scientist, and then hire a replacement. 

             Once any of the 3 money cycles starts operating, they then simply go around and around while generating more and more profits.  With good administrative management, the number of people generating profits grows each and every year, and the cycle gets bigger and better!  In some cases, the speed of cyclic rotation even gets faster!  For all 3 money cycles, profits and the size of the cycle become larger and stronger with time! 

            For modern universities, a self-sustaining and growing new source of money profits has been discovered!  Once functioning, only minimal further expenses are needed to maintain this ongoing cycle!  The universities surely are overjoyed!  Since universities have become just another business, the financially productive Research Grant Cycle now is strongly embedded within modern university operations.  The success of The Research Grant Cycle in generating profits explains why medical schools often are the very largest unit at modern large universities; this condition has little directly to do with diseases, new therapeutic treatments, public health, or clinical research, and everything to do with obtaining larger profits. 

Does The Research Grant Cycle Actually Operate at Modern Universities? 

             What is the evidence that this cyclic profit-generating system really exists in universities?  Although there are several pieces of suggestive evidence, definitive proof remains lacking because so much is kept hidden and/or is off the record.  Recent conditions suggesting this operation at universities include: (1) the number of soft-money science faculty holding positions as non-tenure-track employees in universities is increasing, (2) at any time, there now are quite a few individual doctoral scientists available for hire in the USA as soft-money employees, (3) new very large programs (e.g., clinical genomics research initiatives, participation in extra-terrestrial space science studies, nanoscience research institutes, etc.) now have been developed in universities, and many have received substantial funding support with very large research grant awards, and, (4) even though every year there always seems to be only limited funds available for federal support of science, new government-mandated projects and mission-based research efforts continue to be announced along with special funding programs to support them.  Any new initiatives and funding programs all engage The Research Grant Cycle fully, and actually stimulate its functioning. 

 Concluding Remarks

            All 3 of the money cycles do provide the financial support needed for modern scientific investigations in the different employing institutions.  The Research Grant Cycle certainly is considered to be totally good by the many parties benefitting from it.  After the recent period with declining income due to economic downturns, universities must be especially delighted to have found a new very fruitful profit-generating mechanism to fund their many activities and services.  

             With all those positive features of The Research Grant Cycle, why then do I have a negative opinion about it?  There are 3 main reasons for my viewpoint.
                    (1)  First, my biggest reason is that this type of profit-driven money cycle subverts scientific research by making getting research grant money the chief goal of the science faculty, rather than producing new knowledge and new concepts from their experimental investigations.  The money is made to be more important than the science.  This shift in values directly stimulates the current abominable hyper-competition for research grant awards. 
                    (2)  Second, it forces scientists to become business entities, rather than professional researchers and scholars trying to better the world through their investigations.  Basic research especially is affected negatively, since it initially has no obvious commercial importance. 
                    (3)  Third, it amplifies the increasing commercialization of university science (see my earlier article in the Big Problems category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  The Research Grant Cycle reinforces the new identity of universities as businesses, rather than as centers for academic scholarship, scientific research, teaching, innovation, and public service.  That new identity in turn encourages corruption and downgrades the traditional role of universities in society. 

 

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WHY IS “GRANTSPERSONSHIP” A FALSE IDOL FOR RESEARCH SCIENTISTS, AND WHY IS IT BAD FOR SCIENCE?

 

Grantsperonship in 2014!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Grantspersonship in 2014!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

            With research grants now being so all-important for university science faculty conducting experimental research, skills and good tactics with acquiring these awards have become especially valued.  For getting research grant awards, there can be no question that some doctoral scientists are very much more successful than many others.  The reasons why and how some are more successful are hard to pin down, but it is commonly said that they have more or better understanding about exactly how the research grant system works.  Grantspersonship, formerly referred to as grantsmanship or grantswomanship, is the use of applied psychology, business skills, cleverness, manipulations, sophistry, unconventional approaches, and whatever-it-takes to win a research grant award.  Tactics for acquiring research grant awards are not explicitly taught during the graduate school education of most professional scientists; instead, they are learned and incorporated by the emulation of those having more successful results in dealing with the current research grant system. 

            I have already introduced the hyper-competition by university scientists for research grants (see earlier article in the Scientists category on “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?”).  In the present condition, grants are everything, everyone is competing with everyone else, and failure to get a new grant or a renewal easily can be the kiss-of-death for university scientists.  Far too many modern faculty scientists have had personal experience with having their research grant applications being turned down or receiving evaluation scores such that they only will receive awards for partial funding.  Many grant-supported university scientists now are trying hard to get a second research grant, in order to (1) obtain additional laboratory space, (2) undertake an additional research project, (3) receive some security in case their first research project does not receive a renewal award, and (4) increase their status and salary.  Of course, these efforts also greatly increase the hyper-competition.  The time and emotional effort needed for this infernal hyper-competition is enormous and detracts from the ability of any scientist to personally conduct research experiments in their lab (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What’s the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”).  Accordingly, very many university faculty scientists indeed would love to obtain more success by increasing their level of grantspersonship. 

            Using grantspersonship to become more successful seems justified to many scientists at modern universities, since obtaining research grant awards is so very important for their career.  Increasing one’s grantspersonship indeed can produce more funding success, but also readily results in several bad effects.  At its worst, some scientists engage in corrupt and unethical practices (see my recent article in the Big Problems category on “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?”).  Even if remaining completely honest, researchers using grantspersonship become sidetracked from their aims in being a scientist. 

             Applications for research grants should be judged on the basis of objective evaluations for merit (i.e., having the best approach to answer an important research question and/or more effectively investigate a needed topic), capabilities of the scientist (i.e., adequate background and previous experience, a record of producing important  publications, availability of the necessary facilities and required policies, etc.), compatibility with program objectives of the granting agency, good performance with previous awards, etc.  The use of grantspersonship subverts these traditional criteria, and substitutes inappropriate, irrelevant, and subjective considerations into the evaluation of applications for funding (e.g., association with a given institution, ethnicity, personal friendships, personal interactions with agency officials, professional relationships, professional status, publications in a certain journal, etc.).  All of this subversion of objective evaluations is bad for science. 

 What makes Grantspersonship Wrong?  How does Grantspersonship have Negative Effects on Science? 

            Although grantspersonship appears to be universally accepted today, few have ever examined what are its effects upon scientific research.  The concept of grantspersonship commonly is seen as the application of business skills to science; it deals with obtaining money, and has only an indirect connection to the production of good research.  There is no obvious reason to think that either most very acclaimed great research scientists could simultaneously also be outstandingly adept businesspersons, or, that the presidents of giant multinational corporations could also win a Nobel Prize for their lab research studies.  Business is fundamentally different from scientific research!  The business world previously has given more emphasis than does science to commercialism, contracts, monetary rewards, personal deals, semi-legal actions and outright deception, trading of favors, etc.; these characteristics are not traditionally prominent in the world of science.  Both business and science are useful and needed by society, but they are not the same and they are not interchangeable! 

            Most university scientists see grantspersonship as a means to the end of getting a research grant award.  Anything that will improve the chance for success is viewed as being good and acceptable.  If that really is true, then it logically follows that a new breed of non-scientist grant writers will arise and have many customers; in fact, there already are some of these new commercial offerings already.  Such “editorial grant advisors” officially will be paid to improve or rework any application so as to be more fundable; some also will be able to write an entire research grant application using only minimal input from the scientist submitting the application.  Editorial grant advisors undoubtedly will have a commercial contract with their numerous customers, and might even guarantee at least a certain priority ranking.  Of course, it will be highly unlikely that expert reviewers for the granting agencies can recognize this dual authorship when that is not stated on the application form; some applicants will maintain that they alone are the true author since they must supervise and approve of anything composed by the advisors.  Many scientists, including myself, will consider such dual authorship to be unethical; on the other hand, the concept of grantspersonship will fully accept this subterfuge. 

            What makes grantspersonship wrong?  Grantspersonship is wrong because it has bad effects on science, and on the objective evaluation of research grant applications.  In particular, the concept of grantspersonship: (1) implies that research capabilities mainly relate to construction of a grant application; (2) means that good business skills are somehow equivalent to scientific expertise, even though there is no obvious evidence for that view; this falsity is evidenced by the fact that some pre-eminent Nobel Laureate scientists have had enormous difficulties with business aspects in the modern research grant system (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What’s the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”); (3) confuses and subverts the objective evaluation of grant applications, because it is unknown what comes from the applicant and what comes from some extraneous co-author;  (4) sidetracks the essential goal of science (i.e., to find or critically study the truth) and substitutes that with the target of getting research grant funds; in other words, the real goal becomes to get the money, rather than to uncover new knowledge; and, (5) counters integrity of scientific research by making the goal be obtaining a grant award, rather than discovering important new knowledge through experimental investigations. 

Concluding Remarks

            From all the foregoing, I conclude that grantspersonship is a false idol for modern scientists doing research, andhas bad effects upon science.  The true aim of scientific research is not the acquisition of money! 

            The only way I can see to remove this anti-science mess is (1) to get the granting agencies to adopt much more rigorous standards for objectivity in reviewing research grant applications, and (2) to get the universities to either stop or greatly diminish the hyper-competition for research grant awards, since that underlies the current flourishing of grantspersonship.  Regretfully, both of these needed changes seem very unlikely to be instituted. 

            Whenever I get depressed at realizing that there now is an overwhelming desire for more grantspersonship amongst university scientists, I always begin laughing because I start wondering which will be the very first university to hire some modern Jesse James (i.e., an outlaw and notorious USA bank robber from the second half of the 1800’s) as the newest member of their science faculty, since he would bring much more money into the university than any grant-supported scientist could do!

 

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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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MONEY NOW IS EVERYTHING IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AT UNIVERSITIES

All Is Money in University Science  (dr-monsrs.net)
All  Is  Money  in  University  Science     (dr-monsrs.net)

            Scientific research in recent times certainly is very costly (see my earlier post on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research” in the Money & Grants category).  Everything in a university research laboratory is quite expensive and costs keep rising each year.  Even such common inexpensive items as paper towels, phone calls, xerographic copies, and keys to lab rooms need to be paid for at many universities.  To handle all these expenses, faculty scientists must apply for a research grant, obtain an award, and then work hard to later get it renewed.  Unless a faculty member is working at a small undergraduate college, it simply is not possible to conduct research using only internal funds and undergraduate volunteer lab workers.  Without having laboratory co-workers, research comes to a screeching halt whenever the faculty member must be out of the lab while teaching, attending a committee meeting, eating lunch in a cafeteria, or going to see the dentist.  In addition to paying salaries for postdoctoral fellows, research technicians, and graduate students, faculty scientists must buy research supplies and equipment, get broken instruments repaired, and pay for many other research expenses (e.g., business travel, costs of publication, use of special research facilities on- and off-campus, etc.).  Thus, to conduct scientific research in a university, it is fundamentally necessary to obtain and maintain external research funding; without a research grant, laboratory research projects in universities now are nearly impossible.

           

            Although the federal government each year thankfully provides many billions of dollars to support experimental studies, the present research grant system in the US is not able to fund all the good proposals submitted by faculty scientists in universities.  Of those overjoyed applicants meriting an award, many receive only part of their requested budget.  The U.S. National Science Foundation, a very large federal agency offering research grants in nearly all branches of science and engineering, reports awarding research funds to only around 28% of the many thousands of investigators applying for research support each year [1]. 

            

            Today, the professional reputation of individual faculty scientists depends mostly on the total number of dollars brought in by their research grant award(s) each year.  It also is true that different universities compare their reputation for quality in education and scholarly prestige primarily on the basis of the annual total amount of external research grant awards generated by their faculty scientists.  Many universities seeking to elevate their financial profits from research grants now urge their science faculty to try to obtain a second or third external award (i.e., for a related or unrelated project); universities also can increase their profits from research grant awards simply by hiring more science faculty. 

            

            Failure to get a research grant renewed is no longer unusual, due to the ever-increasing large number of doctoral scientists vigorously competing for new and renewal funding.  Any such failure means a rapid loss of assigned laboratory space, loss of graduate students working with the faculty member, a diminished professional reputation, and the necessity to henceforth spend all of one’s time trying to get re-funded.  Although non-renewed faculty scientists can continue researching and publishing using supplies at hand, such activity usually declines to some small level within about one year of not being funded.  This unwelcome failure is a disaster that often causes a midcareer crisis (e.g., denial of promotion to tenured rank); having a second research grant does provide some welcome protection in this distressing situation.  

            

            Each and every faculty scientist is competing against each and every other scientist for a cut of the government pie.  While ordinary competition generally has good effects upon human activities, this most prominent of all science faculty efforts is so extensive and generates such high pressures that it must be termed a “hyper-competition”.  The hyper-competition for research grant awards downgrades collegiality, subverts collaborations, and encourages corruption; each of these has very destructive effects on the research enterprise.  Applying for a research grant always is very stressful; for each renewal application (i.e., after 3-5 years of supported research work), one must compete with a larger number of new and renewal applicants than was the case for the previous  application.  Since the consequences of dealing with the research grant system are so very important for the career progress of any faculty scientist, one might wonder why graduate students in modern science are not being required to also receive an MBA degree, in addition to their Ph.D.?  

 

There is an increasing tendency for faculty scientists to form research groups, ranging from 3 to over 100 individuals.  Joining a small research group means that the failure of one group member to get a renewal application funded does not either kill anyone within the group or stop the entire project from continuing.  Giant research groups typically are headed by a king or queen scientist, and can have their own building; these giant groups automatically provide more brains, more hands, more research grant money (from awards to multiple associated individuals), and more lab space than any individual scientist or small group can obtain.  In the large associations, group-think typically can become the usual condition; in such cases, the role of each individual doctoral scientist in the group often devolves into serving only as a highly educated technician, with little need for individual input, creative new ideas, or self-development.  Today’s research scientists who work as individual researchers in academia know they have a fragile status in the hyper-competition for research grants, and usually are extremely careful to select a niche project where there is little likelihood of competing with any giant research group; that mistake would be the kiss-of-death.  Although the federal granting agencies do currently endeavor to give initial awards for 3 years to many newly-appointed science faculty, they also seem to favor the funding of very large research groups; this is readily understandable, since such awards usually provide these agencies with a much firmer likelihood that the proposed studies will be completed on time, and, the anticipated research results will be found and published (i.e., because the proposed experiments actually have already been completed!).  

 

Inevitably, the former prominence of individual research scientists becomes diminished by any policies favoring the formation and operation of very large research groups.  The acknowledged curiosity and creative initiatives of individual researchers have been the main source for new ideas, new concepts, and new directions in science.  Basic research is the necessary progenitor of all the advanced technology arising in the modern world.  Both the granting agencies and the academic institutions should change their priorities and policies so as to increase and encourage, rather than decrease and discourage, the vital activity of individuals (i.e., young basic scientists) who contribute so importantly to research progress.  When basic research is de-emphasized or disfavored, so too is creativity in science also being diminished.

 

             Another negative aspect of the enlarged importance of money for today’s scientific research is the commercialization of experimental studies in modern universities.  Commercialism is widely accepted as the primary driver of research and development within industry; currently, it is being extended and expanded into all university research efforts (see my earlier post on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” in the Big Problems category).  Basic science thereby is increasingly diminished, and many efforts are being targeted toward some commercial development or industrial goal.  That scenario refuses to recognize the proven history that both applied research and engineering developments almost always follow from one or more preceding very basic experimental studies; those basic investigations typically have no practical usage foreseen at the time of their publication.  Many detailed examples, ranging from the transistor [e.g., 2] to paternity testing based on DNA technology with the polymerase chain reaction [e.g., 3,4], show that although some highly imaginative or theoretical idea for a new device or process might have stimulated much interest, very important commercial products only arise much later after the initial basic results are modified and developed by many applied research and engineering efforts. 

 

            Scientific research at universities now is only a business activity. have seen this perverse situation in person during my own career experiences, and believe that these problems and issues with money and university profits now have changed the very nature of being an academic scientist.  I can only conclude that money today is just about everything for scientific research at modern universities.  This new emphasis creates many secondary problems for science progress and puts many roadblocks in the way of individual research scientists.  The traditional goal of scientific research is to find more new knowledge, not to acquire more and more money.  Counting the number of dollars in research grants cannot be a valid and meaningful measure of the professional status and value of individual faculty scientists.  Readers should know that I am certainly not the only scientist to state all these views with dismay (e.g., A. Kuszewski, 2010.  What happened to creativity in science?  Available on the internet at:  http://www.science20.com/print/72577 ). 

 

[1]   National Science Foundation, 2013.  About funding.  Available on the internet at:

http://www.nsf.gov/funding/aboutfunding.jsp . 

[2]   Mullis, K.B., 1987.  Conversation with John Bardeen.  Available on the internet at:

http://www.karymullis.com/pdf/interview-jbardeen.pdf/ .

[3]  Universal Genetics DNA Testing Laboratory, 2013.  Paternity DNA test.  Available on the

internet at: http://www.dnatestingforpaternity.com/paternity-test.html .

[4]   Ingenetix, 2013.  Paternity testing.  Available on the internet at: 

http://www.ingenetix.com/en/paternaty-testing

 

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