Tag Archives: National Science Foundation

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Working research scientists begin to speak out!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

My answers to a few important ‘why questions’!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to understand more about causes and effects? 

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

Concluding remarks! 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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AMAZING NUMBERS ABOUT SCIENCE, RESEARCH, AND SCIENTISTS! 

 

Gigantic

The total science enterprise in the U.S. is humongous!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Although many are aware that science and technology are extensive, few people realize just how very large they are.  Everything from the number of scientists and engineers currently working, to the amount of money spent for research activities, are gigantic!  This article brings the latest official figures into view so that all of us can grasp the present size of the current science enterprise in the United States (U.S.); of course, the corresponding figures for global science are even larger.

How many scientists and engineers work here?  What do they work on? 

For 2012, there were 6.2 million scientists and engineers employed in the U.S.,  accounting for 4.8% of the total workforce [1].  56% worked in occupations involving  computers, 25% worked in engineering, and the remaining 19% were employed for many other categories of research (e.g., 2% worked in mathematical occupations) [1].

For which kind of employers do doctoral scientists work? 

Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 (see:  “National Science Foundation issues new report on status of science, engineering, and research!” ) documents that 70.1% of all employed doctoral scientists and engineers in 2013 worked in industries, and only 15.6% worked in academia/education; another 12.5% worked in governmental facilities [2].

How much money was spent by the federal government to support all the different research studies and activities in the U.S.?

A total of $132.5 billion was useds by the federal government to support all aspects and different activities for non-commercial research in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 [3].

Which branches of research receive the most federal funding support? 

For FY2014, research in life sciences, which includes biological, medical, and hospital studies, as well as agricultural investigations, received federal support of $30.7 billion [4].  Research with engineering received $11.9 billion, research in all physical sciences received $6.5 billion, and, research in computer science and mathematics received $3.9 billion in FY2014 [4].  In the same period, $65.0 billion was used to support all military research and development (R&D) activities by the Department of Defense [5].

How much money is spent by the government versus by industries to support research studies? 

In FY2013, U.S. commercial industries spent a grand total of over $322.5 billion to support all R&D activities by their scientists and engineers [6]; for the same period, agencies and programs of the U.S. federal government spent over $132.5 billion to support all the different aspects of non-business R&D [3].

Discussion! 

An extensive load of statistics for research support by the federal government is gathered and analyzed every year by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, and subsequently published by the National Science Foundation.  These yearly data listings are invaluable and used widely to analyze changes, identify imbalances, and reveal needs for intervention.

Using just the figures cited above [1-5], some interesting and surprising conclusions can be made.  (1) An enormous number of scientists and engineers work in the U.S.  (2) Over half of all scientists and engineers in the U.S. now are employed to work with computer science.  (3) The federal government spent $132.5 billion to support research studies in all the different branches of science during FY2014.  (4) Almost half of the total support funds from the U.S. government in modern years is used for biomedical, hospital, and agricultural research studies.  (5) Commercial concerns spend more for their R&D activities than the federal government expends to support non-commercial R&D.  (6) The grand total funding support for all R&D from both industrial and governmental sources was almost $0.5 trillion in FY2013.

Concluding remarks! 

My grand conclusion is that the size of the total budget and all activities for research and development in the U.S. during any recent year is nothing less than humongous!  Most funding to support this immense R&D effort comes from U.S. citizens via their tax payments to the federal government, and from the profits spent by large and small commercial businesses.

 

[1]  Sargent, Jr., J.F., for the Congressional Research Service, 2014.  The U.S. science and engineering workforce: recent, current, and projected employment, wages, and unemployment.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43061.pdf .

[2]  National Science Foundation, 2016.  Table 4-17.  In: Science and Engineering Indicators 2016.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/report .

[3]  Yamaner, M., for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2016a.  TABLE 1.  Federal obligations for research and development and R&D plant, by type of R&D: FYs 2012-16.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16311/ .

[4]  Yamaner, M., for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2016b.  TABLE 4.    Federal obligations for research, by broad field of science and engineering and agency in rank order: FY2014.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16311/ .

[5]  Yamaner, M., for the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2016c.  TABLE 2.  Federal obligations for research, by agency and type of research in FY 2014, rank order: FYs .2012-2016.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16311/ .

[6]  National Science Foundation, 2016.  Table 4-7.  U.S. business R&D.  Funds spent for business R&D performed in the United States: 2008-2013.  In: Science and Engineering Indicators 2016.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/report/chapter-4/u-s-business-r-d .

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion!

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

 

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NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION ISSUES NEW REPORT ON STATUS OF SCIENCE, ENGINEERING, AND RESEARCH! 

 

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

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has just released an extensive report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 (SEI 2016).  It presents the latest figures and trends about the status of scientific research and engineering development in the United States (US) and elsewhere in the modern world; the complete data presently extend through 2013 or 2014.  This very large document is available to all on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/report .  Its accompanying short commentary, The 2016 Digest, is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/digest .

In this article, I will first describe what SEI 2016 is and how it is important.  Then, I will briefly discuss a few important aspects of the newest data from SEI 2016.  These topics are selected because they have widespread general interest, and are very essential starting points for understanding today’s science in the US.  Citations in the following text all refer to SEI 2016, unless noted.

What is SEI 2016? 

New editions of this documentation are prepared every 2 years by the NSF National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics under guidance of the NSF National Science Board.  SEI 2016 presents many quantitative data, tables, and charts about science, engineering, and research in the US and the world.  The new volume is the 22nd in this series and so readily enables good comparisons with past figures.  Its chapters deal with: (1) elementary and secondary mathematics and science education, (2) higher education in science and engineering, (3) science and engineering labor force, (4) national trends and international comparisons for research and development, (5) academic research and development, (6) industry, technology and the global marketplace, and, (7) public attitudes and understanding of science and engineering.

The contents of SEI 2016 are presented for other people to use!  This avoids any need to guess about quantities, comparative figures, or trends.  Mostly it does not include interpretations, discussions of policy issues, or opinions about the data given.  Copies of this biennial report are distributed to the President, Congress, and many high officials involved with science and engineering.

Neither members of the public, nor scientists and engineers, are likely to try to read through all the numbers in tables and charts of SEI 2016!  Instead, they can either (1) read through the short commentary version offered as “The 2016 Digest” (see URL given above), whose PDF version contains only 14 pages of text and 7 pages of figures, or (2) look up specific sections having information about topics of personal interest (see “Search by Topic or Keyword” at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/topics/); for the general reader, I believe the best approach is to use this excellent search page.

Some important basic questions are answered in SEI 2016! 

(1)  How many scientists and engineers now are working in the US?  How many are unemployed?  SEI 2016 lists a total of 23,557,000 persons working on some aspect of science and engineering who were employed in the US during 2013 [Table 3-6].  For 2013, 6.7% of all scientists and engineers were working involuntarily on something out of their field [Table 3-14], and less than 4% were unemployed [Appendix Table 3-18].  For all graduate students in science during 2013, 25% study engineering [Table 5-19].

(2)  How many doctoral scientists and engineers are working in industry, and how many work in academia?  What is the trend for academic employment of scientists and engineers?  In 2013, 70.1% of all employed doctoral scientists and engineers were working in business/industry, 15.6% were working in academia/education, and 12.5% were working for federal, state, and local  governments [Table 3-6].  Holders of a doctoral degree in science or engineering who worked as full-time faculty members declined to 70% in 2013.

(3)  What were the salaries for doctoral scientists and engineers working as postdoctoral fellows, members of a science faculty 5 years after graduating, or staffing industries 5 years after graduating?  The median salary for all postdoctoral fellows working on research or development in the US was $45,000 in 2014 [Table 3-18].  Excluding physicians and dentists, the median salary for all doctoral scientists and engineers working at academic institutions (at 4-5 years after graduating) was $85,530 in 2014; the corresponding figure for all engineers in academia was $94,250 [Table 3-13].  Median salaries for doctoral scientists and engineers working in the business sector during 2014 generally are higher than those working in academia.

(4)  What portion of doctoral scientists and engineers working on research or development in the US were born in foreign lands?  What portion of postdoctoral research fellows currently researching in the US were born in foreign lands?  How are these figures changing?  SEI 2016 shows that science and engineering in the US continue to have a large input of workers born in foreign lands.  For postdocs in 2013, this figure was almost 50% [Figure 5-19]; for these foreign-born postdocs, Asians and Pacific Islanders were nearly 70% of the total [text following Table 5-19].  All these figures are trending somewhat higher; in 2013, the number of total scientists and engineers born in foreign lands has grown to 27% [Figure 5-19].

(5)  What portion of faculty scientists and engineers applying for a federal research grant currently get funded?  How is this figure changing from earlier years?  SEI 2016 shows that only 19% of all applications for research support from the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal granting agency for biomedical research, were funded in 2014 [Table 5-22].  The trend for funding in the period from 2001 through 2013 shows a progressive decrease [Table 5-22].

(6)  How does the US compare with other nations for the total amount of money invested to support science and engineering activities performed in the US?  In 2014, the US government spent over $132 billion to support all research and development by scientists and engineers [Figure 4-17].  Defense expenses for research and development accounted for 52.7% of that total [Table 4-17].  For the same period, US industries spent over $322 million for business research and development [Table 4-7].

Concluding discussion! 

SEI 2016 is a most valuable and extensive documentation for anyone seeking facts and figures about modern science and engineering.  It furnishes a very useful means to evaluate the present status of scientific research and engineering development in the US and other nations, and to recognize current trends.  Clearly, it shows that both the US government and US industries spend lots of money on science and engineering activities; most of these billions of dollars come from US taxpayers, who then receive both new knowledge and new commercial products!

 

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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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INTRODUCTION TO MONEY IN MODERN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

Dollars for Research.signedIt’s all money !  Is the purpose of research really just to acquire money ??                                                        (http://dr-monsrs.net)

           

            Money for experimental research plays a very large role in modern science.  The key importance of money is due to: (1) research studies are very expensive, (2) without money, almost no experimental studies can be conducted, (3) not all good ideas are able to be funded by the granting agencies, and, (4) large portions of research grant awards are not being spent for actual research expenses. 

 

            Most research support in the USA comes either from federal grants to universities and small businesses, or from internal budgets for research and development in industrial companies.  The sum of all this dedicated support for experimental research studies is many billions of dollars each year; this huge figure clearly demonstrates the great importance of scientific research for the good of all people.   In Fiscal Year 2011, the grand total of all grants awarded for support of research by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) was $5,103,500,000 [1].  The total research and development outlays for all nondefense studies from any sources in this same period were over 65 billion dollars [2].  These billion dollar sums prove that modern research indeed is very expensive.  Special fundung programs, often requiring establishment of a multi-user facility, have been set-up for applications to purchase very large and particularly expensive special research instruments. 

 

            Research grant funds are spent by scientists for the purchase of supplies (e.g., chemicals, blank DVDs, specimen holders, test tubes), acquisition or usage of some special research equipment (e.g., regulated very high temperature ovens, chromatography columns and systems, personal computers), and, purchase of business travel (e.g., to collect specimens or data in the field, to attend annual science meetings).  They also are used to pay for telephone usage and copying costs, employment of laboratory personnel, support of graduate students working in the laboratory, provision of partial  salary for the grant-holder (i.e., Principal Investigator), adjunctive costs of performing experiments (e.g., utilization of an institutional or regional research facilities, the costs of monitoring radiation exposure, care and housing for research animals), etc.  Unless someone pays, all these activities would stop. 

 

            Although there are federal and institutional oversight controls to verify which expenses are bonafide and necessary, the inherent nature of the present research grant system means that  large amounts of money are not being spent for direct support of the actual research experiments (i.e.,  therefore, my view is that they are being wasted!).  Some of these wated funds are spent on redundant or unnecessary expenses.  Other wastage comes from the frequent absence of organized mechanisms for re-assignment and re-use of expensive research equipment that is no longer needed (i.e., why pass along a 5-10 year old working research instrument belonging to the late Professor Jones, when the new faculty member, Assistant Professor Smith, can buy the very latest model with his newly awarded research grant?).  It is well-known amongst grant-holders that all awarded funds must be spent; there is no official capability to bank any unspent research grant funds, nor is there any encouragement to ever try to save money and then return unspent portions of the awarded funds. 

 

            The very largest inappropriate expenditure of research grant funds in my view is for payments of indirect costs.  Direct costs for scientific research are those necessarily spent to conduct experiments (see the many examples given above).  Indirect costs are those needed for such purposes as cleaning, heating, cooling, painting, and maintenance of the lab room(s), safety inspections, administrative activities, disposal of garbage and chemical waste, provision and drainage of water, etc.).  All of these expenditures for indirect costs are very necessary for the research conducted by faculty scientists, and certainly must be paid; however, I do question exactly who should pay for them.  At universities, many faculty in mathematics and computer science, the non-science faculty, and scholars working in library science, music, and art all need the same type of services listed above; however, the indirect costs of these faculty mostly are paid by some institutional entity.  Only faculty scientists holding a research grant and using a laboratory are required to pay for their indirect costs; senior doctoral scientists working at teaching and writing books, but no longer doing any laboratory studies, are not asked to pay for their indirect costs.  This selective targeting seems very peculiar to me. 

 

            At some academic institutions research grant payments for indirect costs are even larger than those for the direct costs.  Hence, big portions of research grant awards are being diverted away from their nominal purpose.  I must conclude that the payment of indirect costs by grants awarded to support scientific research constitutes a large waste of research grant funds and is not necessary.  My conclusion is very unusual since both the granting agencies and the universities agree to this peculiar policy.  I suspect, but cannot prove, that many working scientists holding research grants agree with me; I do know from talking with numerous university faculty scientists that most believe that current indirect cost rates are unrealistic and must be way too high. 


            All of the research grant awards now being misdirected to pay for indirect costs would be much better spent if they were used to permit more awards for direct costs to be made that (1) provide full, rather than only partial, funding, (2) give funding to a larger number of worthy applicants than is presently possible, and (3) enable some funding programs to extend for at least 10 years, instead of the 1-5 year period of support that is typical at present.  I will discuss all these issues and ideas for their solutions much further in later posts.

 

[1]   American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2013.  Research funding at the National Science Foundation, FY 2011.  Available on the internet at:

http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/DiscNSF.png .

[2]   American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2013.  Trends in nondefense R&D (research and devlopment) by function (FY 2011).  Available on the internet at:

http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/FunctionNON.jpg .

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