Thanks to Jennifer, our director of pointed comic relief.
so, where ARE the morals of the grant grantors? Why DO they fund the 'silly' projects that you guys keep discussing? Is it a matter of 'we have the money and if we don't dole it out to someone, we lose it'? Or what is the deal?
oh, and where can I get a grant to fund my time for searching for appropriate topics of comic relief?
That's one rationale (or excuse). People naturally defend their material interests, and scientists are no exception. We want to do what we know how to do (or what will be successful in seeking funding). We can't retrain to something too far afield. We believe in our own mythologies. We don't want to shut our labs or fire people who work for us. We want projects for our graduate students.And so on. Policy shifts do occur, but not necessarily following a 'rational' plan of likely benefits etc. And people disagree genuinely on what that would be. Like Obama, everything ends up being compromise, or something.
That's partly it, Jennifer -- the bureaucrats in charge have to protect their portfolios. And in part it's the 'peer review' system. Every grant is reviewed and decided on by someone in the same field, so the project might well be 'state-of-the-art', but the state-of-the-art of many fields is not particularly innovative. Plus, current methods may not actually answer current questions (is coffee bad for us? what causes autism? how is math most effectively taught? how should depression best be treated? and so on. These questions have been beaten to death, and there are still no answers that everyone agrees upon.). And, there's no system of real accountability -- if you say you're going to figure out what causes obesity, and how to solve it, perhaps the system should require that you demonstrate the effectiveness of your approach before you get more funding. The researcher has to demonstrate a record of productivity to get more funding, but that doesn't necessarily correlate with successful research.
If science is unpredictable, then we should be penalized for misleading funders about likely success. And budgets should be lower than the often regal level of support for things that simply have low probabilities of working out. And other reforms, too, could be implemented. But they'd threaten a lot of comfortable vested interests.
Post a Comment