Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"The granting system turns young scientists into bureaucrats and then betrays them"

Lawrence PA (2009) Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research. PLoS Biol 7(9): e1000197. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000197
In this article, Lawrence convincingly describes (in a Kafkaesque fashion) the present system - with the help of a number of quotes from working scientists - as broken:
The problem is, over and over again, that many very creative young people, who have demonstrated their creativity, can't figure out what the system wants of them—which hoops should they jump through? By the time many young people figure out the system, they are so much a part of it, so obsessed with keeping their grants, that their imagination and instincts have been so muted (or corrupted) that their best work is already behind them. This is made much worse by the US system in which assistant professors in medical schools will soon have to raise their own salaries. Who would dare to pursue risky ideas under these circumstances? Who could dare change their research field, ever?Ted Cox, Edwin Grant Conklin Professor of Biology, Director of the Program on Biophysics, Princeton University [quoted in article]

Lawrence also offers up how to solve the science-numbing effects of the present research granting system (of most western countries), again with the assistance of a number of scientists:

“My solution? Everyone should get slotted into a funding category and assessed every five years. If you're productive, you get five more years of resources. If productivity is down, you are moved down a category. If it is high, you can apply to move up. Starting PIs are in a different category and must apply to get onto the treadmill. The difference: PIs would be judged by overall productivity, not grantsmanship. We can stop wasting our time writing grants, and the system can be more easily calibrated to train a sustainable number of postdocs. It is depressing to train people who will struggle for funding.

A peer-reviewed, 5-year renewable, productivity-based ‘track’ system with a set amount of money at each level would stabilize funding, encourage innovation and productivity, allow each PI to control how their money is allocated, and permit us to make nationwide decisions about the size of our science enterprise. It also has the merit of simplicity.”—Ross Cagan, Professor of Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine [quoted in article]

A simpler, more efficient, fairer, and more productive system is that operated by research institutes, such as the IMCB in Singapore, where investigators are given a budget, allowed to get on with their research and reviewed after five years.Philip Ingham, Professor, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore/MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics, University of Sheffield [quoted in article]

Lawrences own solution distills down to:
  • Shorten grant applications (less time writing and less time reviewing)
  • Grants last longer, like 5 yrs
  • Large groups making grant submissions need to be scrutinized on their ability and time availability to manage people, project, etc.
  • Limit # publications supporting the granting submission

As a side note, I believe this is one of the first scientific papers (albeit a perspective/opinion piece) that has a citation to a US presidential inaugural speech that I have seen.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Canadian Science Policy Conference

The Canadian Science Policy Conference is to held in Toronto, October 28-30, 2009.

While the five themes, sub-panels and speakers looking both interesting and relevant, I am disappointed and perhaps a little alarmed that there appears to be no (explicit) mention of research data issues, research data management or research data archiving, despite the series of Canadian consultations examining these issues (National Consultation on Access to Scientific Research Data (NCASRD), 2004; National Data Archive Consultation Building Infrastructure for Access to and Preservation of Research Data, 2002; Data Access in Canada: Issues for Global Change Research” (Royal Society of Canada), 1996) and indicating the pressing need for 1) A research data archiving strategy and policy; 2) A research data archive.

I think this is an issue that has too long been neglected (although there are some positive signs, like International Polar Year), impacting Canadian science and innovation, especially given the advances of other countries (Investigating Data Management Practices in Australian Universities; Open Data for Global Science: A Review of Recent Developments in National and International Scientific Data Policies and Related Proposals; Infrastructure planning and data curation: a comparative study of international approaches to enabling the sharing of research data version 1.6).

Conference themes:
  • Theme 1: Major Issues in Canadian Science and Technology Policy
    • Canada's National Science & Technology Strategies
    • Implementing scientific knowledge in the decision making process: Lessons learned and new models
    • Who Speaks for Science? Stakeholder Communication in the Canadian Scientific Community
  • Theme 2: Scientific Research in Economic Growth and Recession
    • Private Sector Research & Development, role of R&D in global economy
    • Innovation Commercialization – From Bench to Market
  • Theme 3: Science and Technology and Canada’s Future Challenges
    • Meeting the challenges ahead, Canada’s policies on environment and energy
    • Canadian economy, from resource based to knowledge driven
    • Governance of Emerging Technologies
  • Theme 4: Science and Public Engagement
    • The Next Generation of Scientists: science education and a new culture of civic engagement
    • The Democratization of Science
    • Science journalism, media and communication
  • Theme 5: Science and Technology in the Global Village
    • Best Science Policy Practices from Other Nations
    • Science Diplomacy and International Cooperation

Here are the speakers:
  • Eric Archambault President and Founder Science-Metrix
  • Alain Beaudet President Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Peter Brenders President & CEO BIOTECanada
  • Elana Brief President The Society of Canadian Women in Science and Technology
  • Deb de Bruijn Executive Director Canadian Research Knowledge Network
  • Tom Brzustowski RBC Financial Group Professor in the Commercialization of Innovation, University of Ottawa
  • Christian Burks President and CEO Ontario Genomics Institute
  • Peter Calamai Science Reporter The Toronto Star
  • David Castle Canada Research Chair in Science and Society University of Ottawa
  • Hadi Dowlatabadi Canada Research Chair & Professor of Applied Mathematics and Global Change Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability University of British Columbia
  • Paul Dufour International Development Research Centreon exchange as Senior International S&T Advisor to Natural Resources Canada
  • Ronald J. Dyck Assistant Deputy Minister, Research, Alberta Advanced Education and Technology
  • Suzanne Fortier President Natural Science and Engineering Research Council
  • Peter R. Frise Professor of Automotive Engineering, AUTO21 Program Leader & CEO, The University of Windsor
  • Chad Gaffield President Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)
  • Peter Hackett President Alberta Ingenuity
  • Mark Henderson Managing Editor Research Money
  • J. Adam Holbrook Adjunct Professor and Associate Director, Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology, Simon Fraser University
  • Ramin Jahanbegloo Professor of Political Science University of Toronto
  • Robert James Director General, Policy Branch Science and Innovation Sector National Research Council (NRC)
  • Rees Kassen Chair of The Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) University Research Chair in Experimental Evolution, University of Ottawa
  • Kei Koizumi Assistant Director for Federal Research and Development at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Jeff Kinder Manager, S&T Strategy Natural Resources Canada
  • John Leggat Past President Canadian Academy of Engineering and President International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences
  • Alidad Mafinezam Co-founder Mosaic Institute
  • Robert Mann President Canadian Association of Physicists
  • Sunny Marche Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Dalhousie University
  • Hiromi Matsui Former President Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades & Technology
  • Ann McMillan Former President Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades & Technology
  • Andrew Miall President Academy of the Royal Society of Canada
  • Geoff Munro Associate ADM and Chief Scientist, Science and Policy Integration
  • Heather Munroe-Blum President McGill University
  • Peter Nicholson President, Council of Canadian Academies
  • Jorge Niosi Canada Research Chair in Management of Technology, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • Christopher Paige Vice-President, Research University Health Network
  • Nils Petersen Director General of the NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology
  • Reinhart Reithmeier Past President, Canadian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Professor and Chair, Department of Biochemistry, University of Toronto
  • Mark Romoff President and CEO Ontario Centres of Excellence Inc.
  • David Rose Chair Department of Biology University of Waterloo
  • Nathalie Des Rosiers President, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences Acting Secretary of the University in 2008 and Acting Vice-President, Governance, University of Ottawa
  • Marc Saner Director of Research Regulatory Governance Carleton University
  • Kevin Shortt President Canadian Space Society
  • Peter Singer Director McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health
  • Halla Thorsteinsdóttir Associate Professor Dalla Lana School of Public Health
  • Caroline Wagner Research Scientist Center for International Science and Technology Policy George Washington University
  • Bryn Williams-Jones Professeur Programmes de bioethiques Université de Montréal

Related posts:
Thanks to Tracey for the heads-up on this.