After a recent web seminar I hosted to help people write grants that are more likely to get funded, I got a note from a writer overseas that raised an interesting point about “fundability” and the progress of science (we’ll call him A to preserve anonymity).
THe major point I am raising though refers to the type of science. IN the western society model, incorporating science as one among other activities, the spiral has been closing down and down on the equation “potential applicative outcome=easy funding” Now I am not arguing against the need for new technology and new achievements, but basic science has been the foundation of every possible applicative science, while now the almost desperate need for immediate money leads the investors to neglect, or even worse, to design selection procedures that will specifically leave basic science out of most of the funding schemes.
If you have been working for a lifetime now (I am 53) in basic science and, very sadly, you are still strongly convinced of its value, it is very difficult to pretend to be a different type of scientist to adapt to the various funding strategies/topics.
BAsic science has never had “the brilliant idea that makes a project cool” at least not “a priori” though afterwards it gave us things such as DNA structure and fucntion or cyclin-cdk mechanism for cell cycel progression control, among others. Because it is felt as almost useless nowadays (as if we knew everything almost), it makes it really difficult to build a gap, a contrast, nothing.
Have you elaborated on this aspect? How would one get to the same strategy if the basical “why do we need it” is only very hardly fulfilled, especially considering the balance (money spent vs money income due to the results)?
I agree completely that the “desperate need for funding” forces investigators to focus on near-term outcomes. This can and does often lead to short-sighted science, rather than allowing investigators to take the long view.
Make no mistake: it is still science, but it is often focused on only incremental results, rather than the big leaps.
Is this truly impeding scientific progress? My instinct is with A on this one. I think that it does impede progress to focus only on the short-term, rather than on the longer-term. I don’t have hard scientific “proof” to back that up. But it doesn’t matter.
Because, ultimately, what gets funded all boils down to values.
There was a long period in the 20th century when society highly valued science and scientific progress. Hence, that same society was willing to invest lots of money into science for its own sake. We all benefitted greatly from that investment.
But that period seems to be waning. Most of the populace no longer seems clear on the “value” of science. They are much more apt to ask the question: “what have you done for me lately?” – which leads to the myopic, short-term view of research that we find ourselves in now.
There’s really only one fix for this conundrum: for scientists themselves to become better communicators of the value of science to the world. That’s a hard job, because most of us weren’t trained for it. Most of us, when asked by a relative what we’re doing, tend to spout off a long array of buzzwords that leave the would-be listener behind by the time the second word leaves our lips.
That’s because we’ve become a bit spoiled by that great input of funding that society graced us with in the last century. We didn’t have to learn to elaborate clearly on the value of science, because it was just seen as being “intrinsically good.”
Interestingly, this difficulty in elaborating on the value of what we do underlies not only the big-picture funding woes for science, but also underlies the microcosm of many people’s personal struggles with getting their grants funded. Ultimately, it’s the same deal: it is more vital than ever to be able to clearly elaborate on the value of what we do as scientists, both in general terms to a general audience (such as the public), but also in more specific terms to our colleagues when they review our grants.
Whether we like it or not, an age is upon us when we have to clearly explain the value of what we do to others. If we can’t explain that clearly, then the funding is unlikely to be there to support what we do. While it might be nice to harken back to a time when that funding flowed freely, it isn’t the present reality.