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Everyone needs a kick at the G5 can

September 23, 2009

There’s an interesting piece in the New York Times about a granting controversy at the NIH (thanks @MargaretAinDC for the link). Experienced investigators are having their grant applications rejected in favour of lower-ranking applications from new investigators in a “scientific equivalent of affirmative action”. NIH managers are using the granting system to encourage graduate students and young investigators to make a career in academia, which many feel is anathema to the merit-based system of awarding grants. Apparently, 19% of grants – worth $380-million – were made as “exceptions”, granted outside the ranking system of reviewers. This figure has doubled since 2003. Advocates both for and against the change in policy weigh in with interesting and valid points.

In other news, the dead-horse G5 concept continues to suffer the boots of excluded schools, which all seem committed to getting their kicks. In this edition, the V-P Research from Ryerson criticizes the plan (“the game that bigger universities play”) as do several researchers from Concordia (“a false, divisive distinction… [that] is really backward looking” – thanks to Russell Cooper for the link). Stay tuned for reactions from the rest.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    September 23, 2009 07:53

    While I do not defend the arrogant proposition of the G5 presidents, be absolutely sure that smaller universities and colleges are actively lobbying to secure disproportional funding for research in their institutions. There are multiple mechanisms (of Machiavellian complexity) to distribute funding across the various institutions which are not based on excellence (but, ironically, are often in the name of excellence). This is evident from such glaring Federal Programs as the Centres of Excellence which, a couple of years ago, spread millions of dollars without peer review to select institutions based on location. In a society that has seen more universities created in the past decade than in the past 200 years, we are awash with institutions that purport to dispense excellence but rely on subsidies and loop-holes. Their defence is that they need assistance to compete. Likewise, setting different rules for junior versus senior investigators is also wrong-headed. It artificially supports more researchers than the system can ultimately cope with. All reviewers should give younger investigators appropriate consideration for their situation and experience. Likewise, expectations for more established investigators should be higher. If they are not, that is a reviewer problem.

    There is an underground battle going on between our educational institutions and that’s good. We have too many researchers living on subsistence, performing underwhelming work. This is not a Canada-specific problem, but it is exacerbated by the concentration of population and the Federal/Provincial governance model. Research needs to be dog-eat-dog. This is tax payers money and they do not get value from mediocrity. Remove all of the adjustments, politics and entitlements. Evaluate research based on its quality not its location.

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