CIHR Operating Grants Raise Protest
Without much fanfare, nearly 1,800 people have signed a petition protesting the historically low success rates in the individual CIHR Operating Grants competition.
From the petition:
The percentage of successful applicants is about 15 % of the grants submitted. This means that very good grants are no longer fundable and that there is no guarantee that a grant rated excellent by the reviewers will be funded.
The petition cites research suggesting that the peer-review process is not precise enough to accurately award grants based on quality at such low approval rates. Many applications rated “excellent” will not be funded, and those that are funded will be successful largely by chance. The signatories rightly lament this state of affairs and urge the government to rectify it.
The main reason this is happening, it seems to me, is that CIHR is increasingly “hands-on” in its management of research. There is a significant shift away from the “researcher-based” funding model – where we trust smart, productive people with good ideas to continue being smart, productive and full of good ideas. Instead, we’re moving toward a “research-based” funding model. Here, research is determined by government policy, and is directed through an increasing array of targeted funding programs. In place of individual creativity of our researchers and evaluation by learned peers, research areas and approaches are determined by bureaucrats in a doomed attempt to direct outcomes.
This isn’t simply about reduced funding, it’s about a change in how basic research is supported in Canada. Increasing the proportion of funding allocated through specific and targeted programs removes the creativity and unexpected discovery fundamental to basic research and risks turning creative academic research into a manager-dominated, risk-averse bureaucracy of incremental progress and outcome reports.
No doubt there are significant cuts coming in this spring’s budget; it is not yet clear whether research funding will be on the chopping block. It is important for researchers to make our voices heard for sustainable funding. But it’s also important to pay attention to these broader changes occurring and to make sure we protect the foundations of Canada’s basic research system.