Eloquently said by The Science Guy.
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Eloquently said by The Science Guy.
Here’s a video from the archives. Watch President-Elect Obama discuss his commitment to science in November 2009. These were pre-sequestration days. Four years later, do you think that President Obama is still as committed to science?
Although 2013 was a terrible year for research funding, there is some indication that American scientists might see in increase in their spending budget this coming year. According to an Associated Press article posted in OA online 6 days ago, the government has earmarked $29.9 billion out of its $1.1 trillion 2014 spending budget for the National Institute of Health (NIH). This represents a $1 billion dollar increase above 2013 funding levels and will provide a much needed boost to the drastic drop in research funding caused by the sequester.
Yet despite its positive tone, others are cautioning that the $1 billion increase may not be enough. According to Sen. Bod Casey of Pennsylvania, the proposes 2014 budget, increase and all, still falls way short of the NIH’s 2009 funding levels. Furthermore, according to the Huffington Post, the 2014 budget is $714 million less than pre-sequestration NIH funding and smaller than all of President George W. Bush’s NIH budgets with the exception of his first year in office.
The publication Nature offered a further glimpse into how the so-called funding-boost may really be less rosy than it appears for biomedical research. According to Nature, the funding increase will provide physical science research with small increases over 2012 levels. On the other hand, biomedical research will actually experience a budget decline of approximately $800 million below 2012 funding levels. According to the Whit House Office of Management and Budget, the NIH will receive $29,926 million in 2014 compared to $30,702 in 2012 and the CDC will receive $5,807 million in 2014 compared to $5,656 in 2012. Taking into account the impact of inflation, these numbers seem particularly dismal.
What lesson needs to be learned from this story? The next time you hear that the US is on the road to recovery, be sure to check your blind spots before changing lanes. You may be surprised at the dangers that are lurking behind you.
Researchers in the United States have suggested an alternative way to allocate science funding. The method, which is described in EMBO reports, depends on a collective distribution of funding by the scientific community, requires only a fraction of the costs associated with the traditional peer review of grant proposals and, according to the authors, may yield comparable or even better results.
“Peer review of scientific proposals and grants has served science very well for decades. However, there is a strong sense in the scientific community that things could be improved,” said Johan Bollen, professor and lead author of the study from the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. “Our most productive researchers invest an increasing amount of time, energy, and effort into writing and reviewing research proposals, most of which do not get funded. That time could be spent performing the proposed research in the first place.” He added: “Our proposal does not just save time and money but also encourages innovation.”
The new approach is possible due to recent advances in mathematics and computer technologies. The system involves giving all scientists an annual, unconditional fixed amount of funding to conduct their research. All funded scientists are, however, obliged to donate a fixed percentage of all of the funding that they previously received to other researchers. As a result, the funding circulates through the community, converging on researchers that are expected to make the best use of it. “Our alternative funding system is inspired by the mathematical models used to search the internet for relevant information,” said Bollen. “The decentralized funding model uses the wisdom of the entire scientific community to determine a fair distribution of funding.”
The authors believe that this system can lead to sophisticated behavior at a global level. It would certainly liberate researchers from the time-consuming process of submitting and reviewing project proposals, but could also reduce the uncertainty associated with funding cycles, give researchers much greater flexibility, and allow the community to fund risky but high-reward projects that existing funding systems may overlook.
“You could think of it as a Google-inspired crowd-funding system that encourages all researchers to make autonomous, individual funding decisions towards people, not projects or proposals,” said Bollen. “All you need is a centralized web site where researchers could log-in, enter the names of the scientists they chose to donate to, and specify how much they each should receive.”
The authors emphasize that the system would require oversight to prevent misuse, such as conflicts of interests and collusion. Funding agencies may need to confidentially monitor the flow of funding and may even play a role in directing it. For example they can provide incentives to donate to specific large-scale research challenges that are deemed priorities but which the scientific community can overlook.
“The savings of financial and human resources could be used to identify new targets of funding, to support the translation of scientific results into products and jobs, and to help communicate advances in science and technology,” added Bollen. “This funding system may even have the side-effect of changing publication practices for the better: researchers will want to clearly communicate their vision and research goals to as wide an audience as possible.”
Awards from the National Science Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Institutes of Health supported the work.
From funding agencies to scientific agency: Collective allocation of science funding as an alternative to peer review
Johan Bollen, David Crandall, Damion Junk, Ying Ding, and Katy Börner
Read the paper:
Thank you to EMBO for contributing this story.
They are coming to New Orleans to talk science with their fellow members of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) on Monday, December 16, but the ASCB winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine, Randy Schekman, PhD, and James Rothman, PhD, are speaking out on controversial issues they believe threaten American science and American society.
On Saturday in Stockholm, Rothman of Yale University closed his Nobel lecture with a warning that “brutal cuts” in federal research funding are destroying American competitiveness in science. On Tuesday in an opinion column published in the British newspaper, The Guardian, Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley, said that the world’s three leading scientific journals—Cell, Nature, and Science—are warping science for their own commercial purposes. Calling them “luxury” journals, Schekman wrote, “These journals aggressively curate their brands, in ways more conducive to selling subscriptions than to stimulating the most important research.”
Longtime ASCB members, Schekman and Rothman won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of how molecules move through the cell in vesicles and fuse to target membranes in a process known as “trafficking.” Schekman who was ASCB President in 1999 and Rothman who has been an ASCB member since 1982 will share their joint prize of roughly $1.2 million US with Thomas Südhof of Stanford University for their work on the machinery regulating vesicles in the cell as they move along cytoskeletal roadways, delivering cargoes to different parts of the cell. This basic work was a huge boost for researchers studying conditions such as diabetes and neurodegeneration.
Both men are concerned that the work for which they won their Nobels would be much more difficult in the future because of an climate of budget cutbacks and branded scientific publications. Schekman has been particularly critical of “journal impact factors” or JIFs, a statistical measure of how often a journal is cited in other papers, as “a deeply flawed measure” that is damaging scientific integrity. JIFs have become the widely accepted measure for scientific hiring, advancement, and funding, Schekman wrote, despite their well-known flaws.
The JIF became a major issue at last year’s ASCB Annual Meeting when a group of scientists and journal editors drew up the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), calling for scientists to turn their backs on JIFs and find new measures of individual research value. This week, just six months after the DORA petition was first posted publicly, the number of scientists and scholars including many from the social sciences and the humanities who have signed DORA passed the 10,000 signature mark. An additional 423 scientific and scholarly organizations have also signed. Schekman, a former president of the ASCB and an early DORA supporter, is expected to expand on the DORA premise in his address to the cell biologists on Monday night.
“When we first talked about the ideas that became DORA last year in San Francisco, none of us thought that it would explode like this,” said Stefano Bertuzzi, the Executive Director of the ASCB. “As cell biologists, we thought it was our issue but now the 10,000 plus signatures for DORA so far prove that JIFs are seen as serious threat in many fields of science and scholarship. This is not just egghead, ivory tower stuff. What comes out of our labs and our universities is the power that drives our future economy. Research will make or break our future health. DORA is not about footnotes. It’s about keeping research honest and vital.”
Bertuzzi continued, “The ASCB is delighted to have two of our own—Randy and Jim—coming from Stockholm to New Orleans to use their new fame to stand up for critical issues like budget cuts and DORA.”
In his Nobel lecture last Saturday, Rothman of Yale University pointed out that the science of biochemistry which undergirded his Nobel-winning research on how cells package and deliver vital secretions such as insulin was developed around the turn of the last century in Germany. The Nazis destroyed that scientific culture in a matter of years, driving many of the best biochemists to the U.S. where it took root and blossomed, Rothman said. It gave the US an unquestioned scientific leadership form World War II to recent. “Now that culture stands deeply threatened by brutal cuts in support for basic research,” Rothman said. “And it can go away.”
Both Schekman and Rothman are longtime members of the ASCB, the world’s largest society of cell science researchers whose basic discoveries have driven advances in modern medicine and pharmacology. They will address many of the 6,000 attendees at the ASCB Annual Meeting at a special Nobel session in the Great Hall of the New Orleans Morial Convention Center at 6:00 pm CST, on Monday night.