My first reaction to this Cell article by Ronald Germain which offers a supposed solution to some of science’s funding problems was, “I love it when the Very Serious Scientists reinvent ideas the riff-raff discarded as unworkable years ago. Genius, fellas.” Note to senior people: you’re not as smart as you think you are, and the riff raff aren’t as stupid as you think either. Or as the kids used to say, been there, done that.
While, as is usually the case, Drugmonkey’s joint has some pretty good discussion about the Cell proposal, I also came across this post from Dr. Isis about the Cell proposal. While I don’t agree with much of Isis’ proposal (if people are interested and I’m up for it, I can make it a post–it’s not a short answer), these proposals, as well as the comments at Drugmonkey’s post, made me realize that, in all of these proposals, we need to explicitly state who gets screwed. In the case of the Cell proposal, any ‘slow starters’ or people trained in less prestigious groups or programs will find it much more difficult to get funding. If history is any guide, this will also discriminate against women with children and minorities in general.
The only way prohibiting grants from paying PI salaries would make it easier to obtain funding is that most of the ‘soft money’ researchers (PIs who aren’t paid by their institutions) would lose their jobs–most universities can’t make up the salaries any more than they can afford to lose overheads. So it’s pretty clear who gets screwed there. Good luck with the rest of your life, mid-career scientist!
As Jeremy Berg, in more tactful language, has described, we are already undergoing a PI cull, somewhere between ten to forty percent, depending on how you want to look at it. As long as funding does not increase and there are still too many mouths at the trough, we are going to force people out of NIH-funded science. Let’s at least be clear about who gets screwed (and it’s pretty clear Germain isn’t being clear at all).