After ASBMB president Steve McKnight’s monthly letter went viral (check here for links to all three), many people in social media complained about him being against young scientist. That is far from true, as he clarified in his this month’s letter (not that it needed any clarification) and explained where the riff-raffs come from.
Now, at least in academia, an entirely new metric has insidiously contaminated our enterprise. Instead of perceived capacity to make unique discoveries being at the very top of the list, this critical premise has begun to be replaced by fundability. If a job candidate is working in a trendy field liberally funded by the NIH, such as the ENCODE project, he or she may well be chosen over a superior candidate. How sad it is to have witnessed this change over the tenure of my decades as a biomedical researcher.
The rest of his commentary has many similarities with what we discussed in this blog over the last two years. Too much of central planning has been damaging science, whereas in the past the process worked from bottom up. Check our various relevant posts discussing these points.
[In above post, we discussed about yet another central planning idea to fix the impact of previous ones related to citations.]
[A long term history of non-centrally planned part of western science.]
[How US science got badly centralized through a series of ‘good ideas’ since WW II.]
[Criticism of yet another central planning idea.]
[Proposed alternatives. They take into account the fact that purely crowd- sourced science will be hype-driven, even though it is the society that ultimately pays for science. On the other hand, leaving everything to the central planners is self-destructive.]
Getting back to McKnight’s letter, he also clearly sees the top-down planning as a major shift and plans to discuss the alternatives in the coming months.
When science funding used to be driven in a bottom-up direction, one had tremendous confidence that a superior grant application would be funded. Regrettably, this is no longer the case. We instead find ourselves perversely led by our noses via top-down research directives coming from the NIH in the form of requests for proposals and all kinds of other programs that instruct us what to work on instead of asking us what is best.
Given the huge impact of fundability on our scientific workforce, the people sitting on NIH study sections now exert exceptional influence on our profession. I am hypersensitive to this situation, and I am simply unwilling to ignore the quagmire in which we now find ourselves. I may be wrong. Our system for distributing billions of taxpayer dollars to the biomedical enterprise may need no tweaking whatsoever. This is a debate; debate is healthy. Over the next two years, I will be offering my take. I welcome yours!