All About Federal Funding for Research

All About Federal Funding for Research

A collaborator informed us that their university has a new requirement for PhD students in biology. Any student taking preliminary exam needs to write a full Federal-style grant proposal and submit it to the committee. We think that is a thoughtful move, but eventually the university should include two other topics in their curricula to raise well-balanced students -

(i) Ability to ENCODE papers (i.e. make inflated claims) to get into ‘high- profile’ commercial journals,

(ii) For those who fail to ENCODE papers, training to fill up other Federal welfare forms akin to grant applications (e.g. check “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps”).

We will restrict this discussion to federal grants only, and devote an entire commentary on this topic with renewed interest among students.

Who provides federal funding?

Most graduate students get out of universities thinking that the government grants come from agencies with 3 or 4 letter acronyms. That is true, but the four-letter agency is different from what they learn. The actual funding comes from a different ‘agency’, which also has a four letter name - ‘HOST’. Please note that HOST is not an acronym. In popular vernacular, HOST is also described as ‘ordinary Americans’, but we prefer to use scientific term.

The words host and parasite usually have bad connotation, but that is not always true in the living world. Sometimes, parasites provide useful services to the host and the relationship is called symbiosis. A good example is shown below.

In a symbiotic mutualistic relationship, the clownfish feeds on small invertebrates that otherwise have potential to harm the sea anemone, and the fecal matter from the clownfish provides nutrients to the sea anemone. The clownfish is additionally protected from predators by the anemone’s stinging cells, to which the clownfish is immune.

Symbiosis or no symbiosis in federal funding?

Knowledgeable readers may point out that if there is symbiosis (i.e. mutual benefit), we should not use the words ‘host’ and ‘parasites’. Well, that would have been true under normal circumstances, but here is the problem. The HOST died in 2007-2008, as you can clearly see from the following figures. We have a number of similar charts and they all point to the same thing - the HOST is dead.

We do not believe symbiosis is possible on dead hosts. Some others recognized the same problem and are making a desperate attempt to resuscitate the HOST. That is being done by a group of witch doctors, who talk like scientists and use scientific language. In fact, they are often from the academia, but from a different branch of science called ‘witch doctor science’ in English and ‘economic and social science’ in American English. They even write technical paper with lot of statistical analysis, which appear flawless to casual observers until you dig deeper (check first comment here) .

Solution from ‘witch doctor science’

Witch doctors found out that the HOST was dead and realized that the a living host was vital (pun intended) to keep the parasites alive. So, they recommended a replacement ‘HOST’ - student debt.


Let us do the math. About 21M students went to

college in 2012 for undergraduate degrees. The HOST died in 2008, which means the extra borrowing between 2008-2012 ($10K/student in u/g) had been fake.

$21M times 10K = $210B.

NSF Annual budget = $8B

NIH annual budget = $30B

You do the math.

Replacement host is dying too :(

Fast forward to 2013. Now, we have a second problem on top of the first one. The replacement host is dying too, and you can find the implications from this article.

The rising mountain of student debt, recently closing in on $1.2 trillion, is forcing some entrepreneurs to abandon startup dreams and others, including Christine Carney of Orono, Maine, to radically reshape their business plans.

The above paragraph means the witch doctor solution kept the parasites alive for only 4-5 years, but it also assured the graduating students cannot form new businesses or be independent in other forms. Without new entrepreneurship, less taxes will be paid to the government and there will be less resources for the parasites in the long run.

Any question?

For other entertaining and less entertaining commentaries on similar topic, please check -

When to Leave the Academia (University Cartel)?

The closing of American Academia

The Red Queens Race of University Tuition and Student Debt

Written by M. //