Research Funding: An Increase, but for Whom?
While Michael Lubell, in his "Inside the Beltway" column (May 1997) praises the Congress for the across-the-board increase of 7% in research funding, it avoids altogether the critical question of how the research money is distributed. This unduly shifts the accent on the total funding and obfuscates the fundamental flaws of the peer review model in the allocation of the research funds.
It is getting progressively clear that the dominant model of funding allocation through the peer review "competition" between "proposals" adopted by NIH, NSF in the U.S., and the NSERC and MRC in Canada, has a coercive effect towards the sure-fire projects ("safe science") and all claims to the contrary notwithstanding, discourages real risk taking. As a result, many trendy grantsmanship empires are actually overfunded, while scores of other talented and capable researchers have no funds whatsoever.
To reflect the fundamental error-proneness of the peer review, the funding system needs to be radically redesigned towards the principle "Fund researchers, not proposals." In order to boost the efficiency of the research dollars we need to fund a lot more researchers (especially, junior) but on lower average levels. Such a reform, however, will threaten the power control of the grantsmanship elite and paper-shuffling bureaucracy and hence it is fiercely resisted by both of them.
Alexander A. Berezin
The cynical and destructive prose used by Michael Lubell in his "Paralytic Federalitis" article is of the exact type that leads countries straight into facism. Stale jokes and cynicism deprive the youth of hope. We get so much of that flippant, information deprived journalism from television and most of the press, that we do not need to have more from the APS. When an apparatus in our laboratories is malfunctioning, we sit down to discuss how to repair it, and we do not just sit there and laugh our heads off. If our political engine is sputtering, let us fix it or rebuild it, possibly starting from our own backyard.
Science and Religion Can Still Converse
The 1981 APS statement on creationism, which was recently reaffirmed by the APS Executive Board (APS News, May 1997) is essentially correct. It goes too far, however, in seeming to rule out any conversation between science and religion.
It is appropriate for the Society to take a public position on this matter. However, the last sentence of the statement is unhealthy overkill, neither necessary or accurate, and I hope that the Executive Board will give serious consideration to its omission: "Attempts to present [scientific inquiry and religious beliefs] in the same context can only lead to misunderstandings of both." Taken at face value, this means that science and religion simply have nothing to say to one another, in any context.
"Creation" is a religious, not a scientific, concept. But religious beliefs about creation involve the natural world, which science describes. Thus, religion and science have some subject matter in common, though they speak of it in different ways. To deny that religion and science have anything in common would mean that religion must be relegated to a purely interior spirituality or eliminated completely. Those are undoubtedly the private views of some APS members, but the Society as a whole should not endorse them.
George L. Murphy
The Board's statement, ".Scientific inquiry and religious beliefs are two distinct elements of the human experience. Attempts to present them in the same context can only lead to misunderstandings of both.", is seriously flawed. Both of these world views are foundationally philosophical and religious, not scientific - creationism starting with a belief in God (theism), and evolution starting with no God (the recognized religion of atheism). Neither creation nor evolution can ultimately be proven or disproven by the scientific method, since no scientist was around to observe the origin of life.
I cannot think of a better way to stimulate thinking and discussion in a classroom than to present two sides of a controversial issue! Statements like that of the APS Executive Board are signs that evolutionists are beginning to panic as the scientific evidence continues to mount against their theory. As the theory of evolution falls apart at the seams, the only logical alternative is creation.
John M. Cimbala
Pennsylvania State University
We Have Funding Choices
In your May issue on the Back Page, Senator Pete Domenici set up some convenient straw men to contend that the US faces an inescapable conflict between support for science and entitlement programs. He then attempted to recruit APS members in the effort to roll back entitlements. There is nothing inescapable about this choice. It stems from other more fundamental choices made by our political leaders for the nation.
As a minor example, discussing the availability of discretionary funds in the budget he states that, "Because defense requires almost half of the discretionary funds, we are left with about 17 percent to fund all the non defense programs, including the non defense science programs." "Required" is misleading. "Gets" would be more accurate. The proportion of discretionary funding that goes to defense is a free will choice; no political equivalent of the second law of thermodynamics requires it. It deserves serious thoughtful debate.
More major choices are that in this, the richest nation on earth, we choose to have one of the lowest tax rates among industrialized nations and the most skewed distribution of wealth. As a result, the wealthy can wallow in ever increasing affluence and necessary investments in research, education and other areas important to the general welfare of the nation are not made. These are choices that we have freely made, they were not imposed upon us. There are long term consequences to these choices that do have a bit of a second law about them. For one, if we choose to tightly restrict funds for fundamental research, our scientific community and its productivity will atrophy as we evolve from scientific leaders to followers to also rans. For another, if we choose to continue to skew the distribution of wealth and ignore public investment, we will have an increasingly apathetic and cynical citizenry that will further debilitate us as a nation and may eventually produce violent reactions.
We have choices. As a nation the choices that we make, more than our resources, will dictate our future. Senator Domenici adopted a conveniently myopic view.
David W. Blair
Princeton, New Jersey