In an opinion piece appearing in The Scientist this week, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Jonathan Yewdell says that "severe competition for federal research funding" has catalyzed a "crisis in American biomedical research," in which the careers of both early-career and established investigators are at stake. According to Yewdell, "the fundamental problem is not the amount of government funding, but rather the unrestricted expansion of the research enterprise." In particular, he says, as individual researchers rise to prominence and dominate the federal funding pool, "the net result is diminishing support per investigator." To that end, Yewdell suggests that the National Institutes of Health "employ grantees in situ" — much like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute does — and distribute funds "based on quadrennial reviews of investigator productivity and the general direction of their research." In this way, he says, researchers and reviewers could save a ton of time writing and sifting through proposals. Not only would it "prevent grant reviewers from filching ideas from proposals," but it would also "free the imagination of investigators, who would be able to pursue their best ideas, and not their most fundable ideas," he says. In order for this model to ever be feasible, Yewdell says that the propogation of "super-sized labs" must end, and that competition for grant money "must be collegial ... and based on respect, not fear." Whether the federal funding landscape is ever subjected to a fundamental overhaul, the Yewdell says that scientists "can and must do better."
Time to Revamp America's Super-Sized Research Regime?
Nov 10, 2010