The Inequality of Science

FEATUREThe Inequality of Science   © JOELLE BOLT In 2004, close to one in five extramural NIH dollars went to only 10 of the 3,000 institutions that received grants. Five US states get almost half of all funding. What about everyone else? BY ALISON MCCOOK The ceiling in the medical school at the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion is visibly water-stained and falling down in spots. Walking through the fac

By | August 1, 2006

The Inequality of Science
The Inequality of Science

In 2004, close to one in five extramural NIH dollars went to only 10 of the 3,000 institutions that received grants. Five US states get almost half of all funding. What about everyone else?

The ceiling in the medical school at the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion is visibly water-stained and falling down in spots. Walking through the facility, researcher Robin Miskimins admits that she can't plug in two hoods and three incubators in the tissue culture room without blowing a circuit. Everyone shares key equipment, such as a confocal microscope, a cell culture facility, and an aging scanning electron microscope.

Four hundred miles due north through largely farm country, Diane Darland waited for months after moving from Boston to the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks to get equipment - a small set of cages for transgenic mice, and a $10,000 hood (which the Dean of Arts and Science eventually bought for her). All these resources, now tucked into a sparse, roughly 18 square meter room in the basement of the biology building, are "standard at most universities," she says with a shrug. Her husband, also a biologist, accepted a position at the university around the same time, and is now "scrubbing tanks" to create the school's only zebrafish facility. The school has no operational transgenic animal core, nor a BSL-3 lab, so Matthew Nilles, a plague researcher, can work with only an attenuated strain, limiting the applicability of his results.

In 2004, USD and UND received $10 million and $8 million from the National Institutes of Health, respectively, amounting to barely one percent of that given to the top-funded school that year, Johns Hopkins University. UND and USD don't get less money just because they're smaller than Johns Hopkins: Per capita, the research staff and full-time faculty at USD received about $24,000, and UND got almost $13,000. Johns Hopkins' per capita figure: $137,000.1 "It was pretty obvious when I got [to South Dakota] that I was going to have to limit my ambitions," says bacterial genetics professor Keith Weaver.

North and South Dakota aren't the only states feeling the inequity. A group of 23 traditionally disadvantaged states, along with Puerto Rico, collectively receive less than seven percent of the total NIH budget each year. In 2005, the principal investigator on the biggest NIH grant, Eric Lander at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received more than $50 million, nearly seven times the total amount given to all institutions in the state of Wyoming the year before.


Not surprisingly, universities at the top would apparently like to keep things that way. Within a few months after accepting the role as director of the National Science Foundation, Neal Lane was approached by a group of approximately five provosts from the nation's top universities. They informed him that their schools should receive the lion's share of federal funding for research. "The message definitely was: 'We're where it's at,'" Lane recalls.

NIH Awards to Institutions by Rank,
Fiscal Year 2004
Organization Location
Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, Maryland
University of Washington Seattle, Washington
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
University of California, San Francisco San Francisco, California
Science Applications International Corp* San Diego, California
Washington University St. Louis, Missouri
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan
University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California
University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Duke University Durham, North Carolina
*SAIC is the US's largest employee-owned research
and engineering firm.
Note: Some independent hospitals are affiliated with schools, but received funding that is not included in the institution total. This is the case with Harvard, which is affiliated with the five top-funded independent domestic hospitals in 2004, which brought in a total of $852 miillion extramural awards.
NIH Awards to State of
Recipient Institution, Fiscal Year 2004
New York
North Carolina

Inequality in funding has always been a problem, says Lane, who won't disclose the identity of the schools who approached him. But there are signs that the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" may be widening even further. Between 1994 and 2004, in the rankings of universities and colleges according to total R&D expenditures in biological sciences, the differences between the number one school and the 100th school more than doubled.

Lane, who directed the NSF from 1993 to 1998, agrees that the problem has "gotten even worse" because the equipment needed to do elegant experiments has become more expensive, while NIH funding has, in recent years, remained relatively flat. And without easy access to cutting edge equipment, researchers "don't really have a chance of competing at the NIH or NSF," Lane says; grant funding reviewers are "very sensitive" to the equipment applicants have at their fingertips.

There's "no question that states like ours are disadvantaged," says UND's Jonathan Geiger, chair of the department of pharmacology, physiology and therapeutics. Researchers at every institution can typically find a way to share everything they need, and collaborate with off-site scientists who have something they don't, but all of that takes extra time and effort. "Since time equals money in the current competitive environment, having to go elsewhere to complete experiments can be challenging and costly in the long run," says UND's Darland.

And you can share equipment, but you can't share people, so scientists at both Dakota schools say finding good postdocs, graduate students, and technicians is a constant challenge. "A talented undergrad doesn't want to come to Vermillion for grad school," says Weaver. Despite the fact that both Dakota schools come with short commutes, manicured lawns, and stately brick buildings, faculty at both say they've offered jobs to promising candidates who turned them down because their families didn't want to live in North or South Dakota. Postdocs leave after a few months. Guest speakers decline to make the trip, or simply ignore invitations.

Researchers at both schools also say they encounter bias from their colleagues, some of whom expect little to come out of either state. When Michael Chaussee, a researcher in bacterial pathogenesis, told his colleagues he was leaving NIH for USD, their reaction was largely "surprised and negative," he recalls. He finds he often has to promote and defend the school at meetings, and people assume he's looking for another position elsewhere. (He's not.)

At both UND and USD, scientists will readily provide a list of equipment they'd like to have: UND, for instance, has no fluorescence capacity in its laser-capture microscopy, no multiple-photon excitation fluorescence microscopy system, and no small-animal behavioral testing facility. At USD, researchers would love to add a positron emission tomography scanner, and functional magnetic resonance imaging.


At the University of Pennsylvania, the stately buildings and manicured lawns are crisscrossed by the busy traffic of Philadelphia. In a sleek office tucked away from the noisy streets, the school's vice dean for research and research training, Glen Gaulton, is bursting with enthusiasm, gesturing wildly with his hands and arms to explain how Penn climbed its way to the "tippy-top" of the NIH funding charts. The school took the number three spot on the NIH funding charts in 2004, bringing in nearly half a billion dollars. In 2003, it ranked number one for Health and Human Services R&D expenditures (which includes NIH dollars).

"My view is that mass spectrometers are like handbags," says Penn's Ian Blair. "You can't have too many."

But when Gaulton moved to Philadelphia from Harvard in 1986, Penn wasn't even in the top 10, he recalls. The school was strong in certain areas, such as retroviruses, but was considered a "sleepy Ivy League medical school," lacking the energy characteristic of truly elite institutions. Then in the late 1980s, the school of medicine got a new dean, William Kelley, who decided to transform Penn from being "very good" to "great," says Gaulton, excelling in all areas, not just a few. To do that, he formed a team to support this vision, worked to increase alumni and philanthropic donations, borrowed millions, and boosted income from the Penn health systems. The school used this extra cash to build or renovate approximately 65,000 square meters of research space (bringing it to today's total of approximately 100,000 square meters), at a cost of likely up to $500 million.

Penn also spends $10 million a year recruiting top faculty, and works to keep them, he says. Two to three times every month, a competitor tries to recruit one of the 1,700 faculty members at the school of medicine, and Penn will sometimes offer the scientist more money or resources. All this, on top of the approximately $10 million needed each year for equipment and running core facilities. The school has spent "an enormous amount of money," Gaulton says.

It shows. Ian Blair, a professor and scientific director of the school's proteomics core facility, has a lab filled with multiple versions of state-of-the-art tools constantly humming away, while newly displaced instruments that many labs would kill to own are repurposed for lesser projects or simply tucked away in a dark corner. His newest addition: a $1 million Thermo Electron LTQ-FT, a Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer, with a maximum resolution of 500,000 which he purchased using a high-end instrumentation grant from NIH. Just to install the instrument required $100,000 of renovations, which included raising the ceiling and installing liquid nitrogen to remove the massive amounts of nitrogen gas that would be released if the magnet quenches. His lab and the proteomics core alone contain 12 mass spectrometers. (In contrast, the University of North Dakota is about to add its third overall.)

University of Pennsylvania's John Morgan building, home of science offices and labs.

Blair's eyes twinkle when he speaks about the equipment he's accumulated. "My view is that mass spectrometers are like handbags," he says. "You can't have too many." Still, he says even he is dwarfed by the private sector. "It makes you feel ill when you go into a pharmaceutical company," he complains, where there is roughly one mass spec for every two people working on related projects, such as drug metabolism.

Blair says he's become a leader in the use of mass spectrometers by pushing the technology forward, refusing to be just a user. Currently, he's trying to investigate lipid peroxidation damage in DNA from particular cell types, where the amount of DNA damage is relatively small: on the order of three modified bases surrounded by 10 million normal ones. "No one has ever been able to do that [using mass spectrometry]; my challenge is trying to think of ways to do that."

But having the right equipment is only one ingredient, he insists; the other is hiring the right people who know how to use the equipment to its fullest capability, and who can devise interesting biological questions that drive the field forward. Of course, having the right technology attracts top people, and Blair's staff is constantly winning awards, publishing in top-tier journals, and submitting winning grants. Blair says his success rate for NIH grants, accounting for resubmissions, is roughly 50%.

Now, Penn is firmly in the "tippy-top" of the grant recipients, all of which excel in all areas of medicine, not just a few, says Gaulton. Things are easier now, he admits. "Once you're there, it's not that difficult to stay there," since the school has built up the right infrastructure and administrative support for being one of the elite. "But to get there requires an enormous amount of effort." (See How to get to the top)


The top schools are not the only places that do good work, and there are many signs that the Dakotas are churning out strong science. Both schools received multimillion dollar grants in 2005: At USD, Anthony Gerdes was awarded $1.8 million from the NIH to study mechanisms of cardiovascular remodeling, and at UND, Geiger received close to $2 million to study the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative diseases.

There's no way the University of North Dakota can fairly compete with major players. "They've got tanks for weaponry, and we've got BB guns."
-Van Doze

The schools have also used extra assistance provided by the government to help disadvantaged regions kick-start their research programs. The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), a program that NSF offers, helps underprivileged states build up their research infrastructures to better compete with California, Massachusetts, and other typically well-funded states.

The NIH's Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program has also given almost $1 billion to disadvantaged regions. Awards for IDeA states increased three-fold between fiscal years 1999 and 2005, a result of the infrastructures the program helped build. Grant funds from IDeA enabled USD to purchase a mass spectrometer, which allowed the school to be "more on the cutting edge," says Barbara Goodman, a professor and the principal investigator on the grant.

Indeed, research funding at USD has doubled in the last five years. Next to USD's run-down medical school is an enormous construction site, where workers are buzzing away, building a $37 million facility equipped with more electrical capacity, larger rooms with more useable space, and new furniture for offices. There will be a BSL-3 facility, and the basement will contain animal rooms constantly monitored for pressure, temperature, and humidity. As a sign of enthusiasm, people working at the medical school have written dates on the walls of the old building predicting when they can move in. (see "Intelligent Redesign" on p. 40.)

As for UND, the school has recently added labs and an atrium onto the older school of medicine, and has taken advantage of the extra help that NIH provides disadvantaged states to build a shiny new neuroscience building. The school is now home to the state's first cyclotron, constructed using a $3.9 million grant. UND has also doubled its research expenditure in the last five years, and has $300 million worth of pending proposals, according to Peter Alfonso, the school's first vice president for research.

UND has also raised half the money it needs to construct the first building in a research and technology park, which would include a BSL-3 lab facility. Alfonso says UND wants to create a "life sciences corridor" that would include Minneapolis-St. Paul and Rochester in Minnesota, and Winnipeg and Saskatoon in Canada.


University of South Dakota's Robin Miskimins (top) at the site of the new medical school, still under construction. University of North Dakota's Van Doze (bottom), standing in front of a patch-clamp set-up used to record electrical activity from visually-identified neurons in live brain tissue.

One of the best resources the Dakota schools have to offer is their highly trained staff. All but a handful lack the singsong accent typical of the American Midwest; the vast majority studied outside the region, often in top-level institutions, and chose to come to North and South Dakota to have more comfortable personal and professional lives. The schools offered them tenure-track faculty positions (not requiring researchers to rely on grant money for salary), and often two positions for a working couple. Researchers enjoy a relaxed research environment without administrators' constant monitoring, and the advantage of living in a safe neighborhood for raising their families. People are valued at UND and USD, the researchers say (it's so difficult to replace them).

Visitors are impressed by what they see, says UND's Geiger, and scientists have been sent to UND for training in equipment not often found elsewhere, such as an instrument that uses microwaves to sacrifice animals, which Geiger says is more humane than traditional methods. And many scientists say they haven't had any trouble getting the grants they need to keep their research going.

Their secret? Finding a niche that makes competition from major players less likely. When other researchers looked at general cell activity to investigate a protein involved in cell-cycle control in glial cells, USD's Miskimins focused her research on one gene that turns on when the cell is turned on. Researchers looking at the big picture didn't see any effect of the protein, but she found that when the protein is active, the gene she focused on was also active. She eventually published four papers out of the project. "In order to stay funded, you just have to be different," says Miskimins. "Small shops like USD and UND can't go head to head with bigger schools. It would just anger them, she laughs, like forcing them to "swat an ant."

It makes sense to also specialize as an institution, the scientists say. At UND, there is a clear research focus on neuroscience, while a disproportionate number of USD researchers work on Gram-positive pathogens. Focusing on one area makes the schools more attractive to scientists working in that area; it's what enticed Indra Biswas, who works with Gram-positive bacteria, to come to USD from Atlanta's Emory University. However, focusing on one area can cause problems when research leads to unexpected directions. When Weaver's Gram-positive project yielded clear implications for Escherichia coli, which is Gram-negative, he couldn't just "walk down the hall" to discuss the findings.

Biswas also chose USD partly because he attended a seminar by Weaver at Emory, and says it was one of the best he's seen. Indeed, Weaver says he believes attending meetings, giving interesting talks, writing book chapters, and providing insightful comments during study sections has shown many scientists that good science can come out of less well-known institutions. "You're from Yale, and everyone always automatically listens to what you say," he says. "Here, you have to work."

USD and UND scientists say there's some benefit to being at these less well-known schools. Kevin Young, a UND professor, says he wears a North Dakota t-shirt when attending meetings, since people always remember the guy from North Dakota. "It's like going to see a panda."

But all too often, the limitations of working at a disadvantaged school can be frustrating. The schools may have beefed up their facilities and narrowed the gap separating them from the top, but it's easy to look like you're advancing in leaps and bounds when you had very little to start with, reminds UND's Van Doze. The divide is still very wide, he says. A few years ago, the school had "little chance of being competitive." Now, there's "some chance."

Doze says many of his former classmates are at Johns Hopkins University, and when he visits them, he's amazed by what they have. He has yet to get a grant on the first try since leaving Stanford University, where "it was not all that uncommon to receive a grant on your first attempt." He has not received an award letter on a grant recommended for funding eight months ago, making him doubt whether it will ever be funded. After five years, Doze says he has accumulated $500,000 worth of equipment, the bare "minimum" to do his work on neuromodulation in mammals. When he was at Stanford, he was one of approximately 100 electrophysiologists; at UND, there are two. He hasn't been able to recruit a PhD-level electrophysiologist, so his lab uses mostly undergraduate and graduate researchers. There's no way the school can fairly compete with major players, he says. "They've got tanks for weaponry, and we've got BB guns."


The cost of doing sophisticated science shows no signs of slowing, suggesting research may become even more consolidated into the hands of a few key gunners. There is a "trend" in this direction, says Samuel Miller of the University of Washington, Seattle, one of last year's top grantees (see Top 20 NIH grants of 2005). For instance, in the near future, Miller suggests that answering a genomics question will likely involve more than just genotyping assays; it could also require phenotyping assays, along with human studies and complex data analyses. This monopolization of science funding is already happening, according to an editorial in April's Journal of Clinical Investigation, which asked the NIH to stop funding "large clinical studies that divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from hypothesis-driven scientific research."

Both Miller and Lawrence Corey, another top-20 grant recipient based at the University of Washington, are arguably benefiting from any consolidation of science into the hands of a select few. But both are concerned about the trend, and what it means for scientists working on smaller projects. "Some problems cannot be done by a group getting $200,000 a year," Corey says. "But there are some problems that can only be solved that way." Biology is "not like physics yet" - meaning, enormous projects in a few locations, forcing young scientists to simply join an existing lab, not start their own, says Miller. "As our tools become more sophisticated in biological science ... it might eventually reach that point," predicts Miller. "We're not there yet. But we're closer than we were 20 years ago."

1. Research staff and faculty numbers provided by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as of May 2006.


Avatar of: Susan Shurin

Susan Shurin

Posts: 1

August 4, 2006

Many of the points about the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in science are on target, but the list of the top 20 grants in 2005 does not support the arguement that these grants are enhancing the gap between research institutions. All of the top 20 grants are for projects which are international in scope, include performance sites and projects at many different institutions, and have opportunities for collaborations which extend the work of scientists who do not have access to resources which may be more efficiently and effectively deployed centrally. A balance of projects of various scopes, representing hypothesis-generating and hypothesis-driven research, and supports developing and established investigators, is important, and requires a delicate balancing act for the various funders and the scientific community.
Avatar of: Eric J. Murphy

Eric J. Murphy

Posts: 18

August 9, 2006

While there are inequalities in the plain states with regards to funding from the NIH, certainly the bleak picture painted is somewhat biased. I have been on the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Therapeutics at the University of North Dakota since August of 2000. While it is a struggle to compete for grant money here, is it truly any more difficult than elsewhere? A key component to success in the grant game is publishing in Tier I journals and being productive. At the end of the day, that is the bottom line. Perhaps we need to be more productive than other places, but on the other hand isn't up to us to prove ourselves to our peers who are reviewing our grants? \n\nA number of my fellow faculty members are up and coming young scientist eager to push the boundries of their respective areas. They publish in Tier I journals and are gaining recognition as leaders in their field. What was not said in this article was one of the key issues for UND is how to retain the talented faculty that have been recruited to this Department. What incentives are there to stay and build this Department? Is this an issue of funding by the NIH? Certainly it is not. Rather, what we have is an institution where young faculty come, develop, and then leave requiring UND to start the cycle all over again with a new group of eager, young scientist. This cycle does not provide the solid foundation that is required to achieve "equality" with our peer institutions.\n\nMy own laboratory has been quite successful over the past 6 years, but it hasn't been easy. I use my own success to attract quality post-doctoral fellows, flying them to Grand Forks for an interview, providing relocation money, co-signing car loans, helping them establish credit, getting them inexpensive University housing, but most important providing them with quality projects and the tools to complete these projects. These three outstanding post-doctoral fellows have published 16 papers in the past 2.5 years and have 6-8 manuscripts in the review process. My laboratory has exceptionally good equipment, outstanding and ample laboratory. But the key to success is that we have worked hard to provide the evidence that we can indeed compete. In the world of lipids, my laboratory has continued to gain recognition on the national and world stage. \n\nThe bias of this article paints a much bleaker picture than what really exists. Hopefully more of the talented scientist in our Department will respond in a similar manner as have I. \n

August 9, 2006

There seems to be some misconception that the funding of science by NIH is to be distributed in a socialistic manner similar to a welfare system. This is not the reaql world where science is a highly competitive venture and calling. Not all scientists are equally capable of funding their science. The scientists are responsible for the competitive funding process.\n\nSecond, the funding of NIH is at an unacceptable level. It represents less than 2% of Health Care Costs. No industry dependent on innovation woud survive on this level of R&D. The least R&D funding is found in the Chemical Industry and is a little less than 4%. In innovative competitive industries it runs 12% to a high of 18%.\n\nThe pharmaceutical and biotech industries do most of the Development and Advance to Market. They spend a great deal doing this. However, without the basic Search, Discaover, and Early Research they have no start in spite of their attempts.\n\nThus, the solution is that not all win in this competitive professional game of life. The best will hopefully survive. \n\nThe solution is not a welfare for Universities but considerable more funding for NIH and NSF. However, even then there will be successes and failures. That is life.
Avatar of: Tom Brown

Tom Brown

Posts: 1

August 9, 2006

In addition to your article the "inequality of science"\n\nReaders of The Scientist may be interested in the recent article by Dr. Robert A. Weinberg from MIT in Cell entitled "A Lost Generation" July 14, 2006 page 126-127. \n\n

August 9, 2006

The article written by Alison McCook repeats the same, tired, worn out platitudes that pit the smaller institutions against the larger institutions. Through her use of selective quotes, despair-filled rhetoric, and condescending, back-handed compliments, she damages our ability to attract good faculty, postdocs, and students. Her article does a fine job of pointing out the negatives of our institution and insinuates that the inequalities exist owing to NIH bias and lack of support of the UND administration. These are incorrect. As previous commentors have correctly noted, biomedical research is a competitive business. Funding is restricted everywhere. An interviewing faculty candidate likely understands the environment and its implications before accepting the job offer. The administration of UND recognizes the need for proper infrastructure and the time needed for research. This enterprise takes time to build. \n\nThe bias of Ms. McCook?s article is further exemplified by the small number of articles listed as ?Hot Science?. At the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, faculty have published more papers in top journals (JBC, J Neurosci, J Neurochem, Biochemistry, JPET) in the past three years than just the small sampling presented. She would have done better to list the number of publications. \n\nSince becoming a faculty member in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Therapeutics of North Dakota, I (and my colleagues) have obtained independent NIH funding through the normal, competitive grants process. I have been successful in attracting high quality technicians, students, and research fellows from this region as well as from Europe. My group does not lack equipment. Biomedical research is a hard business. I made a choice to come to UND owing to its blossoming emphasis on neurodegenerative disease research. I am glad to say that this emphasis is bearing fruit, but it has taken time. It will take even more time and effort. \n
Avatar of: Alison McCook

Alison McCook

Posts: 68

August 10, 2006

As always, I appreciate reader feedback on my articles.\n\nI understand that parts of the article paint a bleak picture. But there's much more to it than that. As the end of the piece makes clear, even schools that don't get the most money contain excellent scientists who are doing great work. Every school buys sophisticated equipment and receives federal funding, but the fact remains that schools that reach the top of the funding charts have an easier time of it. \n\nIn terms of the list of important papers from each school, I asked faculty members at both UND and USD to send me a list of recent studies they co-authored that were well-received, and chose those papers that received the most citations per year.\n\nAgain, thanks for reading, and helping me call attention to an important issue facing life science research in the U.S. \n
Avatar of: Kris Monagle

Kris Monagle

Posts: 1

August 30, 2006

It is no surprise to me. As a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness( NAMI), I am very aware of the lack of funding NIMH provided for research of serious brain disease.
Avatar of: Leah Gomez

Leah Gomez

Posts: 1

August 30, 2006

To the Author- I am just wondering where you obtained the information about the top 20 NIH grants?It says it was coimpiled by The Scientist but where did it come from?\n\nThanks!\n\n

August 30, 2006

Hi-\n\nThanks for asking about how we got the top 20 grants from 2005. The NIH posts individual grant information on its web site, organized by state. In May, I went through this data, state by state, and compiled the largest grants. It was a long process, but worth it!\n\nThanks for reading,\n\nAlison
Avatar of: Gordon Couger

Gordon Couger

Posts: 1

August 30, 2006

Funding goes to institutions, departments and investigators that show results. If you have a good track record it is easy to get you proposal funded.\n\nIf you don't have facilities and you don't have the staff that had the record of doing good work you can't attract, funding, good faculty, grad students and increasingly good undergrad students.\n\nIf your plant is lacking I don't thing you should look to NIH to fix it. NIH has limited dollars and need to get the most "bang for their buck". Some of their mission is to build facilities for future research but not in a desert that shows no promise. Schools in the sticks do have great programs and the states and alumni can fund selected programs and make them into world class programs. The just can do it across the board. Oklahoma State will never be equal to MIT but we can have programs that are in the to 10 in the world if we don't squander our resources trying to make every program a world class one.\n\nThere are lots of sources of funding other than NIH if some one will get out and raise the money.\n\nGordon Couger\n624 West Cheyenne Dr\nStillwater, OK 74075 1411\n405 624 2855 405 269 3588\\n
Avatar of: Craig H. Rabb MD

Craig H. Rabb MD

Posts: 1

August 30, 2006

This problem will only get worse, as long as the grant application process includes a category for "institutional prestige" in its scoring system. Why this factor was not highlighted is mystifying.

August 31, 2006

In her "The Inequality of Science" in the August 2006 The Scientist Ms. McCook raises a rather well-worn point, referring to the ill-luck of small, remote institutions in the race for grants, post-docs, etc. When I traveled to UND to look at a position in the medical school there, a different perspective was raised for me. McCook says, "Despite the fact that both Dakota schools come with short commutes, manicured lawns, and stately brick buildings, faculty at both say they've offered jobs to promising candidates who turned them down because their families didn't want to live in North or South Dakota." I had grown up in the rural midwest, and I had left it after high school for an education and a career in medical education in Los Angeles and Stony Brook, NY. At a point when my career at Stony Brook was being blocked by the politics of its Health Sciences Center, I traveled to look at a position at Grand Forks. Several aspects appeared challenging but attractive to me, but the greatest question was whether I could re-adjust to the narrowness of perspective I remembered as being a characteristic of my small-town Midwest upbringing. On the last day of my visit I stopped at a local pub for a beer on my way out of town, and I was amazed to find at the bar three couples engaged in a lively discussion of the merits of various domestic and foreign cheeses. "Now that wouldn't have occurred in my little town," I thought. "Perhaps my judgment wasn't fair." Then, when they settled their discussion by deciding that the best cheese of all was Velveeta "because it melts so good," I decided that perhaps for me life in Grand Forks wouldn't be as sophisticated as I had become accustomed to, after all.\n\nMs. McCook's argument has validity.\n
Avatar of: anonymous


Posts: 2

August 31, 2006

1 NIH is interested in technology not science.\n (Technology is not science but application of science).\n2 NIH is interested in immediate return intead of\n using funding as future investment.\n What was reported is simply a result of pure Capitalism: \nThe rich will become richer, the pool become poorer.
Avatar of: tian xia

tian xia

Posts: 34

August 31, 2006

a fresh postdoc, born and raised in big cities, I found it hard to adjust to rural lifestyle in midwest. Although you have internet access, I feel really lonely when you could not find someone to talk to, I mean young guys. Since not many academic activities going on, you feel left in a time machine. there are some big and successful PIs around, usually fully manned.\n\nHowever, these are all feelings, in other words, it really has not much difference in terms of what you do and how you do it, I found it out after moved to a big city in the west.\n\nYeah, many people many things going on, good food, nice weather, after settling down, it all comes down to what you can do, and do well. \n\nintellectually, my move can hardly be called a success
Avatar of: Anonymous


Posts: 1

October 6, 2006

Being a graduate student at UND, I believe I have got the training here that most students at big universities fail to get, thereby preparing me for a lifetime of good science. However some of the previous posts makes it sound like the only decent research happening at UND is from the Neuroscience sections. There are many accomplished scientists in the field of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Anatomy who are actually well known for their work. They might not publish 16 articles in 2.5 years (in journals that have an impact factor of less than 2 and don't ever get cited) but they do publish good solid scientific work. Most of them have their work quoted in textbooks that form the basis for a good foundation in their respective field of work.
Avatar of: Fred Schaufele

Fred Schaufele

Posts: 52

June 8, 2010

The larger the institution, the more possibilities for collaborations amongst the faculty. Those collaborations and conversations continually bring in fresh ideas. The research moves foward and people at those institutions obtain funding. Whether this is bad or good gets down to which is the most efficient way to gain new knowledge from a limited amount of research funding. \n\nThere is insufficient funding to create such a critical mass to allow a 'research' institution in every state. There are maybe 20 such institutions scattered throughout the country but focussed in some regions for different reasons. They are self-perpetuating because researchers more often opt to move to those institution when provided with that opportunity. \n\nIn addition, this conversation focuses only on one issue: research funding. The vast majority of universities have a different goal: education. There is nothing wrong with knowing that your primary occupation is to be an educator. In the 1990's though, it became fashionable for institutions to think that they'd erect buildings with the grand plan that they could have NIH-funded educators. At the same time, the slide towards reduced state support of higher education started (read, paying the educators' salaries). Now there are hundreds of such buildings each of which would need to have everybody bring in a ridiculous amount of NIH dollars in order to support their educational mission. The math doesn't add up. So, when funding tightens, the research money goes first to the research institutions.
Avatar of: David Hill

David Hill

Posts: 41

June 8, 2010

The observed inequality is very real, and really not very sensible when one looks at the distribution of highly capable people in the United States. It is not the result of any planning or intention at the level of the NIH or NSF, but is the inevitable result of the fact that large scale research breeds papers and larger scale grant applications, and these outcompete efforts from smaller schools. For that rare researcher who gets something large going at a less-funded school, there will be those inevitable job offers to bring the money back to a larger institution. As in professional sports, unless some kind of rationing system that allocates more resources to less successful institutions is implemented, the trend toward greater disparity will continue. Another contributing factor is the appeal of 'cloned' research, and the tendency of reviewers to approve work that they can understand, or that they like. And what institutions do the grant reviewers come from, in turn?\n\nIt is unfortunate that good students at many institutions have limited access to, and training in the use of, some of the more costly equipment.\n\nOne rational approach would be to let the individual states pick up the entire budget. The US Constitution does not allocate authority over research and education to the Federal Government, but this has been assumed. The distribution of resources would be more equitable, and perhaps more effective, if this were left to state and local governments, and private foundations endowed through individual contributions.
Avatar of: DAVID ADAMS


Posts: 3

June 9, 2010

This article resonates with one recently published in Science that describes how the Wellcome Trust is changing its funding concept to that of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute i.e., that truly important science is only done by a talented few (Battle of the Titans, 21 May 2010). The idea that only the elite matter runs counter to national efforts in STEM education to encourage more young people to choose careers in science. When do we tell them that only "the best and brightest" will be rewarded? And their competition is global, particularly from Asia? Perhaps we should be honest and tell them what they can really expect if they are not one of the elite or fortunate enough to work at an elite institution. Devotion to science for its own sake or science in the service of patients is worthwhile regardless of the recognition -- and anyone can contribute.
Avatar of: jitendra Mehrishi

jitendra Mehrishi

Posts: 12

June 9, 2010

The already well connected part of the clique have the sway- no deep knowledge that comes from wide reading and critical hard thinking.\nIt is not unusual to see an 'assistant'junior colleague (with no scientific papers, achievement' protected by the Head being 'given' a fairly prestigious 'Res Fellowship' intended for a real research worker. A former Brigadier administrator answering when questioned- 'some one has to do the admninistration'! Well give them then an administrative appointment- let res fships go to those who do research and this '....' deciding the 'fate' of the chaps doing real research.\n\n'Rome' favouring has to change.\n\nGifted people- an accident of genetic inheritance- occasionally- arriving form no where- need support whether from the slums of places or form any of the Ivory Tower or Ivy League Colleges.\n\nThe Indian mathematician a clerk in Madras was encouraged and arrived in Cambridge and achieved\nmany think a great deal.\n\nIt would be a very short sighted policy to have the applications for grants screened off by the less well informed for the big committees to consider.\n\nA Cambridge Professor sitting on many MRC Committees used to joke that the referees for applications were 'actually' chosen by the clerical staff, secretaries, frequently tuned out to be the wives of the Professors on the Committees!?\n\nCherish the talent wherever it comes from.\n\nEncourage such people to come and join the big Institutes- keep the door open for the usual 25,000-50,000-100,000GBP grants.\n\nScience would be the gainer.\n\nNo after what happened to the jet engine of Frank Whittle (for ever a blot on the blinkered White Hall mandarins- probably all trained in Classics- quite unsuitable to take decisions for scientists and engineers- they can quote Virgil to impress) or Cockerrell's hovercraft.\n\nEven Drayson- now knighted had to go to Japan to get support and now hopefully he would advise a different view.\n\n

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