In her article "NIH Must Meet the Hughes Challenge"

June 15, 1987

In her article "NIH Must Meet the Hughes Challenge" (THE SCIENTIST, April 6, 1987, p. 13), Sandra Panem noted the recent Internal Revenue Service ruling that will permit the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to extend funding to an increased number of scientists. Panem expressed fear that the cream of researchers might join Hughes, be tapped to advise Hughes grant-makers, and lose their loyalty to NIH, thus affecting adversely the quality of NIH pro-grams. The challenge to NIH, in her view, arises because "Hughes provides generous funding and requires minimal paperwork, thus freeing a scientist for research."

The NIH has been privileged td receive strong and sustained public support for its programs. We have long considered our-selves challenged to get the most high-quality research for every dollar NIH invests and to keep to a minimum the paperwork required of the researchers it supports. We have been acutely aware of the need to simplify procedures while maintaining fiscal accountability, meeting higher standards of protection for research subjects, and assuring optimal use of research funds.

A continuing examination of the review and award process, initiated by our current Director James B. Wyngaarden, has resulted in the recent introduction of special long-term grants called MERIT and FIRST awards. NIH also is a leading participant in the Florida Demonstration Project, a novel collaborative project to streamline the administrative requirements associated with grants for basic research. With Panem, we see these as a first step in meeting the challenge to "keep it simple."

The news about HHMI is good news for all of the biomedical research community. The NIH investment in research and research training grants this year will come to more than $4.5 billion. Of that amount, $3.4 billion will be awarded for project grants, but funds were not available for more than 11,000 of the 18,000 applications that had been reviewed and recommended for funding. There is no shortage of meritorious research ideas and investigators.

—William F. Raub Deputy
Director, NIH,
Bethesda, MD 20205

APS Panel Relied Only on Intuition

The American Physical Society group that reviewed SDI technology (THE SCIENTIST, May 18, 1987, p. 11) correctly noted that "predicting the course of technological progress can be particularly difficult." This very difficulty is the reason an extensive body of technological forecasting procedures has been developed over the past two decades. While these procedures do not guarantee perfect accuracy, they have demonstrated significantly better performance than the intuitive procedures they replaced, and which the APS group apparently still used. It is unfortunate that the group apparently neglected an important body of knowledge relevant to its task.
—Joseph P. Martino
Technological Forecasting & Social Change
University of Dayton, 300 College Park
Dayton, OH 45469-0001

Christian Text on Science Is 'Inappropriate'

The editor, in the note to "A Controversial Christian Guide for Teachers" (THE SCIENTIST, May 4, 1987, p. 20) correctly raises questions regarding the publication and distribution of what seems to be a creationist tract: Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy.

It is a favorite trick of creationists to pretend that science is in a state of controversy. We found this when we wrote the Science Framework for California Public Schools (California State Department of Education, 1978) under incessant attack by creationists. We ignored this trick, and presented education in science and nature as a way to a richer and fuller life. We also said that evolution "has been going on so long that is has produced all groups and kinds of plants and animals now living as well as others that have become extinct."

The Framework withstood a challenge in court by creationists in Sacramento in 1981. The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), in publishing this new booklet, renews this challenge by questioning the common ancestry of human beings and apes, thus reviving the corpse of Bishop Wilberforce.

ASA members must subscribe to a statement of faith that "the Holy Scriptures are the Inspired Word of God" and that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God … the one and only Mediator between God and Man." Clearly, ASA is of "inescapable religiosity," and would seem not to be an equal opportunity employer. The Christian faith of ASA commands respect, but its meddling in scientific matters is inappropriate.

—Thomas H. Jukes Dept. of Biophysics and Medical Physics
University of California, Berkeley
6701 San Pablo Ave.
Oakland, CA 94608

Let the Booklet Speak for Itself

The two reviews of the American Scientific Affiliation booklet Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy (The Scientist, May 4, 1987, p. 20) show that the same evidence can lead to quite different conclusions. Nonetheless, both reviewers encourage interested parties to read the booklet— i.e., to examine the evidence. The booklet recommends the same approach for the classroom. so many people eager to go to court over divergent views of human origins, science teachers are wise to place major emphasis on scientific evidence.

Reading "between the lines" of the booklet, Juliana Texley discovers hidden there "an insidious threat to scientific literacy." We have responded elsewhere to an almost identical review she published in The Science Teacher.

The authors of the ASA booklet regard evolution, including human evolution, as a robust scientific inference, and want it taught that way. We oppose the teaching of either religious dogmatism or scientific dogmatism in science classrooms. Most teachers can easily spot the dogmatism in scientific creationism. Our booklet tries to help them distinguish between evolutionary science and evolutionary ideology, a distinction unimportant to working scientists but vital in defense of science education.

David Wake expects biologists to "recoil" on reading our statement that "no consensus exists as to how evolution occurred"; we point to Emry's review of Niles Eldredge's Life Pulse on the very next page of The Scientist. Wake asks how the authors can doubt a common ape-human ancestry in the light of overwhelming evidence. We ask, when does evidence become so overwhelming that one should quit being skeptical? In-stead of trying to overwhelm or convert students suspicious of human evolution, we think it better to teach them to evaluate evidence and then let the totality of evidence speak for itself.

We applaud Wake for letting our booklet speak for itself, and for recognizing it as "a goodwilled attempt to provide guidance to teachers." Wake says his view of evidence differs from ours, however. He may be right about that, since he cites discovery of a new supernova as having a bearing on the age of galaxies. That discovery is indeed evidence of the vitality of science, but has nothing to do with "newly appearing or extinct galaxies."

—Walter R. Hearn
ASA Committee for Integrity in Science Education
762 Arlington Ave.,
Berkeley, CA 94707

The Forces Driving Fragmentary Research Pipers

I am responding to the article "Opting Out of the Numbers Game" (THE SCIENTIST, February 23, 1987, p. 9).

I have seen the low-quantity, high-quality publication strategy succeed in hiring, tenure and promotion, and in peer recognition. A more disturbing trend in tenure practices is emphasis on overhead-paying research support as a criterion. Publication is necessary but not sufficient without external support, even if the research does not require substantial support. It is no longer "publish or perish," but "get a grant or get out."

Another force driving publication of minimal papers is the need to publish results from a grant before renewal can be expected. Although brilliant insight sometimes suffices, there usually is no substitute for long hours in the lab or field to produce the most significant papers. Given the lead time in preparing and processing manuscripts and grant proposals, manuscripts must be started within one year of receipt of three-year grants if the papers are to be in press soon enough to demonstrate productivity. Publication of fragmentary papers often results.

For example, I had 12 months in the lab before a renewal had to be submitted. Without a series of publications, the substantial data set that accompanied the proposal and which formed the basis for a good paper that had been submitted to (and later was accepted by) a good journal was absolutely ignored. When I pointed out this evidence of progress to the NSF program director, he responded: "Reapply when the paper is in press." The grant has been renewed now after a 10-month interruption of funding. I have learned my lesson: regrettably, I am dribbling out the papers and hope to write a larger synthesis of the shorter papers after another grant has been obtained.

—Michael A. Bell
Dept. of Ecology and Evolution
State University of New York at Stony Brook
Stony Brook, NY 11794-5245

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