Posted November 09 2005 - 08:17 PM
| Who pays for these studies. Seriously, does anyone know? |
As a British academic, I think I can answer this, but apologies if there are any peculiarly American quirks I don't know about. Grant money generally comes from two main sources:
(1) funds from publically-funded bodies
(2) funds from charitable bodies (this may include individual benefactors)
The money is usually allocated in two ways:
(1) a grant body advertises that it will fund research on topic X (e.g. drinking behavior) and invites researchers to put in bids
(2) a grant body has a pool of money that it will make available to successful bids. Each grant body has limitations on what it will fund (e.g. purely medical work, purely research on aging, etc).
A bid for money is a very long and complex procedure. Typically, you are required to give a lengthy analysis of the existing research and show what is lacking. You then have to present a detailed description of experiments (or studies) you will run to analyse the problem and come up with something to fill the gap. On top of that, you have to produce detailed costings for every stage in the procedure. All this is incredibly time-consuming, and bids can take months to produce. If you are really on top of your game, you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting a bid accepted and for most researchers, the odds are much longer. If you want to be a successful researcher, you are constantly on a treadmill of grant-seeking. If you've ever wondered what your professors did other than teach, the answer is that a large (arguably too large) an amount of time is spent chasing grants.
The danger with the system is that grant bodies usually have far too little money to go around and so they are keenly aware that anything they fund must be productive. Well, d'uh, you all say. However, the danger is that research bids that are safe (i.e. unlikely to produce anything really innovative but also highly likely to find at least something) get accepted, whilst the genuinely innovative (but also potentially risky - i.e. it may not produce a thing if it goes wrong) is far less likely to succeed. In addition, money available to grant bodies fluctuates, with the result that some years there is more to go round than others (with the result of course that some years more research can be funded than in others). I recall getting a bid rejected by a particular grant body in a financially lean year. Two years later, more money was available, and a colleague got a grant accepted from the same grant body on a much lower rating score than I had got for my rejected application. Oh how I laughed ... not.
With regard to the specific grant referred to here - before making judgements, I think you need to see the whole report and not just an isolated quotation. E.g. I can remember a major study on pilot error, that when acted on made significant improvements to air travel safety. However, an unfortunate remark said that the report had concluded that people make mistakes. Cue the inveitable 'why is our tax money being wasted on this?' etc.