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U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn

Unknown Lamer posted about 3 months ago | from the phd-researcher-deathmatch dept.

Medicine 135

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "The U.S. biomedical science system 'is on an unsustainable path' and needs major reform, four prominent researchers say. Researchers should 'confront the dangers at hand,' the authors write, and 'rethink' how academic research is funded, staffed, and organized. Among other issues, the team suggests that the system may be producing too many new researchers and forcing them to compete for a stagnating pool of funding."

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135 comments

Empty summary (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 3 months ago | (#46754315)

The only issue noted was too many researchers. Well, that's a self-correcting problem, isn't it.

Re:Empty summary (2)

davester666 (731373) | about 3 months ago | (#46754407)

No, it means the gov't must fund more research, and further along the research path through clinical trials,etc...

Then, once the drug is proven, they MUST sell it to the lowest bidder from big pharmacy.

It's the only way profits can keep going up by double-digits every six months.

Another thing (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 3 months ago | (#46754535)

Some may think we are spending gobloads of money on some "Big" physics with those gigantic particle smashers, but all of that pales in comparison to the amount of public money we throw at medical research.

Damn straight it ain't "sustainable".

Re:Another thing (4, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 3 months ago | (#46754719)

The Western world decided to shift from a growth system, where women bear and raise children and the able bodied population slowly increases, to a system where the women enter the work force and children are few in number. If you measure it in years, they did this quite a long time ago. If you measure it in generations, it's only been a couple.

This had the consequence of dramatically reducing the number of "dependents" and increasing the percentage of people doing "productive work" as an economist would measure it. But, that only lasts till the generation that started the ball rolling retire and become dependents themselves. Then the spiral to oblivion starts, and you can't reverse it without death and destruction.

The women in the work force are no longer "bonus productivity", now they're essential resources to care for the dependent elderly. You can't even acknowledge and the situation and correct it at this point, unless you want to leave your senior citizens to die of neglect. But the longer it continues, the worse it gets, until eventually the people are so few in number that economies of scale break down and we regress to the lifestyle of primitives.

You don't need to have a PhD in Mathematics to understand this. Just a willingness to accept that everything you've been raised to believe was wrong.

Everything is in decline. It's going to continue this way for the rest of our lives. People will continue to refuse to accept the truth of what I've just said, and they'll point at a million different symptoms and call them causes, and we will go into further and further into decline until it collapses. Only at that point will there be people ready to start over.

I had a brief period in my youth where I worked as a life insurance agent, and got to see the proprietary data that makes up their actuary tables of life and death. I saw all this coming, spent my whole life trying to oppose it because I care too much about people to just ignore it, but all I ever got was sophistry, anger and people telling me how intolerant and stupid I was. But everything I saw has come to pass, and this is just another part of it.

Sometimes being a visionary means begging your foolish fellows to stop dancing and get the fuck off the train tracks, and getting run down by the train because you don't have the heart to let go.

I pity the younger generation. At least I got to spend the first half of my life in the shiny happy part. You young guys are in for a rough life. You get to try to measure up to a time of abundance that you will never experience for yourselves, and fail. That it will make it all the more painful, I expect.

Re:Another thing (-1, Flamebait)

gtall (79522) | about 3 months ago | (#46754797)

You heard it first here, folks. ShieldPuppy says we're all gonna die, all is woe, repent Ye and face damnation. The man knows the future, he's even from the future and thought so much about it he came here on Slashdot to inform us all of our fate, which is not good. A cave-dwelling existence is our ultimate destination, there's no escaping his analysis, he alone among us knows.

Re:Another thing (4, Informative)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 3 months ago | (#46754957)

You heard it first here, folks. ShieldPuppy says we're all gonna die, all is woe, repent Ye and face damnation. The man knows the future, he's even from the future and thought so much about it he came here on Slashdot to inform us all of our fate, which is not good. A cave-dwelling existence is our ultimate destination, there's no escaping his analysis, he alone among us knows.

Here, have some data to substantiate my claims.

Changes in Workforce: Demographics and the Future of Work and Retirement
Dr. Jost Lottes
Institute on Aging
Portland State University

http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/researc... [ohsu.edu]

Re:Another thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46756585)

Except that it doesn't support that claim at all.

Did you even read it? Or were you just hoping that nobody else would, that they would be as intimidated by academic documents as you are?

Re:Another thing (1)

Johann Lau (1040920) | about 3 months ago | (#46755443)

Well, the prediction of getting sophistry in response already came to pass, so hmm :P

Re:Another thing (5, Funny)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 3 months ago | (#46754931)

Everything is in decline.

This is what I love about Slashdot. I can click on one article, and read about how we are doomed because robots will take all our jobs, and there will be no one to buy all the abundance of surplus goods and services. Then I can pop over here and read about how we are doomed because there is not enough workers to produce what we need. At least everyone agrees that we are doomed.

Re:Another thing (2)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 3 months ago | (#46756243)

Then we have the people who don't get that concern over nuclear war prevented nuclear war and concern over ozone depletion pushed laws to reduce ozone depletion. We have an overabundance of people NOT listening to the sirens because they don't trust the smoke alarm.

The problem is if there is NO MONEY going to research -- there won't be enough people trained in the science because selfishly, they want to eat and raise families while doing their job.

Companies are perfectly happy to make billions a year pimping new formulations of old drugs or cough medicine -- next year's innovation; Avocado flavor! Evidenced by the fact that there is more spent on marketing at most drug companies than research.

Re:Another thing (0)

jythie (914043) | about 3 months ago | (#46754981)

There is one huge mathematical flaw with this argument, people are still having children at a higher rate then replacement. Not that it is the only flaw, your understanding of history, economics, or even the current world is pretty warped.

Hate to break it to you, but you are stupid and intolerant, which is why people have been saying that to you. Not that you are going to listen.

Re:Another thing (4, Informative)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 3 months ago | (#46755019)

There is one huge mathematical flaw with this argument, people are still having children at a higher rate then replacement. Not that it is the only flaw, your understanding of history, economics, or even the current world is pretty warped.

Hate to break it to you, but you are stupid and intolerant, which is why people have been saying that to you. Not that you are going to listen.

That's true, but again, you're looking on too short a time scale and missing the pattern. We're having children at a rate that exceeds that necessary to replace members of the "Great" generation, that came before the boomers. They're still around, and the Boomers are beginning to retire.

From the study I posted above by Dr. Jost Lottes:

Worker-to-beneficiary ratio in the US:
  16 workers to 1 beneficiary in 1950
  3.3 workers per beneficiary in 2003
  2.1 workers per beneficiary in 2033 (projected)

You do understand that this is real, right? This is all based on hard data and real world facts; I'm not making this shit up as I go along.

Re:Another thing (3, Insightful)

climb_no_fear (572210) | about 3 months ago | (#46755299)

Let me ask you this: Do you believe Social Security is going to collapse tomorrow? My guess is even you would say not tomorrow.

Why do I ask? Well, look at your own statistics:

Worker-to-beneficiary ratio in the US: 16 workers to 1 beneficiary in 1950 3.3 workers per beneficiary in 2003 2.1 workers per beneficiary in 2033 (projected)

You do understand that this is real, right? This is all based on hard data and real world facts; I'm not making this shit up as I go along.

16 / 3.3 = 4.8 fold decrease in worker:retiree ratio in the US.

And yet, the system hasn't crashed yet.

3.3 / 2.1 is only a further 1.57 fold decrease, much smaller than the last few years

Why hasn't the system collapsed years ago?

1. An increase in general productivity (see http://www.epi.org/publication... [epi.org] for an interesting article in this regard)
2. Don't forget, these people do die and some leave behind considerable inheritances, which are taxed exorbitantly, even in the US.

Of course, some of this is paid for by US borrowing, which will have to taper off.

Re:Another thing (2)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 3 months ago | (#46755429)

No, I believe it will take another decade to reach the point of collapse.

Sixteen people can carry a coffin with such ease that half of them can sit around and chat while half of them take a shift.

Four people can carry a coffin, but they cannot do it in shifts, or forward motion stops.

Three people can carry a coffin, but they will suffer greatly for the effort. Those things are heavy.

Two people cannot carry a coffin. They do not have the strength necessary.

Like you say, it's only a 1.5 fold decrease from 3 to 2. But it's a 1.5 fold decrease that we cannot afford.

Maybe if we offer the coffin enough fiat currency, it will grow legs!

Re:Another thing (1)

pnutjam (523990) | about 3 months ago | (#46757003)

so, collapse of social security = collapse of civilization?

Re:Another thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46757353)

Two people cannot carry a coffin.

Perhaps...but 2 people & a couple of robots probably can. Someone will figure out solutions. They may even be smarter than you...

Re:Another thing (1)

jythie (914043) | about 3 months ago | (#46755891)

Oh the projections are real, or real enough, but the conclusions you are reaching are not supported by them.

Long term it will probably stabilize out to 1:1, and that will also likely be fine. Thing is, retirees on SS are not a drain on society, they are economic lubricant. They have a similar effect on the economy as the banking and investment system, or at minimal the entertainment industry.

If we want to go down the 'but other people are working!' route, also keep in mind that the vast majority of 'work' being done in the economy is not actually contributing to society outside its utility in keeping money flowing.

In other words, the ratio of retirees to non retirees is not all that important since on average retirees have about the same impact on the economy as the non-retirees. They are not bodies in a casket needing to be carried, they are an integral part of the system.

Re:Another thing (5, Interesting)

jma05 (897351) | about 3 months ago | (#46755039)

> The Western world decided to shift from a growth system, where women bear and raise children and the able bodied population slowly increases, to a system where the women enter the work force and children are few in number.

I will try to give a greater context than what a reading of actuary tables might give a young insurance agent. The roots of the current condition are far deeper than any single social revolution of any generation.

Yes, women entering the work force had an effect of natural decline in population growth. They were a sort of reserve capacity. Yes, this eventually will have a depressing effect on the economy. We still have some more reserve capacity, namely, expanding the work years of the population in reasonable ways by creating new opportunities for the elderly to be productive and remain engaged in society and be dependent for fewer years. After exhausting that last bit of reserve, we will perhaps truly stagnate.

However, relying on population growth is no longer sustainable. The human population has not slowly increased in the last few centuries, it had *exploded*. UK, for instance, increased its population by 2x in 1500 years (0-1500) and 20x in the 500 years after. While I am not suggesting that it should implode, it must go into a decline for centuries to come if we expect to thrive on this planet, long term. The environmental pressure and resource drainage initiated by your generation, and continued by ours, is spectacular. The difference between the environmental footprint of poor rural nations and the most prosperous nations today is 100-150x.

The western (and especially US) experience of abundance since WWII is also anomalous. It relied on the huge productivity differentials from the rest of the world. Now the world is slowly equalizing as the other populations also tap into their reserve capacities. So once again, to expect beyond the prosperity of your generation, baring another fundamental technology revolution, is not reasonable.

We will stagnate. But in context of what humanity went through, through our history (wars, disease, famine, ignorance), current "stagnation", which may last for centuries, is not that horrible, just mildly annoying. So we won't have even larger houses, trinkets and whatever that we don't really need. Is it really that natural or sustainable for everyone to want vacations on the other side of the planet? We still will lead relatively secure, healthy & engaged lives and that's enough.

The world was stagnant for much of its history. The growth spurt, the adolescence of mankind, from the industrial revolution onward, will have to slow at some point. The economists are simply wrong to target growth to the exclusion or detriment of everything else (in human growth terms - its wishing for Gigantism or taking steroids: ultimately the piper needs to be paid). It is OK for humans to settle down at this standard of living. We can think of growth once again, after it is viable to leave this planet. Now, more than ever, it is important for humanity to understand satisfaction.

Re:Another thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755483)

We will stagnate. But in context of what humanity went through, through our history (wars, disease, famine, ignorance), current "stagnation", which may last for centuries, is not that horrible, just mildly annoying. So we won't have even larger houses, trinkets and whatever that we don't really need. Is it really that natural or sustainable for everyone to want vacations on the other side of the planet? We still will lead relatively secure, healthy & engaged lives and that's enough.

I would add to that, the greatest risk facing our coming stagnating period, which might not be that bad considering our current shared consciousness, is the spread of new diseases which we cannot deal with. The other large threat of course, is islamic jihad, and other self-destructive ideologies. It would seem if there is something the governments of the world really should be backing, it is medical research, and of course poverty eradication like food-in-schools programs, so the next generation are not mental midgets like much of the 30-somethings population of America, the children of the 1980s, possibly the most poverty-stricken generation alive today.

Of course, there is a large problem facing society today, a sort of needless problem: that of qualification disenfranchisement. There are millions of self educated, skilled people across the world today who are not working because the public and corporate bureaucracies have engineered, and continue to engineer a system where one must hold a label of qualification to do virtually any job, and is being fueled by a global industry based around the exchange of these labels for debt bondage (student loans). If you were smart and listened to your parents and teachers, you did what you were told and enrolled in University, burdened yourself with debt early, and have a hope of paying it off in your lifetime.

If however, you were naive, like myself, you dropped out of school, found work as a programmer of some other type of technician, until the recession hit and you lost your job. Post recession the rules have changed and experienced programmers, radio engineers, chemists, physicists are all worth nothing if they don't have a shiny Bachelor's degree in their hands. The catch is you're now nearly 30, going into university to get qualified for something you're already skilled at is not really an option, as you can't afford to take on that debt, as you would never pay it off. Not to mention the ageism, that a recent graduate that's nearly 30 has zero chance of finding employment.

A smart society would be looking at this massive segment of the population, and asking what they can do to put them to use, but our society, along with every other across the western world, continues on the crusade to guildify every profession and trade, and put up obstacles so our only option is to sit around on welfare until we die.

Ironically, we live in a world today where you can almost learn any skill or any knowledge online, so the educational value in Universities is next to worthless, so they rest on their monopoly to label people as fit for work.

Re:Another thing (2)

swillden (191260) | about 3 months ago | (#46755535)

10 billion. Hans Rosling makes a compelling case [youtube.com] from the numbers that the world population will peak at 10 billion, then slowly decline, because we've already passed "peak child" the year in which the largest number of children were born, that number is now gradually declining. Population will continue to increase for a while because the older cohorts are currently much smaller than the younger cohorts, so as the younger cohorts age into the older categories, we'll have a "filling out" of the age distribution.

However, I don't think there's any reason to assume that we're going to stagnate. We're also on the cusp of a set of new technologies [abundancethebook.com] which will make the human race dramatically wealthier, because we've barely scratched the surface of the potential of information technology and automation.

The only fundamental limitation to our growth is energy production and delivery. We're heading towards a day when we can no longer rely on our current primary energy source, fossil fuels, perhaps because we'll exhaust the easily-reached reserves, and perhaps because we'll decide that they're too difficult to use without excessive environmental impact. But we're also rapidly improving our ability to capture solar energy, in its various forms. For that matter, we've successfully performed net-positive controlled fusion; perhaps we'll learn to harness that.

I do think the west, especially the US, is likely headed for a period of slower growth than we're accustomed to, or perhaps worse, stagnation or decline. This is because globalization (which many think is a dirty word, but I think is fantastic) is spreading the wealth over more of the human race.

This may seem to contradict the other current trend of concentration of capital, but historically they've gone hand in hand. During the initial expansion phase massive fortunes are created as the masses reap the benefits of the new capabilities in their personal lives, but the bulk of the financial gain goes to a relative few. Then, as technology matures the productivity gains spread; the fortunes don't disappear, but new fortunes are created at a slower rate and the wealth gap closes, because competition drives out the massive profit margins leaving the wealth in the hands of more people.

For that matter, I'm far from convinced there isn't another technological revolution on the horizon, and another after that, and so on. It's tempting to believe that the knowledge we've achieved so far is nearing the limit, but very bright people of generations and centuries past have believed the same thing... and they've all been not just wrong, but stupefyingly wrong. In fact, there seems to be a strong correlation between the number of very smart people who are convinced that all that's left to discover is making what we already know more precise and the closeness of the next earth-shattering discovery.

Indeed, we have powerful reasons right now to believe that we're on the cusp of yet another revolution in our understanding of physics. We currently have two thoroughly-elaborated and extensively supported models of the structure of reality... and they're mutually contradictory. Relevant to the current article, our understanding of biology is advancing at a breakneck pace, as we move from understanding only gross biological processes to elaborating the detailed chemical processes and, even more important, how they're described, defined and implemented by genetic material. Informatics is crucial to that effort.

I can't think of a single field of research in which we aren't currently learning orders of magnitude faster than ever before, and which hasn't recently seen, or appears to be in a position to soon find, revolutionary new understanding. In that context how can we not expect additional technological revolutions? But even without new fundamental science, I think it's clear that we've barely scratched the surface of what information technology can do for us. There's plenty of growth ahead, and the population problem appears to solve itself neatly.

Which isn't to say there aren't challenges coming. There are, and we can even see what some of them are. But this post is already long enough.

Re:Another thing (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 3 months ago | (#46758669)

I do think the west, especially the US, is likely headed for a period of slower growth than we're accustomed to, or perhaps worse, stagnation or decline. This is because globalization (which many think is a dirty word, but I think is fantastic) is spreading the wealth over more of the human race.

This may seem to contradict the other current trend of concentration of capital, but historically they've gone hand in hand.

Not just historically, but currently. Inequality within nations is increasing, but inequality between nations is shrinking [economist.com] :

But the majority of the people on the planet live in countries where income disparities are bigger than they were a generation ago.

That does not mean the world as a whole has become more unequal. Global inequalityâ"the income gaps between all people on the planetâ"has begun to fall as poorer countries catch up with richer ones. Two French economists, FranÃois Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson, have calculated a âoeglobal Giniâ that measures the scale of income disparities among everyone in the world. Their index shows that global inequality rose in the 19th and 20th centuries because richer economies, on average, grew faster than poorer ones. Recently that pattern has reversed and global inequality has started to fall even as inequality within many countries has risen. By that measure, the planet as a whole is becoming a fairer place. But in a world of nation states it is inequality within countries that has political salience, and this special report will focus on that.

Re:Another thing (1)

WinstonWolfIT (1550079) | about 3 months ago | (#46755911)

Easily said, but if my next door neighbor buys a 20' boat, I'm going to have to go out the following Saturday and get a 24' boat. That's human nature in the simplest terms possible.

Re:Another thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46757377)

I don't need a boat...I live in a desert!

Re:Another thing (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 3 months ago | (#46758341)

Easily said, but if my next door neighbor buys a 20' boat, I'm going to have to go out the following Saturday and get a 24' boat. That's US culture in the simplest terms possible.

FTFY.

Re:Another thing (2, Interesting)

njnnja (2833511) | about 3 months ago | (#46755623)

Real actuary speaking here. Societies generally put resources into producing things that the society wants. They put more resources into things that they want more of *relative to other things that they don't want as badly*. It is that relative allocation that is important. If we didn't want to live longer lives, we would spend our resources on present day consumption rather than on medical services. The fact that the cost of health care keeps going up and up is merely a reflection of the fact that (in the 1st world) we have (more than) enough food, adequate shelter, and plenty of shiny things to keep us happy, so what we really want to spend money on is a pill that keeps our bodies younger for longer. So unless we "unlearn" all the things that give us this phenomenal productivity (through natural catastrophe, war, plague, etc.), we don't have to worry about decline.

One lecturer put it well by saying that he couldn't wait until we are spending 99% of GDP on health care, because at that point all of our wants and needs for food, shelter, entertainment, intellectual challenge, etc will be satisfied for pocket change so the only thing actually worth putting society's resources into is extending life.

Re:Another thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755903)

Eh, not going to happen. I think humanity has proved that it is tough and resilient, but seriously we would totally be at civil war if we didn't have a massive military. Eventually there will be a world government with immense and true global power. Only question will be what will that be and what will the world look like. All in all the signs are pretty disappointing.

Re:Another thing (1)

Stem_Cell_Brad (1847248) | about 3 months ago | (#46757729)

Thanks for that perspective njnnja. I would mod up if I had points. Unfortunately, from reading comments on slashdot, it appears that many people don't quite get that putting money into biomedical research is a way of increasing human health or moving toward that "pill that keeps our bodies younger longer."

Re:Another thing (1)

rgbatduke (1231380) | about 3 months ago | (#46756951)

Well, or it is just barely possible that the continuing improvement in our understanding of the Universe, the astronomical marginal improvements in per capita productivity, our geometrically exploding increase in computational capacity and storage, will continue to more than compensate for all of your imagined sources of doom and in twenty or thirty years the present -- arguably the best time in human history to be alive -- will be looked back on as a rather sad time when we hadn't quite eliminated war, when world religions hadn't quite advanced far enough along their death spiral for rationality to have replaced the patriarchal mind control whose memes dominate your comment, when we hadn't quite settled down to deal with global poverty and scarcity because of a global shadow war over control of energy production and consumption driven by disinformation on all sides.

The "shiny happy part" you lament, for example, is something that was never experienced by more than perhaps 1/10th of the population of the planet, and more often the shiny part was confined to an even smaller proportional of the population. Most of the world's population, including the entire part where women were and to a large extent are still confined to the "duties" you idealize as part of an ideal world economy, is still stuck in the 19th or even the 18th century as far as "shiny happy" goes. Perhaps a trip to central Africa or rural India is in order -- something to give you a bit of perspective as you so cheerfully advocate the return of half of the world's population to a state of de facto chattel. Or a rebirth as a woman living in central Afghanistan, square in the middle of a biblical culture that perfectly reflects your ideal.

Personally I rather suspect that humans will continue to do what they do best -- cope with an ever changing socioeconomic technology backed culture and optimize it in countless ways to that, on average, things continue to be better tomorrow than they are today, just as today is a tiny bit shinier and happier than, say, the heart of the cold war and the cold war was mostly better than the heart of World War II (for most people alive) which was for all of its violence and death still a step up from the economic upheaval of the interval between the wars and an enormous potentiator of global change as it brought about the beginning of the end of the colonial era, which was definitely better than World War I, which in turn was arguably the war that broke up the grip of leftover emperors, kings, and nobility that still dominated the bulk of world politics at the time. Women in the workforce as full equals simply means that society is in the process of restructuring and accommodating the enormous influx of wealth (of all sorts) that entry enables. Are their problems? Sure. But they are nothing compared to the problems of being born as an XX instead of an XY in the 19th century or earlier.

rgb

Re:Another thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46757187)

Don't forget all the one-way money spent on Cheney-Bush's little soiree into Afghanistan & Iraq when it comes to "pales in comparison". Why, I even remember McCain bitching about $3million spent on grizzly bear research in the USofA. How horrid - $3million that went to an American researcher & an American university & probably mostly spent within America. Talk about yer "pale"!

Re:Empty summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754543)

Why would it be self-correcting?

The basic problem is that labs are using PhD students to do the actual science work (i.e. run the experiments). But, after a "few" years, the PhD students graduate and most can't find work in science because the ratio of graduating PhDs to retiring professors is on the order of 10 to 1. That is, each professor typically graduates on the order of ten PhDs before retiring.

Of course the solution is obvious: use career scientists, rather than PhD students, to do most of the actual science work (run the experiments). But because most research is carried out in an academic setting it's hard to get people to adopt it: there's this unrealistic notion that academic institutions should be all about teaching eager new students - as opposed to providing stable jobs for career scientists.

Re:Empty summary (3, Insightful)

ppanon (16583) | about 3 months ago | (#46754587)

There's also the tricky matter that PhD students get paid minimal wages given their schooling, whereas career scientists need/expect to be paid a living wage that can support a family and build a retirement fund.

Re:Empty summary (4, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about 3 months ago | (#46754995)

Beyond that, working in research is pretty risky if you have a family. University labs are not allowed to have "war chests" much of the time, the professors get a grant, hire people, do the research, fire everyone when it is over. They play budgeting tricks to try to get grants to overlap enough that there is some continuity but if something is just a month off you can loose your entire lab and the collected experience of your people... which overall makes research slower, more expensive, lower quality, and holding on to good people more difficult.

Re:Empty summary (2)

Stem_Cell_Brad (1847248) | about 3 months ago | (#46757857)

Exactly. It is not the amount of funding per se, but the way it is given out that is the bigger problem. It is given in 4-5yr spans to labs. even worse, NIH budget changes every year, so their long term planning is usually screwed every year. Reducing the number of PhD students and mandating promotions to staff scientists would work only if funds are stable for a given lab.

Re:Empty summary (1)

jythie (914043) | about 3 months ago | (#46758063)

Depending on the type of research, much of it comes in 6-9 month spans... working with the military is even worse since they can promise funds, sign a contract, and then take the money back.

Re:Empty summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755331)

Back when I was in grad school, the stipend was about $20K/year and "tuition" was at least $10K plus there were the health insurance benefits. On the other hand, a post-doc in the field made a bit less than $40K/year plus the health insurance benefits. So the difference was only a few thousand per year. And, in fact, I remember my PhD adviser claiming at the time that when you actually added up all the little costs then post-docs actually cost a research grant less than grad students. But then after grad school (in a biomedical field) I had to leave the USA to find work - and now I'm in a country that does actually pay scientists enough to support a family (not really enough for the retirement fund though).

Re:Empty summary (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 3 months ago | (#46755235)

Yeah, but a retarded citizen on the street, could note most of the other problems. Maybe not too, Ive been modded down for years for pointing up the obvious flaws, not only in the Medical field, but several other fields. It all boils down to money, power and control. It is NOT about finding a cure, an answer, facts or the truth.
It is skewed, enhanced, withheld, hidden, ransomed and outright lied. We are told of all the wonderful progress of science, yet we are not much better off than the turn of the last century. Its been prettied up and hyperbolized and THEY will tell you how FAR weve come, even if it is only baby steps. Most will believe it , because they want to believe something.
Science is a laughable crock of shit and we COULD have done so much better if only we had weeded out the corruption and regulated the piss out of it, early on.
Disagree? Ill only call you naiive.
Tin foil? Nope, I dont care enough to call it conspiracy. Its more like creeping rot with no central motivator.

Re:Empty summary (1)

ThatsDrDangerToYou (3480047) | about 3 months ago | (#46758037)

The only issue noted was too many researchers. Well, that's a self-correcting problem, isn't it.

Clearly we need more researcher cage matches. It would be awesome... "Slasher Jones was just about to get funded when Bubba Nesmith took him out with a rare mutation of the ebola virus. Nesmith gets funding AND a publication!"

No shit, Sherlock (4, Insightful)

muecksteiner (102093) | about 3 months ago | (#46754317)

It sure took you some time to notice the bloody obvious, folks. The only odd thing about this is why you only mention biomedical research.

Because pretty much all other fields have exactly the same problem: fairly massive over-production of graduates - in particular, people with a PhD. In times of shrinking university enrolments, and shrinking populations (in the West, that is). No one will ever need that many faculty. And for most jobs outside uni, that time spent in PhD comics land is not a good preparation. At all.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754545)

"No one will ever need that many faculty." - I disagree with that to some degree. No one needs that many instructors at university, sure, but university faculty really only does teaching on the side. Their main role is as researchers. The only limitation is the money spent on research, the thing that has the biggest return on investment for humanity.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754667)

university faculty really only does teaching on the side. Their main role is as researchers.

You'd like to think that wouldn't you [insidehighered.com] ?

The best available data, from 2003 (taken from the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty), show that full-time faculty members work 53.4 hours in a week. About 62 percent of that was teaching, including course preparation and advising, with 18 percent devoted to research and 20 percent to percent administrative and other tasks.

So "teaching on the side" seems to take up about three times as much time as research does.

conflating two problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755215)

There are two problems; one is that many researchers focus on research and are terrible at and hostile to teaching. However, your statistics are also important to the conversation. The real problem in the university sense is that many fields are creating more graduates thn can plausibly bcome employed, including forestry, which for a few years was producing more graduates a year than total non-university jobs in the field. (yes, if every professional forester got fired and replaced with a new graduate, some of the new graduates wouldn't have gotten a job.

Re:conflating two problems (5, Informative)

dcollins (135727) | about 3 months ago | (#46755847)

"many researchers focus on research and are terrible at and hostile to teaching"

But that's where the incentives are, the criteria for promotion. I was told at a small faculty meeting last week at our college that teaching and service are flat-out totally ignored for tenure and promotion decisions, only published papers are counted (despite the written rule being otherwise). Although I'm not on that track (and glad of it), it's hard to blame people who literally get fired if they focus on teaching too much. That's one of the structures that should definitely be changed.

Re:conflating two problems (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 3 months ago | (#46757933)

Teaching is just a loss leader for the things that really matter: athletics and patents. It is only natural to cut back on the unnecessary expense of employing parasitic teachers.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46756445)

Apples and oranges. AC1 claims that University faculty spend most of their time researching and only teach in off hours. That describes well faculty in the sciences, at major, research-focused universities. AC2 cites a survey of all post-secondary faculty claiming that 62% of full-time faculty is spent on teaching and advising students. This includes faculty outside of the sciences and faculty at purely teaching institutions. Research universities are a distinct minority - about 200 of the 4000 colleges and universities in the US do "a lot" of research.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46756549)

On the biomedical side it is definitely not like this. As a professor at a highly ranked med school, I work longer hours than that and the largest portion of my time is spent on research. That measure seems to conflate faculty in the humanities and social sciences with those in the biomedical fields.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 3 months ago | (#46755229)

As Ike mentioned in his speech widely remembered for the line 'military-industrial complex':

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

....and the bit people don't seem to remember, nor take as seriously:

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.

The pernicious influence of this 'Federal technical complex' has led to an entire generation of scientists who believe that the only credible source of funding must be the federal government.
It is absolutely certain that there are some HUGE projects that need the resources of government, no doubt. But you know what? Not every bloody thing *needs to be researched*, nor does that research need taxpayer dollars.

I know, the idea that research needs to demonstrably benefit the taxpayer to be federally funded sounds like an idea that would come from (shudder) Republicans, but when we're overspending our budget by 30%+ every year to the tune of nearly $1 trillion, we can't afford everything we want, only what we clearly need.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (1)

DudeTheMath (522264) | about 3 months ago | (#46755855)

Perhaps it is not just the scientists, but the university administrators and those (legislators, for state schools) who hold the purse strings, who believe that the only credible source of research funding must be the federal government. Then they look at the humanities faculty and ask, "Why aren't you paying for your own research with federal grants? It must not be of benefit to anyone."

Re:No shit, Sherlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46756165)

In my view we have failed to heed Ike's warning about the military-industrial complex. As for public policy becoming the captive of a scientific-technological elite, I don't see much danger there. Many of our policymakers are either woefully uninformed or hold dogmatically to an unscientific world-view.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46756425)

Even worse for society was not heeding his warnings about not to let the Federal government get its talons into education.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 3 months ago | (#46757319)

The pernicious influence of this 'Federal technical complex' has led to an entire generation of scientists who believe that the only credible source of funding must be the federal government.

Actually, none of us really believe that. In fact, most of us would love to have more options than crawling back to the NIH every five years, and would also prefer not to worry about whether the hacks in DC will fuck everything up for us. The problem is that the governments really are the largest source of funding and there are limited prospects to replace that. Wealthy philanthropists are great but it's hard to find enough of those to shell out the equivalent of the NIH budget. Companies are rarely interested in spending money on anything they can't turn into a product in the shortest possible amount of time - in the life sciences, only a tiny handful of them do anything resembling "basic research".

The comparison to the "solitary inventor" of the past is irrelevant, because up until recently you didn't need much technology to make some pretty important discoveries. Unfortunately, as science advances, each incremental discovery tends to require steadily greater investments in equipment and infrastructure, which creates a huge barrier to entry. Additionally, the body of knowledge is so immense that it takes years to acquire the technical knowledge to tackle most research projects independently.

Re:No shit, Sherlock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755941)

Well, that's where you can become a lawyer and fabricate whatever you want.

You misunderstand PhD (0)

aepervius (535155) | about 3 months ago | (#46756401)

You do not take a PHD because you prepare for a job. You take it because youa re passionate for the subject and might hope to continue the subject. if you think a PhD is to prepare for an job, or even education in general at high level, you got it wrong. Anyway i disagree about not being a good preparation either : the autonomy and the effort needed to do a PhD "over prepare" for practically any job except a few % out there.

Re:You misunderstand PhD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46756919)

that must be great in the utopia you came from where you don't need to work to survive

Re:No shit, Sherlock (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 3 months ago | (#46757057)

It sure took you some time to notice the bloody obvious, folks

What? No it didn't. The article pointed out that the problem was noticed, and commented on, including some of the authors, for the past few decades.

No one will ever need that many faculty. And for most jobs outside uni, that time spent in PhD comics land is not a good preparation. At all.

That's only part of the problem. The article pointed out that a lot of the problem was actually after PhD, the postdoc phase. Postdocs are paid peanuts becuase it's only supposed to be a temporary situation. The result is that permanent staff scientist jobs that one can live on long term don't really exist.

Put Them To The Test (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754327)

Agreed. We should toss all biomedical researchers into a massive lab along with a couple deadly strains of something. The ones who learn to make something that protects them wins and get to stay in the field. The rest... well, there's no reason to worry about them anymore. If too many researchers pass the first test, something more deadly is used until we cut the number down far enough.

Re:Put Them To The Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755045)

Agreed. We should toss all the programmers into a massive lab along with a few hundred killer robots. The ones who learn to make useful code that protects them wins and get to live to code another day. The rest... well, there's no reason to worry about them anymore. If too many programmers pass the first test, something more deadly is used until we cut the number down far enough.

TFTFY...

Too many bioscientists (0)

spiritplumber (1944222) | about 3 months ago | (#46754341)

Too many bioscientists are not a problem if we can come up with a sufficiently high matching hunchback population. http://project-apollo.net/mos/ [project-apollo.net]

Same in High Energy Physics, IMHO (4, Informative)

PiMuNu (865592) | about 3 months ago | (#46754353)

Interestingly, the same things can be said about High Energy Physics - in the last half century, physicists have figured out the standard model of particle physics. Meanwhile, the cost of pushing back the energy frontier (cf LHC) is at the level where it funding is required from a large portion of the Western world to make a major discovery. Research is driven by grad students and post docs, most of whom can never get a permanent position, while funding is diminishing in real terms.

For me, the current academic system needs updating from the 19th century. It is bad for science not to make the change, because we see the good staff leaving to find a proper job.

Re:Same in High Energy Physics, IMHO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754421)

funding is required from a large portion of the Western world to make a major discovery

The number of countries providing funds? Or an actually significant fraction of Western wealth?

Re:Same in High Energy Physics, IMHO (2)

stenvar (2789879) | about 3 months ago | (#46754491)

The current system is nothing like research in the 19th century. In the 19th century, a lot of science was funded privately, either because people were independently wealthy, or because they had day jobs like teaching. Full time researchers, public research labs, etc. are mainly a development of the 20th century, and not necessarily a good one. Where is the problem with people leaving science to pursue other jobs? And why should science funding not be primarily based on voluntary contributions and private foundations?

Re:Same in High Energy Physics, IMHO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754851)

The only way your argument can even remotely sustain itself is if you believe that the 19th century was more technologically capable then the 20th century, and that is just simply not the case. The scientific community's did leaps and bounds over 19th century, we went from starting to learn to travel with balloons in the air, to landing on the moon, as well as a permanent station in space; By the end of the 20th century we could communicate with anyone on the world in real time, search and store library's of information in the palm of our hand and level citys with one bomb. (and quite a number of awesome things in between)

So that's your difference between private funding researchers and public funding researchers

I have no idea where your logic comes from, but your going to need to back up your opinion with some sources for it to be taken seriously

Re:Same in High Energy Physics, IMHO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46756269)

The current system is nothing like research in the 19th century. In the 19th century, a lot of science was funded privately, either because people were independently wealthy, or because they had day jobs like teaching. Full time researchers, public research labs, etc. are mainly a development of the 20th century, and not necessarily a good one. Where is the problem with people leaving science to pursue other jobs? And why should science funding not be primarily based on voluntary contributions and private foundations?

In the 19th century a lot of low-hanging scientific fruit awaited picking. While I'm sure there are still discoveries to be made that are within the resources of the independent wealthy, and even some within the range of the part-time scientist, the frontiers of knowledge have been pushed quite far. In areas without apparent short-term economic return, further progress may be out of financial reach, in some cases (I'm looking at you, high energy physics) even with public funding.

Re:Same in High Energy Physics, IMHO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755053)

So, instead of pushing back the frontier of human knowledge they leave to find a proper job... such as Starbucks or Wal-Mart? Please clarify the phrase 'proper job.

How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang (1)

climb_no_fear (572210) | about 3 months ago | (#46755333)

An interesting article on why people would work for less than minimum wage (grad students working 16 hr days), in hopes of hitting the big time, just like people selling drugs, hopjng to become the drug lord:

http://alexandreafonso.wordpre... [wordpress.com]

Re:Same in High Energy Physics, IMHO (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 3 months ago | (#46757085)

The article really drives that point home: the taxpayers invest in PhD scientists and postdocs, for the students to then leave the field means the taxpayer investment has been wasted.

mod 3o3n (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754357)

Yeah and? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754363)

the team suggests that the system may be producing too many new researchers and forcing them to compete for a stagnating pool of funding.

This is called capitalism AKA the shitty system that happens to work better than than ever other system that has ever been tried by man, so long as the metric is "how much can our species accomplish". Whether it is better if your metric is "how many people starve to death" is less straightforward and left as an exercise to the reader.

Labor market responding to market forces, biomedic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754443)

The authors say the following related to the oversupply of graduate students,
"Economists point out that many labor markets experience expansions and contractions, but the labor market for biomedical research does not appear to respond to classic market forces"

So long as we consider response to government spending a "classic" market then it is easy to understand the oversupply of graduates. A graduate student is offered 25k/year but a bachelors in biology can hardly find a job outside of the fast-food industry. I think that one of the few job markets worse than that of recent biomedical PhDs is that of recent B.S holders of biology degrees. It's not that we all want to be scientists, its that for those of us with even a decent amount of talent can find no better work.

Overall most of their suggestions are spot on. We need to change the incentive structure and we need to incentivise research by scientists, rather than by legions of underpaid and underemployed grad students.

Sincerely,
-Biomedical grad student

Re:Labor market responding to market forces, biome (4, Insightful)

stenvar (2789879) | about 3 months ago | (#46754473)

A bachelor in biology is no worse than a bachelor in some liberal arts field: you learn to read, write, and reason. There are lots of jobs open to you, just not in science.

Re:Labor market responding to market forces, biome (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755711)

I disagree that a bachelor in bio learns you reasoning. The learning consists almost entirely of memorizing anonymized "facts", when real science occurs at the personal level in historical context. Further I doubt many bio bachelor holders know much of any philosophy of science or logic.

The problem is that too much of it is state based (4, Interesting)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#46754567)

Government funding is like this... Rather then getting a feedback loop where research generates profits which pay for expansions which lead to more jobs. What you instead have is a static grant being offered by the government. When that is consumed there is no more and the government not making any money on the process can't afford to engage in a feedback system.

Now, a private system is going to have its own issues but those issues will not be an over production of researchers competing for finite grant money.

And before anyone tells me this is a bad idea or that we need the government to do all this stuff... understand where I am coming from here. We had tens of thousands of engineers working for the military industrial complex and then the cold war ended... result? Many of them were out of a job. And guess where many of them lived? California. It was and still is a big defense contractor state. And what did those engineers do? Most of them found jobs in the private sector and to a large extent their technical contribution made the tech explosion in California happen. Suddenly business had access to a glut of engineers. And that is what we got out of it.

So... consider that we might do well to push a lot of these bio medical researchers at the private sector... It might do them well, it might do their fields well, and it might do the nation well.

And hey, the US Federal government might actually see a monetary return through their tax recipes. So... everyone wins.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (2)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 3 months ago | (#46754621)

their technical contribution made the tech explosion in California happen.

What you said sounded very exciting right up to that point. :-)

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#46754905)

Explain your problem.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755111)

The problem with your assertion is that the private sector job opportunities, for the most part, vanished following the crash in 2008. The entity we refer to as 'Big Pharma' only exists as a 'Big Profit' engine... not as a large-scale employer. Most of the private sector jobs for biomedical scientists disappeared and the few that remain are very difficult to obtain, even for someone with a PhD.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755245)

The problem with your assertion is that the private sector job opportunities, for the most part, vanished following the crash in 2008

Same situation as when the Cold War ended. the recovery of the private sector will happen in spite of Obama's best efforts; expecting governments around the world to come up with the money during a major recession is unrealistic.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755247)

Well, there's a bit of truth to that. There's a shit ton of money to be made in biomedical, but I've stopped investing because I'll take a lower ROI v.s. the blatant threat of all of the research I fund being stolen. I'm fascinated with the invention of new drugs, and have been very successful at investing in it (not a researcher, probably, actually, close to that 1900's model of private funding, though we pool it in corporate entities now). However, when the largest nations are either blatantly stealing the product, publicly stealing it, or announcing that they intend to, the risk is too high. So, now what I fund tends to be electronic buables that get thrown away in 2 years when they're replaced with a newer and more interesting toy.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#46755783)

And why is that?

Could it be that the FDA makes your industry a living hell?

That's what I've heard from the pharma companies. They say that they spend so much money complying with the FDA that they have very little for anything else.

We have drug factories around the country that are going broke despite selling all their product. Some of them run 24 hours a day to meet demand. There are still shortages and they are still going broke.

I have to assume that's the FDA because nothing else could have that effect on US drug manufacturers and no one else.

In any case, I'm not going to compound the mistakes of over-regulation with over-subsidization.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 3 months ago | (#46757383)

They say that they spend so much money complying with the FDA that they have very little for anything else.

That's because the FDA requires actual proof that a drug does what it's claimed to do before they'll let it be marketed as such - oh, and it has to not have debilitating side effects. If we got rid of the FDA, the barriers to market would be vastly lower, but we'd be flooded with a huge number of placebos with deadly side effects. Really, it's shocking how often drug candidates make it to Phase III trials only to discover that they're effectively useless. Do you really want to get rid of that filter?

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#46758313)

I'm not suggesting we get rid of the FDA. I'm suggesting that the FDA might be excessive.

Beyond that, I think there is room to have non-FDA approved medical procedures and drugs open to Americans.

Label it. Cover it in warnings. Whatever.

I am a HUGE believer in individual choice. If the consumer chooses to buy or use something that isn't government approved... that is their choice. Obviously make it clear to them so they don't do it by accident... but that's about it.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

shrewdsheep (952653) | about 3 months ago | (#46755221)

Being in the field, I would like to add that transition to private industry might be more difficult for biomedical researchers as compared to engineers. Private employers are mainly pharma, some agriculture. Most employment trajectories leave research and even the biomedical field entirely. That being said, the standards for getting a PhD seem rather low nowadays (Europe/US) such that a tightening of standards could potentially lead to a virtuous circle (less researchers, better quality -> better research -> higher standards).

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#46755657)

I'd rather push you off into private practice that create some uber elite priesthood that subsists entirely on government grants.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46756635)

The problem with "private practice" is that the product horizon that most companies care about is 5 years or fewer. Most major scientific advances take significantly longer than that to be commercialized. ARPANET was established in 1969 and already built on substantial research. Imagine the project was required to generate a substantial profit in 5 or fewer years. ARPANET wasn't even declared operational until 1975 -- already beyond that horizon.

Somewhere science needs to be driven by 10-30 year goals to make these types of advances. The private sector hasn't had that type of vision since the loss of their major research labs (Bell Labs, Kodak Research Labs, etc). If we want our children and grandchildren to have access to more effective medical care at lower cost than we have now, the only way to do it is through publicly funded research.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#46757401)

As to product horizons, there are a lot of companies that spend a lot of money on an ongoing basis in basic research and development.

Most of the aerospace companies research ideas for many years before they actually become products and many never do become products.

Chemical companies do the same thing.

the pharma companies can spend upwards of 10 years on a single drug... much longer then your 5 year figure.

I'm not sure how long Monsanto spends trying to put ice fish DNA in wheat but the whole process probably wasn't fast.

Don't tell me business doesn't do research. They do a lot of research. And in fact, they also offer a lot of grants to universities to research things for them.

Given all the scandals in bio medical academic papers over the last few years I find it suspect that they're begging for grant money now. There is huge potential for new medical technology and treatments. the market is very hungry for such things. Sadly genetically modified foods are taboo currently but you can probably still find a market for that as well. I think there is a lab in the UK that is cloning pets. That's a great idea. Rich people give you money and you get to continue your cloning research.

Figure something out. There is money out there. And if there isn't... then there isn't.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46757735)

Pharma spends a long time on successful drugs, but most of that is after the initial compound has been developed. Much of that is engineering, scaling up, and the FDA approval process. These are not research tasks.

Monsanto does a great job of using tools developed by publicly funded academic research labs to manipulate crops. What Monsanto doesn't do, is pay for someone to go understand how life exists in extreme conditions such as hot spring vents. Without such study, we wouldn't have the Taq polymerase that makes all of the work that Monsanto (or any other group doing genetic engineering) does possible.

There is still a lot of money in the fields you talk about, and I'm glad that there is because my research is in a well funded field. What I see when I look around is that the researchers who are doing the type of work capable of leading to the next big breakthrough -- for example the next Taq that changes the way we can interact with the world around us -- are not getting funded. The things that get funded right now are low risk projects with a clearly deliverable product, exactly as you describe. The problem with this incentive system is that researchers are avoiding the interesting questions and hardest challenges. Any researcher who decides to build a career trying to study something like hot spring vent bacteria because it's interesting would be immediately shot down by grant review panels. This is precisely what the linked manuscript describes.

In summary there is still money out there, but it's not being used in ways that are capable of leading to transformational advances. Business is not currently investing in that type of basic research (they invest in research, but targeted research towards a clearly defined endpoint).

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#46757895)

I'm not saying its the same... I'm saying that you have to find a home for a lot of these researchers in the private sector.

You can't expect the government to just throw money at researchers because they're out of work.

The grant system exists for all the things you were talking about. Its great.

But it isn't a bottomless money tap. If you need more, then you need to do what everyone else does. Get a job in a company that makes money.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

Stem_Cell_Brad (1847248) | about 3 months ago | (#46756653)

You bring up an interesting example. But, you should consider that there is a fundamental difference between engineering and research. The article was written by highly successful researchers with experience with policy making. I agree with their perspective. From the article,

"Competition in pursuit of experimental objectives has always been a part of the scientific enterprise, and it can have positive effects. However, hypercompetition for the resources and positions that are required to conduct science suppresses the creativity, cooperation, risk-taking, and original thinking required to make fundamental discoveries."

I think the difference in engineering (building and designing new things from what is already known) and research (trying to figure out stuff that nobody knows) requires different types of support for success. Stability is the key for research to encourage intellectual risk-taking. The problem with the current funding situation is that it stifles innovation and the really basic research. The big ideas are frequently wrong and non productive, but when they are correct, they move biomedical research forward much more than all the short term projects combined.

Finally consider that research is shared knowledge. New insights must be shared for them to be useful. This is different from engineering, where a design or product can be protected and inventors can profit from its use by others.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 3 months ago | (#46757805)

In regards to hyper competition versus competition... these are not valid economic terms that can be applied to the market place.

What you have instead is an over supply of a good or service fighting over a finite market for those goods and services.

The end result is that those less able to compete will be squeezed out of the business entirely.

This is already happening and will not be stopped.

You can lament that but you'd as well lament the rising of the sun in the east or the tides going out in the morning. Its going to happen.

You can take these people private so they can diversify into other businesses applying their skills to something that is more scalable. Or they can suffer.

But simply demanding the federal spending taps get turned up every time you've over produced researchers is not practical.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 3 months ago | (#46757131)

I disagree. One of the points of the article was that grants were too safe. Government grants are necessary to pay for research that is high-risk but high reward. If I want to do a multi-million dollar study that maybe has a 98% chance of leading nowhere but has a 2% chance of curing cancer, that's a probably a terrible risk for private sector, but should be funded by the government. Instead, with so much competition, grant comittees are playing it safe and boring. That type of research can be funded by the private sector maybe.

Re:The problem is that too much of it is state bas (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 3 months ago | (#46757463)

consider that we might do well to push a lot of these bio medical researchers at the private sector

Many of us would love to move to the private sector. There's just aren't a lot of jobs there either. In my current specialty, there are hundreds of postdoctoral fellowships (and maybe a dozen faculty openings) for every industry position. I have much broader expertise than that, but employers typically aren't interested in anyone who doesn't fit the exact list of criteria that HR prepared. I've basically spent the last 6 years working as a full-time software developer but I can't even get responses to job applications because I'm still in academia, and competing with CS graduates with the right buzzwords on their resumes.

Obviously my choice of career path was poor, but there isn't some magic solution that can retroactively fix that problem.

Why don't they (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754629)

Why don't they research a cure for gayness

Re:Why don't they (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754645)

Why don't they research a cure for gayness

too late for you, faggot

How come so many researchers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754651)

About 20 years ago, when I was in academia, it was only very few who were sufficiently keen to go into a research career.

Nowadays it seems that so many people end up as post-docs. Today I would have to think twice about whether even to get a doctorate, as I'm not sure it has so much meaning.

So, has the definition changed? Is it much easier to get a PhD? I understand also that more people are going into higher education in the first place, which must mean a lowering of the standard required for entry - does this also happen at higher levels?

Re:How come so many researchers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755687)

The bar appears to be rather low. In my biomed department there is not one researcher working on anything beyond saying X makes Y higher/lower. I've been to talks and asked about patterns I've seen in the data and was laughed at for bringing up "mathematical models". Most talks/papers the data is not presented in sufficient detail for the audience to be able to discern problems. They just disprove a series of strawmen (two groups of animals are the same), show dynamite plots with stars by them and then say X leads to "higher/lower" Y.

The Problem with Biotech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46754955)

Here's the problem with Biotech. It is beholden to the shareholder.

Look at the recent crash and rubble in the biotech sector. All too often, main street investors are sitting there wondering why they're holding the bag for the fraud that is obvious and rampant in the biotech securities sector.

The scam goes a little something like this:

1) Invent some promising new wonder drug and tell investors you expect to get on the fast track for FDA compliance
2) Watch stock price pump from investors looking to get in on the next big pharmaceutical that will change the lives of people with disease X
3) Insiders sell millions of their shares
4) Having made their profit, terminate the expensive clinical studies, citing "unforeseen problems" with the drug
5) Rinse, repeat

These pharmas never get past Phase I clinicals because they don't want the expense. They make a lot more money rinsing drugs they know will fail through a partial Phase I, never having to pay for the *really* expensive and risky trials.

Re:The Problem with Biotech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755325)

I wish you could comment on merger and acquisitions because chasing biotech based on scientific merit has left me disappointed. It seems larger pharma companies (1) let smaller companies take the risk of fundraising, discovery, and human trials before buying them out, or (2) buy smaller companies' means of production without a proven product. It's difficult to tell when larger companies will be buying up the competition vs. letting them wither and die while developing their own product.

Nationalism is stupid (1, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | about 3 months ago | (#46755101)

Why does it matter? Is the global pool of money stagnating? Who cares if it is here in the US? So what? So people in other countries will take the lead. Its not really a big deal....we are all human; this my team your team BS is getting old.

Re:Nationalism is stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46755255)

Is the global pool of money stagnating?

It stagnated six years ago, although biomedical research outside the US was always a minor contributor anyway. The issue isn't nationalism, it's about infrastructure and funding.

Excluding the Private Sector (1)

Kagato (116051) | about 3 months ago | (#46755749)

What's happening in many States is researchers are moving to private sector. In Minnesota at any given time there are over 400 biomed start-ups in operation. Many started in the University system but moved out for various reasons. Mostly that the academic sector moves at a glacial pace in terms of commercialization. It's not that there isn't as much money in totality, it's that a large component has moved to Venture Capital instead of grants.

Perverse Incentives (1)

lfp98 (740073) | about 3 months ago | (#46756229)

Most of the authors' analysis rings true, but Dr. Harold Varmus, in particular, contributed enormously to the perverse incentives he now complains about when, as NIH Director, he mandated "modular grants", in which scientists simply request grant support in multiples of $25,000 without the traditional detailed budget and without any salary data. Indeed, scientists were (and still are) expressly forbidden from including in their application any information on exactly how they proposed to spend the requested grant money or what they were paying themselves. The predictable response of the universities (and I speak here from first-hand experience) was to strongly encourage faculty to put larger portions of their salaries onto grants, and be rewarded with higher base salaries. Such policies were enthusiastically sold by department chairmen to upper-level administrators as a way of incentivizing faculty to acquire more grant support, while at the same time raising faculty salaries, all at zero net cost to the University. The fact that all this occurred at the same time as the doubling of the NIH budget only encouraged the process. Now the hard times are here again, money is tight, and support personnel are being let go, but faculty are not giving up their higher salaries and the universities aren't going back to paying faculty from university funds to do research, at least not without a fight.

Obligatory xkcd quote... (1)

ctrl-alt-canc (977108) | about 3 months ago | (#46756267)

xkcd.com/1007 [xkcd.com]
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