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Supporting Science

···Scientists have always had problems obtaining support for their work.  In most ancient times, scientists could only work and support themselves if they found a prince or a king sponsor.  In modern times, there is a better path to funding which consists for most scientists of writing detailed proposals and hoping for the approval from a committee of fellow scientists.  In addition, there are much larger amounts of research funds in most modern nations.  At any rate, research funds are typicall increasing in most countries.
···However, the current system could still be improved.  Currently scientist funding depends heavily on past performance.  New scientists are in a little bit of a bind-their chances of getting approved of a document are helped by having preliminary data but in order to get the so-called preliminary data they must have funds for grants.  What often happens is that scientists end up writing grants that are follow-ups of something already done in a senior scientists laboratory.  What this means is that new grants are largely not original or exciting or risky.  In fact new, exciting and risky work has the least chance of being funded.  As a consequence of predicating grant approval to past performance, scientific work proceeds slower than it otherwise would have.
This problem has been acknowledged and recent initatives have been proposed to deal with it.  From a US public perspective, the National Insititue of Health (NIH) offers new programs for ‘risky’ projects.  Additionally the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for research does not require any preliminary data for grant applications.  The Gates Foundation also does not require a university affiliation-anyone with an idea and the means to solve the priority problems set out by the Gates Foundation can receive funding.
···These new funding programs could be a model for how funding should be done.  However they are still small fractions of the total research budget.  Most funding still goes to senior researchers doing not very original work.  A Sept. 2009 article in PLOS biology by Peter Lawrence covers the deficiencies of the current funding system.  One idea proposed in the paper is that all scientists of a particular level get a certain amount of funding per year-say $100,000.  In five years, the performance of the scientist is evaluated.  If the project has progressed, more money could be available thus bringing the scientist up to the $125,000 level.  If the project does not show progress, no increased funding is made availabe and in fact a level decrease may be warranted.  In such a way, all scientists receive funds to do with as they please to do.
Bionomena strongly supports such a funding program and further suggests that not only faculty members but also graduate students and post doctoral researchers should be included in this level program although at different levels.  For post-doctoral students, many are ready to undertake an independent research program and are not able to primarily due to the fact that, being not categorized as faculty members in a university, are unable to obtain grants and must do so through a faculty member sponsor.  Graduate students should also be allowed to participate in an independent research program although not at the beginning of their training.  It is possible for first and second year students to spend 100% of their time on the lab priorities of the laboratory they are in with this percentage decreasing in subsequent years.  Such a system would provide ideal training for graduate students to be ready to undertake their own projects.
Scientific progress depends highly on the undertaking projects with little chance of success but with high rewards if there is success; Bionomena hopes support for scientists who are willing to take on those risks is forthcoming.

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