Grants and grant reports

A large proportion of funds for science are obtained by scientists, not from their employers, a research institution or university, but rather from specialized national or international grant agencies. A scientist thinks up an interesting and feasible grant project, describes it in detail and exactly calculates the funds required to resolve it. Then he or she submits the proposal in a grant competition, announced by the individual agencies, usually once annually. The officials first exclude all the proposals that did not meet the relevant formal requirements (form B-6 was not accompanied by a confirmation from the Vice-Dean for public relations that the animal facilities do not currently keep duck-billed platypuses infected either with foot and mouth disease or bird flu) and then send them to a number of scientists (usually applicants from previous years – whose addresses they have in their databases) for expert evaluation. On the basis of the expert reports obtained, a commission of experts of the particular grant agency (consisting of scientific workers who keep an eye on one another) establishes an order of the submitted proposals and a few percent of the best projects are then financed. Projects usually last three years and each year the responsible worker submits a report on the results obtained and the manner of managing the funds. The present system has the great advantage that it tends to favour the capable and hard-working rather than the incapable and lazy, that it promotes cooperation amongst the employees of a single institution (who are not competing for a joint package of institutional funds) and that it limits the potential for intervention by easily corruptible officials and politicians. It has the disadvantage that it tends to favour short-term projects with predictable outputs, that chance plays a considerable role in the allocation or non-allocation of funds, specifically in the reviewers that receive the project for evaluation and their momentary moods, and also that creative scientific workers are buried under mountains of paperwork. It is said, but this will most probably be only a rumour, that experienced scientists write grant proposals for projects that they already have more than 75% completed. They then use the allocated funds for work on new projects that, if they turn out well, can become the subject of the next grant application. And worst – some of us even insist that there is no other reasonable approach as it is a well known fact that scientific discoveries can, in actual fact, not be planned in advance.

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