Monday, October 19, 2009

Unexpected results of shortening or extending R&D budget

Z. P. Garmendia et al.
IEPS (Institute for Excellence in Poverty Studies), Tijeruelas de Abajo, Spain

During episodes of global economical crisis, some unconsidered governments seriously threaten to restrain or limit the Research and Development budget of their public National programmes (see CurrRevol 07/10/09). This causes uneasiness to most senior researchers and draws back potential vocational trends among young fellows. However, no proof-of-principle has been provided to date that a shortening of funds should necessarily lead to a shortage of scientific productivity in qualified research teams. To provide insight into this topic we selected three cohorts of scientific teams working in Biomedical Sciences in public institutions, such as Universities and public Research Institutes, and devised the following experimental layout: For scientific teams in group A, we cut down 37% of their running budgets during 12 months; group B was provided with an extra 37% of budget with respect to the current figures; and the budget of group C was left untouched, as control. Several parameters of scientific excellence were subsequently measured. Researchers in group A showed an enhanced ability to improvise to situations of stress and react to problems. For instance, upon a fake fire alarm behavioural experiment, they chose to save their pipettes, whereas the control group did not. Also, they changed their providers from the usual Biotech companies to second-hand flea market facilities, and the Nespresso machine at the office was substituted by an economic removable-filter coffee maker in a significant number of cases. In addition, they tended to shift from ‘–omic’-based approaches to classic Genetics and Biochemistry (one gene, one enzyme, one reaction, one paper). They diminished their expenses in fungible, reagents and software, but spent more money on pencils, tape, toothpicks, aspirins, alcohol and toilet paper. No suicides were recorded among these researchers, but nervous breakdowns were more frequent than in the control group. As a consequence, hair loss was more acute in male researchers of this group than in the control, whereas females manifested a relatively high frequency of alterations in their menstrual cycle. Communications to congresses were rarely observed, unless appointed as invited speakers. They published approximately the same number of papers through the period studied, but somehow they managed to reduce in 37% the impact factor of the journals that dared accepting their work. We conclude that cutting down funding to researchers impairs their yield but stimulates their creativity, although not always in the right way. Surprisingly, the group B did not produce more Science or increase its quality either. Principal investigators attended meetings, workshops and congresses in exotic locations, such as Hawaii or the Seychelles. In consequence, these researchers were more sexually promiscuous than those from the control group, leading to loss of concentration in their research projects and, in some extreme cases, to changes of sex. Reagents and fungible material were abundantly purchased by these groups but stored without apparent usage and never used. Upon a fake fire alarm experiment, they chose to save only their wallets. Genomic, proteomic and metabolomic approaches were often followed, but only to accumulate bulky sterile datasets in their computers. In the end, most publications produced by these teams were review articles. Furthermore, one suicide was recorded. Apparently, the deceased had tried in vain to bribe a Nature editor by offering him a huge amount of money to get his work published in the journal. In sum, we conclude that money does not make happiness, but limiting it may be a threat to the sanity of our most gifted researchers at public Research Institutions.

1 comment:

  1. ZP Garmendia et al suggest that shortening public funding may threatened researchers' sanity. However, our own unpublished observations and those of others (across the hall) show that these cuts in fundings do not affect sanity. Instead, they inhibit researcher production and in 95% of the cases studied, lack of funds completely abolishes production and research communications. Moreover, this lack of production provokes changes in career path and working place. These changes cover a wide range of options that result in calmness and spiritual peace for the researcher. Hair loss is abolished, tea replaces coffee and life has a new colour. Nevertheless, our preliminary results suggest that there may be some residual expression of the gene Morriña (Mor), which does not affect overall tranquility.
    In sum, funds shortening does not affect researcher sanity, but instead contributes, in the long term, to researcher's happiness and spiritual completeness.
    We look forward to these funds cuts...