Hypercompetition For Shrinking Funding
——————————— Severely Compromises Biomedical Research

..National Academy of Sciences of USA.. – “The idea that the research enterprise would expand forever was adopted after World War II, as the numbers and sizes of universities grew to meet the economy’s need for more graduates and as the tenets of Vannevar Bush’s “Science: The Endless Frontier” encouraged the expansion of federal budgets for research (1). Growth persisted with the coming of age of the baby boom generation in the late 1960s and 1970s and a vibrant US economy. However, eventually, beginning around 1990 and worsening after 2003, when a rapid doubling of the NIH budget ended, the demands for research dollars grew much faster than the supply. The demands were fueled in large part by incentives for institutional expansion, by the rapid growth of the scientific workforce, and by rising costs of research. Further slowdowns in federal funding, caused by the Great Recession of 2008 and by the budget sequestration that followed in 2013, have significantly exacerbated the problem. (Today, the resources available to the NIH [National Institutes of Health] are estimated to be at least 25% less in constant dollars than they were in 2003.) The consequences of this imbalance include dramatic declines in success rates for NIH grant applicants and diminished time for scientists to think and perform productive work.

… 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, risktaking, and original thinking required to make fundamental discoveries. Now that the percentage of NIH grant applications that can be funded has fallen from around 30% into the low teens, biomedical scientists are spending far too much of their time writing and revising grant applications and far too little thinking about science and conducting experiments. The low success rates have induced conservative, short-term thinking in applicants, reviewers, and funders. The system now favors those who can guarantee results rather than those with potentially path-breaking ideas that, by definition, cannot promise success. Young investigators are discouraged from departing too far from their postdoctoral work, when they should instead be posing new questions and inventing new approaches. Seasoned investigators are inclined to stick to their tried-and-true formulas for success rather than explore new fields.” – Ref. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1404402111

..Journal of International Microbiology.. – “More recently, focus group discussions have confirmed that competition discourages sharing and may even lead some scientists to sabotage competitors, perform biased peer review, and engage in questionable research practices (8). Scientific leaders have decried the detrimental effect of today’s hypercompetitive environment on science (9, 10). Hypercompetition may be driving some young people away from careers in science, and this may be particularly true for young female scientists (11–13).”

…Finally, while competition in general is good for science, as it leads to higher quality research, when taken too far, it suppresses creativity, collegiality and risk taking, characteris­tics that are all essential for groundbreaking discoveries [3]. In addition, the growing pressure to publish in top journals leads more and more scientists to cut corners, exaggerate findings and overstate the significance of their work [3], as is observed not just in the explosion of journal retraction rates [25,71,81], but is also diligently covered in the popular blog Retraction Watch [http://retractionwatch.com]. The main im­pact [of this] is that it also kills collaborative environments among one’s own team members, as graduate students and postdocs develop an “if I’m not first author what’s in it for me?” mentality, and it makes it harder and harder for them to work together. Clearly, this is not sustainable in the long term, and something has to change towards a healthier and more productive system if we, as a scientific community, want to continue producing excel­lent science and training well-balanced young researchers.” – Ref. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27611678/

Finally two staples of the above: One by a faculty leader undermining a to-be collaborator and the other from a report in The Stanford Daily:

..American Society for Microbiology. – “A vivid real-world example of the costs of naked competition recently arose when a prominent senior scientist discouraged a younger researcher from joining the faculty at his institution (15). The young researcher received an e-mail stating that the problem was that their research interests were too similar: I have a strong reservation about having you as a faculty colleague in the same building here at this time because of a serious overlap in research and approach…We briefly discussed the possibility of a collaboration. But this is complex… An additional drawback in logistics is about the shared resources and facilities… I, as Director of the Institute, took the major role in securing and designing rodent holding, behavior and transgenic facilities… I am afraid that accommodating your lab would be difficult… I am sorry, but I have to say to you that at present and under the present circumstances, I do not feel comfortable at all to have you here.

Soon afterward, the younger scientist took another position.., After an institutional committee found that the senior scientist had “behaved inappropriately,” he stepped down as the Institute Director.” – Ref. https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/iai.02939-14

..The Stanford Daily.. “Stanford [University] president resigns over manipulated research, will retract at least three papers – Marc Tessier-Lavigne failed to address manipulated papers, fostered unhealthy lab dynamic, Stanford report says.

The report concluded that the fudging of results under Tessier-Lavigne’s purview “spanned labs at three separate institutions.” It identified a culture where Tessier-Lavigne “tended to reward the ‘winners’ (that is, postdocs who could generate favorable results) and marginalize or diminish the ‘losers’ (that is, postdocs who were unable or struggled to generate such data).” – Ref. https://stanforddaily.com/2023/07/19/stanford-president-resigns-over-manipulated-research-will-retract-at-least-3-papers/


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