Disgruntled NSF Investigators On the Internet!

June 11, 2010

Prof-like Substance has found a new forum:

Funding for science is tight right now. No one knows that more than I and the stack of rejected grant proposals I have on my desk. For a lot of people the shifting climate sucks and for new people it can be be painful to get one’s foot in the door. But, is this in itself proof positive that The System is broken? Aureliano Buendia* thinks so.
This morning I was sent a link to a new forum for discussing the “problems” with NSF and what can be done to fix it. Specifically, the creator of the forum states its purpose as discussing “What problems have you had with NSF? What creative solutions have you come up with to these problems? The forum is designed to address such issues. Let’s bring out our best ideas, and hope that NSF pays attention.”

Head over to Prof-like’s place for the link to the (currently) open forum of NSF whingery.

17 Responses to “Disgruntled NSF Investigators On the Internet!”

  1. Eric Lund Says:

    I had a look at Dr. “Buendia’s” little forum, and I’d like that five minutes of my life back. The dude comes off as a clueless whiner. (“Aureliano Buendia” is almost certainly a pseudonym, as it is the name of a major character from the novel Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez. I don’t blame Dr. “Buendia” for using a pseudonym, since if he used his real name he’d be even more certain to never get funding.) Among other things, he doesn’t seem to grok that different types of research have different funding requirements: a theoretician at a SLAC needs considerably fewer resources than an MRU experimentalist with equipment costs alone running to six or seven figures. He also rants about overhead rates, which are not necessarily the fault of NSF (at my institution it’s HHS that approves our overhead rates, even though most of our research is in physical rather than biological sciences).
    As for whatever shortcomings NSF may have, I find their process a whole lot more transparent and user-friendly than NASA’s. NSF’s Fastlane system at least had ease of use as one of the design criteria. NASA’s NSPIRES system inspires me to throw origami boulders (in lieu of something that could actually do damage) in the general direction of my monitor due to the gratuitously user-hostile interface.


  2. Odyssey Says:

    He’s a whiner alright. And apparently quite ignorant of how the NSF functions. It’s a pity really. The NSF isn’t broken (IMHO) but it isn’t perfect. A decent forum for discussing how the agency can evolve isn’t such a bad idea.


  3. Odyssey Says:

    By the way DM, the title of your post isn’t quite accurate. Dr. “Buendia” is disgruntled because he isn’t an NSF investigator.


  4. Neuropop Says:

    Perhaps the only complaint that I would have with the NSF system (and this from someone who has an NSF grant) is that the review process is more of a crapshoot than the NIH Study Section mechanism.
    1) The composition of the panel is unknown (as is the mix of ad hoc reviewers). So you really don’t know your target audience. I know, I know, this might prevent the formation of the Old Boys/Girls club a la NIH.
    2) As a consequence of 1), there is no institutional memory. So a resubmission can get totally different reviews. Given that neither manuscripts nor NIH proposals are treated this way, I think is a major flaw.


  5. whimple Says:

    The NIH proposals are supposed to treated this (no institutional memory) way. That’s why a resubmission is not anchored to a previous score.


  6. Neuropop Says:

    “The NIH proposals are supposed to treated this (no institutional memory) way..”
    The scoring is a reflection of what else is being reviewed in the cycle. Hence there might be no relation to a past score for an A1. However, at least the illusion, perhaps, of improving the proposal in response to comments exists. Moreover, anecdotally at least, at least one reader is constant for multiple submission rounds, something that is not at all guaranteed in NSF reviews.


  7. QoQ Says:

    Whiner or not, the NSF review system is completely broken.
    First, the identity of the reviewers is not public and changes from submission to submission — so you can’t target a grant.
    Second, NSF has a policy for selecting a lot of non-funded investigators as reviewers. Coming from the NIH system, I thought this sounds great. But in practice it just means there are a lot of clueless and bitter loosers on the panels (Hah, I know this because I did manage to find out who was on my panel, officially!)
    Finally, at least where I submitted the SRO and PO were the same person, so the dude had complete discretion about who to fund.
    All in all, the system is a complete crapshoot. I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on NSF — 3 rounds of waste.


  8. The NIH proposals are supposed to treated this (no institutional memory) way.

    Dude, what the fuck are you talking about? The resubmission system is explicitly designed to embrace institutional memory of the prior review. And the competing renewal system is as well: for a first submission of a competing renewal, the reviewers are given the summary statement from the previously funded competitive application.
    And beyond these formal rules, more than one SRO has told me that they specifically try to keep at least some assigned reviewers the same on resubmissions.


  9. The fucking NSFIsBorken fuckbag just deleted several on-topic comments I left on his stupid fuckbag forum. What a dumbfuck.


  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    Lemme guess, you used naughty words?


  11. Maybe I said “fuck” a couple times? I don’t remember.


  12. whimple Says:

    Dude, what the fuck are you talking about?
    Reviewers are instructed that the purpose of the comments is to evaluate the application, not to help the applicant submit a stronger grant next time. As you know, the -A2 submission is already history and the NIH seriously considered bagging the -A1 as well in the last round of “reforming peer review”, and/or bagging the “introduction to the revised application”. The NIH review goal for the future seems to be to fund good-scoring applications on the first submission and not to have people get in line by creeping their score downward with progressive “revisions.


  13. Let us know when your fantasy world becomes reality. Those of us who serve on study section know that it is currently all about the following: identifying the shit that should be funded now, identifying the shit that should be funded never, identifying the shit that can be improved to be fundable, and telling the latter PIs how to improve their shit to make it fundable.


  14. whimple Says:

    It’s the NIH’s fantasy world, not mine. The NIH in many respects has abdicated the control over their funding to the study sections where members “know what the reality is”, which sometimes matches programmatic interests and sometimes doesn’t. This is a key difference between the NSF and the NIH: the NSF doesn’t so much have standing study sections that develop their own “culture and expectations” and the NSF program officers have considerably greater funding discretion than their NIH counterparts. Of course, this could be either good or bad depending on your perspective.


  15. DrugMonkey Says:

    Oh c’mon whimple, obviously the best system is that which gets *me* my research funding with the least effort.


  16. Dude, why do you keep whining about how PIs should be advocating for the “good of the scientific enterprise” or some such bullshit? What are you, a motherfucking commie socialist?


  17. Gummibears Says:

    The NSF review system is better for new science, IMO. The NIH, conversely, is a venue for distributing academic welfare among the members of the club, and the peer review process there just serves as a pseudo-scientific disguise.


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