Thursday, September 9, 2010

On the Dangers of Grants

One day after deciding to change formats I get some excellent food for thought. What luck! For the blog, not for me!

I'm currently working with several colleagues on a grant from a private organization. The time commitment has been well beyond what was specified in the agreement. In addition the organization has continuously changed their objectives, making our task that much more difficult. They have also expected us to do things that are beyond our capabilities given the grant size, and quite frankly some of the things they have in mind couldn't be done if we had a blank check. It has degenerated into a pseudo scientific endeavor that is devoid of any real policy relevance. All of the academics involved are sorry we got involved.

Now this organization is seeking to file suit against us for failing to deliver what was promised. Never mind that what was promised initially is nothing like what they now expect given the expanded demands they placed on us. This could get ugly quickly. I had to waste an afternoon that I didn't have chronicling for the third time my contributions to the project so my colleagues can show proof of the time and effort we have expended and hopefully stop this nonsense before it goes any further.

The lesson I draw from this is to avoid working with groups who have no idea what they're doing. The problem is determining who is stupid before you start working with them! I've come close to concluding that grants should be avoided at all costs, but I'm sure there are a few organizations that are intellectually honest and seek to conduct and support sound scientific research. I do believe though that this goes to show that just because a research idea is funded does not make it superior to an unfunded one. The lure of research dollars is quite alluring. However, that funding can come with strings that strangle you.

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