There was a really interesting letter in the journal Nature on Thursday, “Australia’s grant system wastes time,” which was about how much time goes into preparing a grant for funding with Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (in Canada, this would be the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and in the US, the National Institutes of Health). The authors of the letter did a survey of Australian researchers and found that it took, on average, 38 working days to prepare a new proposal. They extrapolated their survey data to estimate how much cumulative time was spent by Australian researchers who applied to the NHMRC preparing grants, and estimated thatn 550 working years of research time was spent on this endeavour. As with all federal funding agencies, only a small percentage of grant proposals get funding. In 2012, that was 20.5% in Australia. So, basically, about four centuries of cumulative research time was wasted, with no return on the time spent. The point of the letter was to encourage the NHMRC to simplify the application process to decrease the time wasted.
But there’s another insidious drain on research that goes unrecognized and I think really has manifested itself only in the past 10-ish years with the explosion of self-help publishing as well as the widespread adoption of social media that permits easy viral sharing of ideas; and that is the constant distraction of sensationalism.
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