Thursday, February 11, 2010


The Department of Energy is giving out grants. Research grants.

DOE Secretary Steven Chu recently announced recipients from across the nation will receive about $85 million in total funding for five-year research grants.

Under the program, university-based researchers will receive at least $150,000 per year to cover summer salary and research expenses. Awards were given in advanced scientific computing research, basic energy sciences, biological and environmental research, fusion energy sciences, high-energy physics, and nuclear physics.

Awardees were selected from a pool of 1,750 university- and national laboratory-based applicants. Selection was based on peer review by outside scientific experts.

A list of the 69 awardees, their institutions, and titles of research projects is available at [at the 1/14/2010 Update - ed.]
This is excellent news. We may actually get something useful out of this. But compare it to the cost. On average each project costs $250,000 with a minimum of $150,000 per project. It will cost $17 million a year to fund 69 projects out of a possible 1,750. That is 4% of the proposals. Which is pitiful. I'd like to know which projects didn't make the cut.

Let us look at the social dynamics of that. Every one who didn't make the cut is obviously in the top five percent since only the top four percent made the cut.

So what would I do about all this? I'd cover 90% of the reasonable proposals. That could be done for $400 million a year plus the usual graft and corruption overhead. And what about the sociology of picking so many? If you don't make the cut you are in the bottom ten percent. Perhaps that is too harsh. Maybe covering only 80% of the proposals would be better if we didn't want to totally demoralize the losers. That leaves all the losers in the bottom 20 percent. That would make them decide if science is for them, and if only just barely, do they want to put more effort into the hard part: thinking.

Here is a book I liked a lot on a related subject:

Managing the Design Factory : The Product Developer's Toolkit

The writer's thesis is that if half your research money doesn't end in failure you are not getting the most bang for the buck. You get the best return when you get a yes-no answer. The maybes can kill you.

And let me add that I got some good ideas from MirariNefas at Talk Polywell.

Cross Posted at Classical Values

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