Are You Having Trouble Getting Grants?

A few weeks before I left Berkeley, I ran into one of my psych-department colleagues in a supermarket. He said — this was before the financial crisis — that the grant outlook was terrible. The success rate for NIH grants was about 7%. He had had two grants; now he expected to have none. “Self-experimentation is looking better and better,” he said.

Today I got an email that began like this:

If your department’s economic outlook is looking bleak, like the rest of our economy, then we have some help available for you! Regardless of the nation’s economic condition, the federal, state, local, corporate and private foundation grant system in the US is quite healthy and can provide substantial supplemental relief to your budget woes. Grant money for equipment, training, vehicles and other needs is still available in substantial amounts and remains unaffected by the current economic crisis. Competition for this available funding is becoming more intense with more agencies than ever applying. You need an edge to win; we offer that edge!

CHIEF and 5.11 Tactical have teamed up for 2009 to offer our nationally recognized grant consultant, Kurt Bradley and his national grant writing seminars, for the affordable price of $149.00. Kurt and 5.11 will be in Las Vegas, NV on January 6th and 7th to instruct public safety agencies how to capture their share of this money. Chief Grants has turned hundreds of departments into successful applicants and winners for these funds, assisting agencies, just like yours, in obtaining more than $100 million dollars.

I was on the 5.11 Tactical mailing list because I had bought some pants that police officers often buy.

In Systems of Survival, Jane Jacobs wrote that there were two systems of morality, corresponding to two different ways of making a living: taking and trading. The first values loyalty more than honesty, the other values honesty more than loyalty. Police are firmly in the taking morality system, which pervades government. Science should value honesty, of course; but you can see that a dependence on grants pushes everyone involved toward a loyalty-based morality: If we tell the truth we might lose our grant. Modern science is indeed almost completely dependent on grants, which means results don’t really matter. What really matters is getting the next grant. One reason my self-experimentation was effective was it didn’t depend on grants. No matter what I found, no matter how strange or upsetting or impossible or weird the results might be, I could publish them and continue to investigate them.

9 Responses to “Are You Having Trouble Getting Grants?”

  1. Ben Hyde Says:

    Golly, did we read the same Systems of Survival?

  2. Mike Kenny Says:

    i guess business people might fund some experimentation in order to actually get a working g product they could sell. a problem there is if you’re working to find out something so you can sell it then you might not care to share your findings because that would be a trade secret. i guess you want to be rewarded for your findings, but at the same time, there seems like there could be a problem of useful findings being held by only a few due to their interests.

  3. seth Says:

    Ben, some of my info comes from a talk Jacobs gave about these ideas before she published the book. The talk was more straightforward — you could even say blunt — than the book. In the talk, the taking/trading distinction is very clear, less so in the book

    Mike, honesty is important in business because it is important that people fulfill contracts: accurately describe what they are offering to trade and do what they say they are going to do (e.g., after being given money, hand over the product). Without honesty in that domain, transaction costs become high, mistrust sets in, and the whole trading system breaks down. I think something like that is the explanation for what Jacobs observed. I think Jacobs said something to that effect.

  4. Mike Kenny Says:

    that makes sense. i think my main concern is slightly different–proprietary information–a hypothetical: you might have asked people to sign a non-disclosure agreement so they wouldn’t talk about your shangri-la diet, then disclosed to them the diet for a price. you could have given the diet away for free to some people who signed a non-disclosure agreement for the sake of getting testimonials, and have a money-back policy to show you believe in your product. but if this happened, the scientific community might be shut out of learning the new insights, or slowed down in discovering them, possibly.

  5. Patrik Says:

    Science should value honesty, of course; but you can see that a dependence on grants pushes everyone involved toward a loyalty-based morality: If we tell the truth we might lose our grant. Modern science is indeed almost completely dependent on grants, which means results don’t really matter. What really matters is getting the next grant.

    Beautifully well-put and accurate. One thing you could have fleshed out a bit further is that such systems go hand-in-hand with groupthink orthodoxy.

    Now, let’s put this observation into context. To wit, there is much more money to be ‘made’ in promoting ‘global warming’, than disputing. Therefore, a Popperian approach to proving global warming exists will never be funded.

  6. Economics of science « Entitled to an Opinion Says:

    [...] Cheap-skate self-experimenter Seth Robert’s shouldn’t be worried about getting grants, but he’s talking about them anyway here. Apparently even in these belt-tightening times there’s still money to be had. What I find interesting about the post is his use of Jane Jacob’s two moralities from Systems of Survival: the taking (aka guardian) based on loyalty and the trading based on honesty. Seth thinks that reliance on grants will make scientists more concerned with loyalty than honesty and afraid to publish results that Seth (who ain’t afraid of no McCloskey) wouldn’t think twice about. [...]

  7. Are solo authors less cited? Says:

    [...] Consider ,Seth Roberts‘ self-experimentation strategy and Roberts’s take regarding funding: One reason my self-experimentation was effective was it didn’t depend on grants. No matter what I found, no matter how strange or upsetting or impossible or weird the results might be, I could publish them and continue to investigate them. [...]

  8. tim backcat Says:

    Great information and usefull too. I need a grant and I need all the help I can get. I will be back soon as I have bookmarked your blog.

  9. Making up rational-sounding stories, rebranding atheists, novelists playing god « Mike Kenny Says:

    [...] Seth Roberts on how grants might corrupt researchers, and the benefits of self experimentation. My comment there: i guess business people might fund some experimentation in order to actually get a working g product they could sell. a problem there is if you’re working to find out something so you can sell it then you might not care to share your findings because that would be a trade secret. i guess you want to be rewarded for your findings, but at the same time, there seems like there could be a problem of useful findings being held by only a few due to their interests. [...]