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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2001

Sliding Scale for Research Funding Deserves a Try

We welcome the fact that a timely and important book by Donald R. Forsdyke, "Tomorrow's Cures Today? How to Reform the Health Research System," was reviewed in the June 2001 Bulletin by Professor Neena L. Chappell.

At the same time, we are surprised the reviewer dismisses what we believe is the most valuable element in the entire Forsdyke offering, without saying why. This is the idea of a sliding funding scale for research grants.

Forsdyke is far from being alone in pointing out that the major flaw of the present-day research funding system lies in its insistence on the model of sharp cutoff in funding. Under the pretext of insufficient overall budget, numerous research proposals which are found scientifically meritable are not funded simply because they do not make it to the top of the pile.

While often hailed as a tool of fostering "excellence," in practice the cutoff model encourages easily publishable in-vogue data (do as others do), and, all assurances to the contrary notwithstanding, is strongly biased against real novelty and originality. Forsdyke's proposal, in a nutshell, is to replace a system of sharp cutoffs with a continuous funding scale based on peer review ratings.

We disagree with Professor Chappell that Forsdyke offers no solution. On the contrary, we are convinced that even if not all details could work exactly as Forsdyke envisions, his proposals and alternatives, such as baseline funding (see also B.J. Poulin & R. Gordon, "How to organize science funding: the new Canadian Institutes for Health Research, an opportunity to increase innovation," Canadian Public Policy 27(1), 95­112, 2001), deserve serious attention and practical experimentation within the existing structure of the federal granting councils.

Alexander Berezin
Engineering Physics, McMaster University

Richard Gordon
Radiology, University of Manitoba

Geoffrey Hunter
Chemistry, York University

Bryan Poulin
Business Administration, Lakehead University