Of Bubbles and funding

I am writing to attempt to describe my opinions after reading a very insightful commentary written by Gregory Petsko in the September issue of Genome Biology ( doi 10.1186/gb-2008-9-9-110) titled “When Bubbles Burst” .

In that article Greg Petsko analyses the parallels between the current Economics bubble and the Big-science bubble ( my words). Just as we can attribute the financial bubble to the un-regulated growth of the financial industry , we can possibly attribute the many problems ailing the research establishment to the un-regulated growth of the “omics” bubble.

We all have witnessed the move of all Science into the genomic age. We have witnessed the gradual shift of federal research Dollars to consortium based science. Whether it is the cancer genome or structural genomics , there has been a pronounced shift in way we all do science : Bigger it seems is better and data gathering has gained a precedence over hypothesis testing .

The argument being made often , is that from all this data will come better hypothesis which can then be tested in the future . When the big-data prevents us from arriving at any cogent and testable hypothesis , our answer seems to be more big-data .

We have all seen good researchers get caught in their respective “omics” bubbles. And with every such bubble , small labs that dont jump onto the bandwagon tend to  suffer. Of course all  of this would be useless talk if funding were increasing , but as Greg Petsko states , the “pie is finite”

I think the time has come for us to rethink the way we treat fundamental research . When funding is tight , It makes sense to postpone our big-data projects and concentrate on using our infrastructure to concentrate on “smaller” science which research more manageable projects . Give individual labs the funding they need to probe the hypothesis that we have built up based on the available data.

Disband the consortia ( or leave them to industry) and divert funding  back to our research labs. There is no better way in my opinion to survive the current funding crisis.

Disclaimer: These are heavily influenced by the fact that I am in an academic establishment and have never directly worked on any genome level project.

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3 responses to “Of Bubbles and funding

  1. Hari,

    You make a compelling argument. Am I correct in that you’re arguing for a movement to a distributed model of science? If so, I would like to add to that the need to place increased emphasis in facilitating communication and data exchange between small labs.

    Chris

  2. Sydney Brenner saw this coming over ten years ago, when the bubble was getting going. Someone should dig up his inimitable (though Greg tries very hard) comments on old issues of Current Biology (some though not all of them were collected as “Loose Ends”).

  3. Pingback: Of Bubbles and funding | Plos Biology

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