View Single Post
Old April 12 2014, 12:52 AM   #32
Location: Kentucky
Re: Interesting interview on the state of science

Well, first off you've asked

Here is my challenge to you.Can you provide a solution to the problem you started a thread to discuss?

If so can you make it one paragraph in length, maximum 200 words?
If a CEO asked me that (and I get cussed out a lot by them), I'd have to reply "Well sir, that's retarded."

There isn't one method that is optimal for funding, managing, and conducting all research, despite what you might be inclined to think. That's a common failing with bad management, who tend to seize on a method, codify it, and turn it into "the system." The idea that there's the same 200-word solution to a nearly infinite universe of circumstances (well-understood problems, poorly understood problems, unknown problems, wicked problems), organizations (research institutes, wings, sites, and departments, along with hospitals, production facilities, nuclear weapon labs, rain forest field stations), priorities (need it now or we all die?), staffing levels, and goals is, quite honestly, retarded, and comes from an alternate universe where the Soviet Ministry of All-Innovations isn't just a joke.

Government minded folks tend to think there's one best way to do something, if not everything. In the real world there are countless of different circumstances and a vast range of possible management structures, and the best one for a particular problem is often shifting in real time as the problem evolves, which is often how real-world research problems are addressed. During the Apollo program both government and industry learned a vast new array of management techniques, because the prior ways of organizing large research and engineering projects were completely inadequate to the task. I gave a good book on Apollo System Management secrets to a highly-stressed executive at Dell, which is still in the PC business, while the management at IBM stayed with their system of holding endless meetings (where anyone in a white shirt could veto a solution until they retired by referencing the appropriate codicils from the shelf of rule books) until IBM sold the PC line to the Chinese, who quickly gave up in frustration.

And often when you do rely on centralized decision making and bureaucracy, much of what's generated is just really brilliant ways to outwit it. When I was eighteen my first job was programming in a biomedical research lab (the same lab were Story Musgrave worked), which I got because they needed a Forth programmer for a data analysis package and I had just written an elaborate Forth interpreter in assembly language. But the university had a hiring freeze, so they cleverly ruled me to be a computer peripheral that was attached to a keyboard. Anyway, we kept getting high-end PC's for data collection while the rest of the university suffered under an extended hold on any new computer purchases, because every department was in a stampede to get their secretaries and other staffs equipped with laser printers and Microsoft Word. One day some other department heads were visiting our lab and asked how we were managing to get so many PC's when they were stymied. We said that we just tack on a couple extra thousand for high-end A/D converters and data collection equipment. Over the next six months, until the bureaucracy figured out what was going on, secretaries all over the university ended up with really nice computers with laser printers and high-speed A/D cards that took up two slots.

In research, everyone has an almost endless supply of anecdotes and stories about the strange ways around roadblocks, and the bizarre things that somehow get funded and published, and all the little tricks to getting a grant approved.

So no, there's not going to be a 200-word solution to all the world's research problems. Only Dilbert's pointy-haired boss would even ask such a question.
gturner is offline   Reply With Quote