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Kevin Gross – Burning money? The inherent inefficiency of grant proposal competitions in allocating research funding, and possible alternatives | GES Colloquium
January 21, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EST
Burning money? The inherent inefficiency of grant proposal competitions in allocating research funding, and possible alternatives
Speaker: Kevin Gross, Ph.D., Professor of Biomathematics and Applied Ecology, NC State
Note: This colloquium will not be livestreamed.
Scientific research funding is allocated largely by soliciting and ranking competitive grant proposals. In these competitions, some of the funding program’s impact on science is squandered because applying researchers must spend time writing proposals instead of doing science. To what extent does the community’s investment in proposal preparation negate the scientific impact of the funding program? We use the economic theory of contests to analyze how efficiently grant-proposal competitions and alternative funding mechanisms advance science.
We find that the effort researchers waste in writing proposals may approach the total scientific value of the research that the funding supports, especially when only a few proposals can be funded. Moreover, when professional pressures motivate investigators to seek funding for reasons that extend beyond the value of the proposed science (e.g. promotion, prestige), the entire program can actually hamper scientific progress when the number of awards is small. We suggest that lost efficiency may be restored either by partial lotteries for funding, or by funding researchers based on past scientific success. This is joint work with Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington.
Kevin Gross is a mathematical biologist at NC State University and worked with the second GES Center IGERT cohort on the ecology of invasive rodents on islands.