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Research News: Old Boys Clubs breed more Old Boys

I know this is outside the realm of Internet marketing, but my background is scientific research and I left that world for obvious reasons…that were not very obvious to everyone else at the time. Chalk this new research out of the SPIE and Academy of Arts and Sciences as one for the “duh” column, representing more stuff we knew but perhaps no one would care about until it was formally documented:

Programs and policies that support early-career investigators and high-risk, high-reward research are needed in order to preserve U.S. leadership in science and technology, contends a report released yesterday by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

We had to wait until the symptoms had become a disease, before acknowledging that the Old Boys Club does nothing but breed more Old Boys, at the expense of innovation and competitiveness:

As an example, the report notes that the average age for first-time recipients of primary research grants from the National Institutes of Health is 42.4 and rising, and that the success rate for first-time grant applicants has declined from 86 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 2007.

That’s your NIH, the primary funding mechanism for research and innovation in medicine and the sciences related to our well being. In other words, we’re not giving research grants to researchers until they reach their forties. As someone who left that world in my thirties, I can tell you two things: 1) the ones who stayed until they were in their forties to get their first funded research are not the sharpest shovels in the shed, and 2) that’s like saying you can’t do an Internet start-up until you’re at least 30. Yes, it is.

Think about it. How much innovation would we have if we refused to allow anyone under 30 to try anything new with this Internet thing? On the flip side, for those already over 30, with kids and such… how’d you like to take a small grant now and try and turn it into a successful innovative startup? The last time I had lunch in Silicon Valley, I heard someone say about the idea of working for a startup at age 40: “you don’t skate on thin ice with babies“. What do you think our funded researchers are doing when they get funded in their forties, with babies?

Disclaimer: I have great respect for many, many NIH researchers who have never received funding, or not yet received funding. I also have great respect for many who first get funded outside the NIH system, via companies and private foundations. Quite a few are good friends of mine. I don’t understand why they stay and shine shoes in the academic system, but that is their choice and I do respect them as individuals. However, across the board, what’s left looking for funding after 15 years of suffering the system of academia is not the best and brightest this nation has to offer. Those still trying should keep trying as long as their hearts believe. But the rest of us should try and effect some change.

One Comment

  1. Gab Goldenberg wrote:

    Fascinating post here Andrew. I love getting the background on SEOs I read n so on… pretty interesting. I’m actually trying to run my first controlled experiment in the SERPs now… perhaps we might talk about it on msn? Email me if you’re interested.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008 at 10:43 am | Permalink