Of late there has been quite a bit of consternation over a very long comment left by one D. Noonan on the NIH OER director's new blog. Check DrugMonkey's excellent posts on this here, here and here. You should also read (if you have the time and patience) some of the comments following Noonan's.
All this reminds me a similar kerfuffle last year over funding at the NSF. Anyone remember the "NSF is Broken" forum?
What appears to be in common between these two outbreaks of "oh my gawd the NIH/NSF funding system is borked!!!!" is that a great many of the people claiming this are tenured individuals who are now finding it difficult to get funded. I'm not going to address whether or not these systems are broken (although they could be improved, I don't believe they're "broken"), but I do want to talk about an issue I've observed with some "established investigators" who now can't land a grant. This is anecdotal stuff, but based on conversations with colleagues, not unusual.
Times are tough in grantland. NIH funding has pretty much been flat for quite some time. In fact, with inflation* the NIH budget has declined significantly. The NSF has fared somewhat better, but not a lot despite Congress' resolution to double the NSF budget. It's getting more and more difficult to land a grant from either agency. For everyone. Sure, the ESI/NI initiatives have made it easier for young, untenured investigators to land their first grant, but that's really only leveled the playing field. And even if you qualify for those initiatives it's not easy. Single digit success rates? If you believe Jeremy Berg's numbers at NIGMS, perhaps not that bad. But not good.
Actually, why don't you go read all of that particular post of Berg's? I'll wait.
Interesting isn't it? Okay, it's just the numbers for NIGMS, but I seriously doubt that the data from the other Institutes would be all that different. A couple of interesting things about those numbers. First is that the funding rates are in double, not single, digits. The rates are still pretty bad, but not the doom and gloom some people are preaching. Secondly, and perhaps more apropos, ESI/NI's are not receiving a disproportionate slice of the pie. Not even close. These are two of the main "facts" the unfunded established investigators tend to throw around when
whining discussing their own misfortunes.
Now it is quite likely that the current funding downturn is responsible for many of the funding woes of those established investigators claiming the system is borked. Times are tough indeed. But it's definitely not the NIH's ESI/NI policies that are at fault. And for some, those who inspired the title of this post, it's not even the downturn.
In my experience, those who complain the most about being unfunded are also those whose work just isn't fundable. Despite countless reviews telling them that what they're doing is just not worth pursuing, these individuals persist. 'Cos they know better. It's always the reviewers who are wrong. Always. These PI's know they are right, and they're going to stay wedded to their ideas. Til death do they part.
Some (likely very, very few) of them may be right. But that doesn't matter if the reviewers and funding agencies can't be convinced.
The rest of them? Well, they're wrong.
I understand what it's like to be told your research is at a dead end. It sucks.
But you need to listen.
Especially if you're being told the same thing again and again.
Blaming your woes on others might get you attention. It may even lead to changes in the system. Changes that aren't necessarily needed.
But it won't get you funded.
* In my experience the cost of equipment and supplies for research increases at a rate far above normal inflation.