The180

A modest proposal to fund research in a different way

Johan Bollen says academic researchers spend too much time writing funding proposals and he thinks it's time for that to change. He explains why he thinks scientists should simply fund each other.
Johan Bollen, associate professor of informatics and computing at Indiana University, says academic research requires too much time spent on proposal writing and not enough spent on research and innovation. (Manusha Janakiram/CBC)
Listen8:48

When asked to describe the process academics go through to find funding for their research, Johan Bollen has two words: labour intensive. 

I've seen some estimates, that in Australia at least, about five centuries worth of research time is spent writing and submitting [funding] proposals...there's been other estimates of scientists or professors spending 40% of their time writing proposals. -Johan Bollen

Every year hundreds of millions of dollars is handed out by industry, government, research councils, and individual philanthropists. 

Bollen, an associate professor at Indiana University, argues it's a labour that could be better directed elsewhere.

And he's come up with what he feels is a viable solution: a model that lets scientists fund each other. 

It goes like this:

  • take the available funding for science each year and distribute it equally to academic researchers
  • require each researcher to donate to others a given fraction of all they receive

As a result, Bollen hypothesizes the money will circulate through the scientific community in a way that is favoured by the entire scientific community. 

The idea is that if everybody thinks you're a good scientist, then the funding that you need should be made available to you, and you should be able to make the serendipitous innovations that research is supposed to generate  - Johan Bollen

While he acknowledges that his proposal is unlikely to up-end the current funding model, Bollen is buoyed by the fact that his idea has gained some traction in the Netherlands. 

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