FOIA, copies of your best-beloved Proposal, and Sharing

Sep 12 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

There's been some talk on the internet about FOIA'ing copies of funded proposals, not directly available from NIH or NSF. This was one of the first things I read by Carey and Woodward from Buzzfeed. This is from Small Pond Science, Terry McGlynn. This is from Edge for Scholars author, Flighty Squirrel.  McGlynn's comments, in particular, as Flighty Squirrel points out, are very useful and cover a lot of ground.

These are all good, and I encourage you to read them.

I think this is a case of something that sounds great in theory, becomes a lot more like sausage making when one confronts it up front and in person and about one's own work.

Full disclosure: no one has FOIA'd me yet, probably because not one gives a hoot about my bunny hopping grants. But something did happen that made me think again, about one's best beloved ideas.  And yes, this is a different incident than the one that prompted the post linked to in the sentence above.

So in theory: sure, everyone can have a copy of my proposal. Heck, if you can study bunny hopping the way I do, knock yourself out. If my writing can help you get funded, I've done something for the community. That's the theory. The broad sweeping view when the particulars are hazy and in the distance.

Except, of course the community is a zero sum game. This is something McGlynn points out: that he wants to help people at HIS university more than at other ones. So if I help someone, its not who doesn't get helped, it's who doesn't get funded?

I was contacted by someone who was working on hopping locomotion, but in small kangeroos. Different enough, different aspect: evolution of hopping vs. physiology of hopping. A younger someone, but part of a Big Dog Group. A group with a lot more money than me. A lot more people to run difficult experiments. We exchanged pdfs, and I sent her the abstract of my proposal. and the Specific Aims. Dumb, dumb Potnia.

An email came whilst I was on vacation: while they are still working on kangaroos, the younger someone wants to start doing physiology. "It's of great concern to clinicians". Especially the kind of data you are collecting. "We would like to get that kind of data too". And she wants to come and see my lab so that she and BigDog can duplicate the equipment and protocols and setup I have. My equipment isn't unique, but by and large it's in a different field - more biology than biomedicine (where the kangaroo researchers dwell).


Now, I may or may not ever write another grant (one of the things McGlynn considers). But I have trainees who have taken this or that part of my bunny hopping studies and made them their own. I am not sure how I feel, let alone what I  should do. Where does collaboration end and hurting oneself and one's offspring begin? Is that even the right paradigm to see this in.

Maybe I am naïve, but responded that of course she was welcome to visit. But could we talk about collaboration? Pooling resources? Working together? I have no idea of it's feasible. Or not.

2 responses so far

  • Morgan Price says:

    I think it would be more fair the all funded grants to become public information, perhaps with some delay. They should be citable, too, like another kind of preprint. I wonder if will FOIA all the grants and make this happen.

  • Anon says:

    In my field, I have noticed that the people who get on their high horses about the importance of "sharing" are the most well-funded/least vulnerable.

    They treat sharing as a moral issue, without acknowledging they are operating in their own self-interest.

    A completely "open" environment offers the greatest benefits to behemoths with the bandwidth to hoover up information and churn out papers, while threatening the very existence of niche players who have cultivated a small propietary garden.

Leave a Reply