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August 19, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 30


Letters to the editor

Payment for help with grants

One of the big boxes that administrators at research universities like to check off before recommending tenure is success in grantsmanship. With limited funds available from federal agencies, significant pressure is now being placed not only on young investigators who seek tenure but on virtually all researchers. Along with this pressure has come the creation of companies that provide assistance for grant applications. For example, the Implementation Group, which is based in Washington, DC, and claims success in helping clients secure over $1.75 billion in funding, sends research proposals that are written by principal investigators to experts in their field requesting suggestions for improvement. In return for these suggestions, these experts receive a payment.

The problem with such assistance is severalfold. First, these paid experts may be making major contributions to the proposal—for example, by adding entirely new concepts. For popular grant awards such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (Career) awards, which seek to support the most talented young investigators, how do these agencies know who was responsible for the most important ideas? Also, how can taxpayers be assured that these investments are being made to the most talented young people?

Second, since these paid experts are likely to be among the most qualified researchers in their field, only less-competent reviewers remain available to the federal agencies for critically evaluating these proposals. Third, those researchers who choose not to use paid expert assistance are disadvantaged.

This use of paid experts runs counter to what our peer review system has been designed to achieve—that is, financial support is recommended for the best investigators and the best research ideas as judged by the best peer reviewers. A clear statement in every grant application that is submitted to a federal granting agency stating that no paid experts were used before submission would be a simple remedy.

If university funds are being used to pay for such assistance, it raises this problem to another level, especially when Career awards from the NSF and other federal agencies are involved. It is noteworthy, in this regard, that most untenured researchers are keenly aware that success in Career awards are now being used by many university administrators to check off one of their biggest boxes.

Steven L. Regen
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Supporting students of color

I read with interest the article in a recent C&EN issue presenting the Purdue University approach to fostering success among its Black engineering students (June 7, 2021, page 19). Overall, Purdue seems to be a commendable program with good success.

Along the same lines, I would mention the Mesa program in California. Mesa is designed to promote academic success for all students, with a special focus on people of color. Having taught with a Mesa club in California, I can attest to the focus, support afforded to the student, and most importantly, the fact that any technology student is welcomed to join the program. Academic support, team building among diverse students, independent research, and development of critical thinking skills are key aspects of the very successful Mesa effort.

Please consider an article on the Mesa program and its successes in California.

Robert Pellenbarg
Berlin, Maryland

Polysilicon from China

A low-carbon energy future depends in part on solar energy. Sadly, our green future is dependent on the use of slave labor in China.

China accounts for a significant amount of the polysilicon used for solar panels worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities in western China are in forced labor camps, some of which manufacture polysilicon. We as chemists and chemical engineers must demand that China cease their slave labor practices. The American Chemical Society should take a clear stand objecting to the Chinese forced labor. Industries and governments must stop importation of “blood silicon.”

Larry Lewis
Scotia, New York


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