Archive for: September, 2017

FOIA for fun and profit

Sep 05 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

"I'm not saying you should do it, but I understand"

Recently folks were all a twitter about a BuzzFeed article on science grants being FOIA'd. This isn't a new new thing. My googles turn up a bunch of articles from at least 2009 including some on this here website. Understandably there seem to be mixed feeling about this. Some folks may be targeted by outside groups looking to get "dirt". I get that concern. The recent article is more about that guy you see at conferences FOIAing your grant. There may be some concerns about 'scooping' the intellectual property for your Opto start up. Black out as needed, I suppose.

Me, I personally wouldn't do it or suggest that people FIOA grants.


I think I understand why someone might see this as a useful or even necessary thing to do. When I read the quotes from the articles it seems less like someone trying to jump in and scoop Optogenetics 3.0 for Nature papers and profit. It seems more like junior scientists who feel like they have no idea why some grants get funded and others don't. I think most would agree that reading grants is useful in writing them. That's the basic logic of NIH's little "sit in on grant review" mechanism. Learning about the grant game is useful in playing it. The entire grant enterprise is a bewildering black box. I can't emphasize that enough. I empathize with folks who might feel desperate for information. Not everyone has these ideal mentoring experiences when they ghost write R01s and compile modular budgets as grad students.

"Almost all of the FOIA requesters who responded to BuzzFeed News said they were not interested in the specific plans detailed in the grant proposals, and simply wanted to learn how a successful bid for funding was put together."

I don't know these folks so who can say what there situation or reasons are. Maybe they just like bureaucratic mechanisms. Maybe they're jerks. It's worth considering why they may feel the need to resort to this. Maybe the flow of information and how mentoring "ought to work" isn't working for them. This seems mostly seems like another example of what people do to navigate the fog of war in their own science careers.

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