How A Growing Number Of Funders Play The Grant Lottery

Per a famous quote that world-renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein said, "God does not play dice." However, people do, and so does the Health Research Council of New Zealand when it comes to giving grants.

Grant Lottery

Getting grants for your scientific work is not easy since a lot of factors come into play. There’s the topic, the impact it can possibly give, and in some regards, whether you’re a minority or not (which is an unfortunate societal problem). However, there are some councils that seemingly join the lottery whenever they give grants, assigning funding and money randomly. One such example is the Health Research Council of New Zealand, which is just one of the many funders that bid.

For example, David Ackerley, a biologist at Victoria University of Wellington, had his name come up in the council’s yearly lottery, and was thus awarded NZ$150,000 (US$96,000) to develop new ways to eliminate cells for it.

As such, traditional experts and organizations have called for them to stop, despite it having its own set of pros and cons.

“We didn’t think the traditional process was appropriate,” Lucy Pomeroy, the senior research investment manager for the fund, which began its lottery in 2015, said.  According to her, the organization is trying to encourage new ideas since the grant itself aims to shake up transformative research. Some agree with her.

“Random chance will create more openness to ideas that are not in the mainstream,” said Margit Osterloh, an economist at the University of Zurich, who studies research governance and organized the meeting, which was intended to promote the idea among academics.  According to her, existing processes are inefficient, and can do a whole lot more to the reduction of bias in selecting applicants. Furthermore, it’s also believed to improve diversity across many genres, and gives minority scientists the same chances as those that are backed by wealthy institutions.

Of course, some think the idea is not all that useful.

“I think there’s a lot of value to writing a high-quality proposal,” Ackerley added, despite benefitting from it.

Scripps Research Florida Mathew Gardner, PhD, and Christoph H. Fellinger, PhD, worked closely with mentor Michael Farzan, PhD, co-chairman of the Scripps Research Department of Immunology and Microbiology, on the study. Scott Wiseman/Scripps Research

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