Dear science funding agency;
I understand the desire for anonymous reviewers. I understand the reluctance to negotiate the terms of our engagement. I understand the reasons not to put proposers in touch with competitors who are also potential collaborators. I may not agree with these approaches but I understand them.
What I can't understand is why I have to act as if you were on a distant planet.
I can't understand why I don't get to put together a powerpoint presentation, and why I don't get to respond to reviewers' questions until it's too late.
It's clear that reviewers misunderstand proposals. Of course they do. That's not a criticism. It's an inevitable consequence of the complexity of what we do. These things are complicated, and your reviewers have a limited amount of time to get the idea.
The formalism of printed documents with tight page limits is just silly. It's proven every time we get our reviews back. Reviewers frequently miss the point. Didn't some of your reviewers miss the point of your last proposal? Most of them? Shouldn't we be making some efforts to be sure we understand each other?
Better ways have been developed to convey complex ideas. They are called "presentation" and "conversation".
I want to do what I would do in a business setting. I want to look you in the eye and explain to you why you would be foolish not to fund my proposal; i.e.;
1) that you have a problem,
2) that I know how to solve it
3) that my team has or can find the right people to solve it
4) that those objections which make any sense are already accounted for in the plan
If I can't look you in the eye, could we at least try instant messaging?
Why do you insist on presentation mechanisms that are practically guaranteed to fail to communicate the ideas and address the objections?
Why do you refuse to talk to me? What is the purpose of making multi-million dollar investments in an information vacuum?
Thanking you in advance for your prompt reply.
Update: Bryan Lawrence has substantial things to say about this, on his blog.
The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.
- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)