The man who takes money for granted

At a time when many US scientists are strapped for funds to keep their projects going, that veteran of science politics, Dr. Grant Swinger, director of the Center for the Absorption of Federal Funds, is doing very well, thank you.

He told his longtime friend and confidant Daniel S. Greenberg, publisher of Science and Government Report, that ''adaptation is the key.'' He says his center is busy organizing and managing projects that appeal to the present administration, such as a conference on technological lag, a study for the school lunch program of ''how little you can feed kids before malnutrition sets in,'' or development of a mega-chicken the size of a pony to out-compete the Japanese in bioengineering.

Swinger, who claims he's ''not likely'' ever to run out of grantable projects , says, ''there's more money floating around than ever for our kind of work, but you've got to be able to pitch your case to the politics of the moment.'' He adds that having a ''Russian angle'' helps, such as a secret study of how the US can attain strategic superiority by doing nothing about the MX missile.

Happily for those who would profit from the Swinger example, Greenberg has published a distillation of 20 years of Swinger wisdom (''The Grant Swinger Papers,'' by Daniel S. Greenberg. Published by Science & Government Report, 3736 Kanawha Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20015. $3.95).

Here one can find advice on how to live well at the federal trough by organizing an open-ended proliferation of studies and conferences. A prestigious academic position helps, as in the case of Swinger's Pan American Chair. That's not a Latin American studies appointment, but a seat on Pan American World Airways. Conflicts between teaching and research, which sometimes arise with such positions, are easily resolved by doing neither.

Swinger brings a wealth of experience to his observations. Among many other things, he helped build NASA (National Animal Speech Administration) during the 1960s, being among the first to respond to the presidential call ''to teach an animal to speak in this decade.'' Looking back on that, Swinger says, ''The lessons of history are there for us to read. Let us hope that we can read them clearly.''

His friend Dan Greenberg is not likely to let us forget them. Along with his more staid efforts, Greenberg's good-natured satire of science politics has not, as they say, been without influence. His gibes have hit many a deservedly sensitive target. As he notes, ''Grant is fashioned about three-quarters from an eminently successful operator I have been blessed to observe, with bits and pieces from various other characters making up the balance.''

Hmmmmmm! I've always wanted to write a perceptive satire about science journalism that features a character modeled about three-quarters on an eminently successful operator. Better invite Dan Greenberg around for lunch.

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