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Somewhat. Sinecures come in many forms.

Tenure's more important because it means you can say naughty but true things about the powerful without losing your job. As structured right now, in the physical sciences, a base salary won't support research.

Yes and no. In some fields, such as mathematics (applied & pure), one can squeak by without a grant, and many do. This has to do with the funding model in different fields -- math departments tend to have enough TA positions to support all their grad students, which lightens the pressure to secure funding. Of course the trade-off is time spent teaching lower-division courses vs actually doing research.

As for tenure, it qualifies one for all kinds of service. So job security is nice, no questions about it, but one has even less time for serious work (unless you are willing to say no to requests to serve -- and some of these committees do matter).

Like i said. In the physical sciences, you can't do it.

Math is not a physical science -- and you can get stunning breakthroughs without anything except a quiet room, a pad of paper, a pencil, and a trash can. (old joke: /s/math/philosophy and remove the trash can!)

This is not true if you're a microbiologist.

The funding requirements for theoretical physics aren't really any different from mathematics (and like mathematics, there's usually more than enough TA positions to go around).

Yes, that's true -- math is not a physical science in that sense. Though as another poster pointed out, theoretical physics is not so different from mathematics in this way, so perhaps the distinction is more between experimenters and theorists. (However, I've no idea what life is like for theoretical computer scientists without any kind of external funding support.)

You can do original microbiologist research on the cheap. For an extreme case, Einstein did useful theoretical physics without a lab.

Money vastly expands the scope of work you can do, but breaking new ground is often less expensive than making minor refinements to well understood areas.

PS: The real risk is will likely will go 20+ years without finding anything, but if you have tenure that should not be a problem.

You've never tried to buy a good microscope, have you?

Kitting out a lab to do publishable work in a lot of fields right now is just jaw-droppingly expensive.

Good optical microscope's are really not that expensive and last a long time. (AKA under 1,000$.) The equipment costs can quickly go up with new electron microscopes running 500k-6mill etc. But, restricting yourself to the minimum equipment 1 person needs for a specific kind of research is significantly cheaper than a more abstract lab.

Further, used equipment can often be vastly cheaper.

Honestly, time and consumables really are the biggest issues.

Any decent fluorescent scope + base + optics + laser + dichroic will run you well north of 250K. Just the objectives are 10-20K. Two photon, more like 750. You want to do funny stuff like FRET or PALM or STED? You'll spend 700 grand on parts, and a year building the thing yourself because nobody sells them.

You will not publish anything good enough to get tenure if all you have is widefield and a lamp in basically any biomedical field.

I am in no way saying this stuff is not really really useful across a wide area. Just not required for every topic type of research.

Further, the assumption is this is someone that has tenure but not funding and is thus able to take long shot risks. Think designing an artificial intestines for microbiome research, not yet another paper using E. coli.

Where are you shopping?

Florescent microscopes are in the low six figures and others are much more expensive. A confocal microscope is typically several hundreds of thousands of dollars, potentially approaching $1M if it has all the bells and whistles. Super-res and high-throughput imaging can also consume essentially infinite amounts of money.

You could probably get a usable brightfield microscope for around a $1,000 but realistically, you're not publishing much with that alone.

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