Dr. Free-Ride has been grappling with the question of scientific ethics which as been a fantastic series of reads. Now she’s calling me out for some of my commentary. The call out also comes with a handy Manifesto. I have some thoughts.

The Free-Ride manifesto starts off with assumptions:


  1. All scientists appreciate the need for honesty in reporting scientific findings and the wrongness of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism.
  2. Despite (1), a certain (alarming?) number of scientists nevertheless engage in fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism with some regularity.
  3. A certain (even larger?) number of scientists are aware of the scientists who engage in fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism.
  4. The known bad actors seem to get rewarded, rather than smacked down, for committing fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism.

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In a recent post, I suggested that official NIH-speak to the effect that a “majority” of respondents to a NIH Notice on the topic of shortening the R01 application was disingenuous. I was interested in the specific numbers and now we have them. There’s a nice PowerPoint by Robert Finkelstein (NINDS) and Don Schneider (CSR) up on the April 19, 2007 minutes of the Peer Review Advisory Committee (PRAC) site. From this we learn that of their sample (it is not clear if data are from the whole 5078 or from the 500 “randomly selected” for full analysis) 27% wanted to keep the 25 page format, 43% wanted to go to 15 pages, 22% favored 10 pages and 5% favored 5 page applications (3% no-response). So my suspicions are mostly unfounded but it still bears answering why they didn’t just report the bloody numbers in the first place. Nevertheless this bears some examination. 5 pages? I think we can safely assign this 5% to the unserious/nutcase/random response circular file. I mean, 5 pages, really. That leaves us with 71% of the serious sample in favor of shorter and 29% in favor of not changing. So yes, this is a pretty good majority in favor of shorter applications. My suspicions were unfounded thus far.

I’ve pointed out before why I think shorter apps will disadvantage the younger investigator. Despite the fact that in the PRAC data New Investigators are, if anything, more in favor of the shorter applications, 27% of the sample agrees with me that the New Investigator would be disadvantaged (43% say no disproportional impact on any of a number of categories). We also learn that 65% of respondents think that review criteria should be changed to emphasize ideas and impact (29% nay). Indeed. This is absolutely essential. Perhaps things are going to go in the right direction on this one.