December 7, 2007

The DM recently used the pejorative term “boondoggle” (Wikipedia, fwiw) to refer to the larger NIH funding mechanisms like Centers and Program Projects (the “P Series“, a comprehensive list of NIH mechanisms is here).

What think you all?  If you’ve been funded under or associated with one of these things, what are your takes? Good thing? Bad thing? Do you see consistent trouble spots for their operation?

Are they a big ol’ waste as DM seems to think?

11 Responses to “Boondoggles”

  1. physioprof Says:

    Right now I think they totally suck, because I have no money from them. If I get some in the future, check back with me then.


  2. bikemonkey Says:

    Why do I think this is going to be the modal honest response….?


  3. physioprof Says:

    PhysioProf says what others dare not.


  4. Perhaps I’m odd, but I was part of a NCDDG as a grad student (back in the last century) and participate in a current P01. From a program standpoint, I feel that the program really does have intellectual and technical synergies that would not exist if our subproject was simply a free-standing R01. But from a budget standpoint, our share is far less than we’d get from an R01 (P01s got cut 24% at award this year).

    So, even if you get one, you’ve still got the budgetary pressure everyone else has.


  5. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Perhaps it is a subfield/culture thing. In my subfield they are common, and in my experience they are often useful for producing strong clinical/translational research. A well-functioning Center can represent an effective intermediate structure in the sociology of science, leveraging the creativity of individual investigator-driven science and the technological edge of truly Big Science. I think DM needs to provide some examples to justify his accusation of boondogglery.


  6. neurolover Says:

    I think centers/programs can actually support the greater endeavor through what might also be their strongest weakness: a tolerance of occasional or periodic mediocrity. The investigator initiated “honest” competition for RO1s is very intolerant. People who are successful at it play the game very systematically, publishing on a regular predictable schedule, saving risky projects for the “last” cycle year (or not doing them at all). People can sink under water and drown because they had a bad year. Program projects/centers can save people through those periods. That means mediocrity is tolerated, but it also keeps the whole system more stable, and allows people freedom that they wouldn’t other wise have.

    The price paid is that sometimes a mediocre project gets continued through a program project/etc while a better RO1 goes unfunded.

    But that gets us back to the point of why people talk and talk (about new investigators, biased grant review, conflicts of interest . . . ) and nothing ever changes. Nothing will change until the enterprise itself starts failing. I don’t see that happening any time soon, even though I think individual will suffer greatly.


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    “DM needs to provide some examples to justify his accusation of boondogglery”

    the indictment breaks down as follows.

    1) That these are inherently undemocratic. Your chances of getting one are tied to your being in the ICs OldBoyClub. If you are in a Center-grabbing University, you are in good shape if you are in the middle of Kansas somewhere you are SOL.

    2) The “synergies” are too often a bunch of BS. The Cores serving a rather limited subset, even within the Center/ProgramProject. People blundering along most of the time acting like independent R01s, only to fake it up a bit come renewal time.

    3) Inertia. My perception is that these have a low chance of getting dropped on competitive review. This could be my limited experience.

    4) or perhaps 1a. You tend to be old and gray by the time you luck into being a component or even project director. You all know where I’m going with that one…

    5) the Site Visit review. If getting to put on the song and dance is so critical, why not for R01s too? The Site Visit permits lots of the ticky tack stuff to be addressed, interestingly this is a suggestion that came up in the PRAC meeting as a possible improvement to general R review.

    With that said, PhysioProf nails it. If you are in these things it is a very GoodThing. I have been associated with a fair number of these, usually in a very small way. So yes, I understand all of the benefits you all identify. Large scale and/or longitudinal human clinical subjects work almost requires a Center to get anywhere. Big expensive equipment like MR imagers, ditto. And don’t get me wrong, despite the indictment I’ll try to get in more of these things as the opportunities arise. But I fully recognize the selfishness of it…


  8. physioprof Says:

    NINDS has a new explicit policy of only allowing a single renewal of P01s and P50s. I have also been told that they have an informal policy of strongly discouraging the submission of any new P01 applications.

    “There is a ten year limit on awards for all P01s and remaining unsolicited P50s.”


  9. drugmonkey Says:

    “unsolicited” potentially being the key here. most Center that I am aware of came into being through solicitations (that means RFAs, right?). And at least in NIAAA, which is heavily into Centers, they get renewed via RFA as well. So who get’s unsolicited P50s funded?

    I’m also hearing discouragement of Program Projects, this dates back at least a year. It was actually kind of sad watching someone get all revved up for a P01 while Program was discouraging the submission. I was sitting there thinking “Ok, Program is actually discouraging you from submitting an application. They never do that so you better pay attention”.


  10. physioprof Says:

    ‘“Ok, Program is actually discouraging you from submitting an application. They never do that so you better pay attention”’

    There is some kind of analogy to dating here. The only difference is that it takes a lot more effort to prepare a futile P01 application than it does to make a futile request for a date.

    In relation to P01s versus P50s, there are a lot more P01s out there than P50s. And the 10-year policy applies to *all* P01s.


  11. bikemonkey Says:

    Okay, let me try to pull this one back on track a little bit. My fault what with the “boondoggle” bait and all.

    But moving along and assuming a BigMech was as given, what advice would you have for making sure one worked better than the average pic-i-nic basket? What commonalities have you seen that you would avoid like the plague? etc. Trainees too, do you like being associated with BigMechs?


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