Wet Blanket

December 31, 2008

As you prepare to welcome in the New Year, do me a favor will you? Reflect on the past month or so of the drinking season. Have an Uncle Joe or Aunt Sally who just seems to be wasted all the freakin’ time? Realizing just how many bottles Grampa goes through in a week? Maybe think you, yourself, may be getting a little out of control?
This is not the place for diagnosis, of course. Not of yourself, and not for Cousin John. Internet sources of information on addictive disorders and alcoholism can help but these are best simply at getting you to contact professional medical care.
Oh yes. That’s my main plea. Addiction is a medical problem with medical solutions. They are not highly effective solutions at present in the sense that current practices cannot easily or immediately cure every dependent individual. Clinical intervention can be extremely helpful to some individuals.
What about New Year’s Resolutions? Can willpower do the job? Sure, just as with metabolic disorders where willpower in controlling the amount and types of food one eats can be helpful. Some people will be able to cut back on drinking simply by realizing that they need to do so. Again, as with metabolic disorders, some cases require or can be improved further by clinical care. If we thought we had diabetes we would not resist seeking medical attention, would we? Or hesitate to recommend it to Dad? Let us think of alcohol use disorders the same way. Make a Resolution, will you?

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w00t to the Skloot!!!!

December 31, 2008

Please welcome the newest addition to ScienceBlogs in the form of the Culture Dish blog. The About page of author Rebecca Skloot:

She financed her undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences and nonfiction writing by working in emergency rooms, neurology labs, veterinary morgues and martini bars.

That should make the sale right there, my friends. In case you are the cautious blog shopper, take a gander at her very impressive chops or check out the old Culture Dish blog.

Zuska found an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing how scholars generate new ideas, and a nice conversation about it is going on at her place. I have some ideas of my own that have been expressed to some extent in the course of that conversation, but I thought I would collect them and organize them here.

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The not-just-for-science-bloggers-anymore, thank you, conference ScienceOnline09 is scheduled to include a session on Race in Science moderated/facilitated by Danielle Lee (Urban Science Adventures) and Samia Ansari (49 percent).
The blurb describes the session as follows:

The issues of gender and race are related and have overlaps, yet there are differences as well that need to be explored. If there is no profile picture, most readers will automatically assume that the author is white. What can be done to promote minorities blogging? How can blogs by minorities be used to attract kids into science careers? How to get and make allies? What allies can and should be doing? How the Web provides new methods and means for action and effecting positive change.

Preliminary posts soliciting contributions from readers have been posted by Danielle Lee here and here and by Samia Ansari here.

Take the Money and Run

December 27, 2008

In a recent episode of “Ask Dr. Isis“, the domestic and laboratory goddess fielded a question from a person underrepresented in her field of endeavor:

I’m a black female graduate student … I’ve been very careful in choosing schools and advisors that seem to value my ideas and potential, not just the diversity I can bring to a brochure photo. At the same time, I recognize that there are doors open to me that are unavailable to the vast majority of people in my field- fellowships that seem tailor-made for my circumstances. I’m not one to turn down free money, but at the same time it makes me feel as if I’m something of a novelty item, a token, or in the worstcase, a fraud who’s only there because of her skin color and reproductive system. It can be hard to tell if this stems from my own insecurities, or if this is something I should be genuinely concerned about.

I absolutely hate it that people are made to feel this way. Unsurprisingly, as with most academic one-upsmanship and tear-downsmanship it is based on the underconfidence and personal failings of the one doing the tearing, not the limitations of the one being dismissed. Nevertheless, I hear questions related to grant/fellowship seeking and I perk right up.

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The discussion following one of PhysioProf’s posts on scientific authorship got long and discursive, bringing in a whole host of interesting issues. Many cover tired old ground, some are novel and fascinating and some seem tired and old but may have a little bit of life.
beets advanced a familiar complaint of trainees who, having worked their beets off to get on authorship lines see some senior investigator pal of their PI listed for no apparent work.

when I was in grad school my PI ordered me to list 3 other professors as co authors on all my papers, even though those professors contributed zero to the papers (all they did was show up to meetings, sometimes…and then still not contribute anything useful)….the only thing these honorary authors did was share the grant that funded the work thereby providing my salary and other money and lab space.

In response, Professor in Training sighed:

Are we REALLY going to get into these arguments again? They have already been covered ad nauseum

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Happy Holidays!

December 24, 2008

Best wishes for a well deserved pause in your busy lives DearReaders. Science and career can take a break while you enjoy your families, friends and recreational pursuits.
Cheers to all!

An interesting ethical issue has arisen as a sub-topic in our discussion of co-first authorship. One of our commenters asserted that he encourages his co-first author trainees to list their name first on their CVs even if they are not actually listed first in the published paper:

There is one pub from my lab that has joint first authorship. We tried very hard to make it not so, and it was a topic of some heated discussion, but there was really no fair way around it. I tried to get J. Neuroscience to use a slash instead of a comma in order to make clear the joint first-authorship (as in ‘Author A/Author B, Author C…’), but the reply was: “I think the “contributed equally” statement will have to suffice. It not journal style to add a slash between names. I will, however, check into it further and let you know whether we can make an exception, but as of now I would venture to say no.” It never went anywhere after that. The paper is shown on my web page with the slash, however, and I have encouraged the authors to use the slash on their CVs and reverse the name order whenever they wished.

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Co-First Authorship

December 22, 2008

Co-first authorship is a sham, and only serves as a political compromise to placate non-first authors. Grant/fellowship peer reviewers and hiring or promotion/tenure committees understand this, and therefore give little additional weight to the designation as co-first author of a second or third author. In addition, the designation co-first authors does not take any weight whatsoever away from the first authorship of the first-listed author. I will leave it to our readers to figure out why this remains the case even if there is a footnote stating that the co-first authors are listed in alphabetical order. (Just to be clear, this pertains to the biomedical sciences; co-first authorship may have a different significance in other disciplines.)
UPDATE: Check this shit out!
The second and third authors are asterisked as “equal contributors”! What a motherfucking joke. The only people in the entire world who could possibly give a shit about that are their parents. HAHAHAHAHAH!

Most of the time on the blog I get to address maybe a tenth of an argument; on a good day it maybe sneaks all the way up to a quarter. This works because for the most part the rest of the issues are assumed to be out there in the commentariat and readership. I assume I get into issues that are at least partially familiar to my readers. Over time, with multiple posts, a topic may be more or less covered, especially if other blogs are talking about the same issues from other perspectives.
At times however, I can get to assuming a little too much about the breadth of an argument space. One of these areas is when I knock on the whiny, disgruntled postdoc perspective. My blindspot is that I usually feel that postdocs (particularly the blogosphere variety) are bright and reasonable assertive people who have no trouble standing up for their rights and indeed are a little over the top with self-interest. So my comments on issues such as authorship and the ownership of data generated in the lab trend toward asserting the unique position of the PI as the ultimate decider of disputes, too bad.
I recently had reason to consider my positions in the context of cultures less familiar to me in which it is rumored/stereotyped/perhaps true that submission to authority is a little bit more pronounced than in a typical postdoc of my acquaintance. If such individuals exist, my prior words might be taken in an unintended way.

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Female Science Professor has been posting on a specific area of career mentoring frequently expressed to new faculty as “don’t get to big for your britches, junior!”. It is a familiar theme of internal departmental advice and a not-infrequent StockCritique of NIH grant review as well. In her posts, FSP has been promulgating this sort of harmful, fake helpful career “advice” that makes my blood absolutely boil. In not just one but two consecutive posts!
Even the doyenne of prof-blogging needs to be taken to the woodshed now and again…

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writedit is astonished! A “bombshell” Policy Forum in Science details the porkbarrel politics of NIH grant funding and finds that from 83-02, anywhere from about 3 to 6% of NIH funding was directly attributable to political effect.
Politics and Funding in the U.S. Public Biomedical R&D System
Deepak Hegde and David C. Mowery
Science 19 December 2008:
Vol. 322. no. 5909, pp. 1797 – 1798
DOI: 10.1126/science.1158562
My more consistent readers (which apparently do not include writedit) will find this all unsurprising. It is really cool, however, to see some workup of numbers. You know I love that noise.

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boxing_squirrel.jpgA fascinating discussion point has arisen in the context of discussing a recent paper in PLoS ONE.
Wang X, Sun Q, McGrath SD, Mardis ER, Soloway PD, et al. (2008) Transcriptome-Wide Identification of Novel Imprinted Genes in Neonatal Mouse Brain. PLoS ONE 3(12): e3839. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003839
The comment thread is, as of this writing, populated primarily by one contributor with responses by the senior author. My eye was drawn to a comment exchange that focused on issues of crediting other work and publication priority.

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It’s been a rough patch over the past two or three years for many NIH-funded research programs. This is not news. The NIH budget flatlines, combined with inflation in the cost of doing biomedical research (BRDPI is a well understood acronym by now), resulted in a budget that undoubled the doubling period. The growth in the research infrastructure that was facilitated by the doubling of the NIH budget had to be pared back. Painfully.
In many ways we are starting to partially adjust. PIs have closed or slimmed their shops. Departed all-soft-money jobs for lower profile institutions with hard money. Left for industry. Decreased the size of their labs. The NIH grant pressure has (seemingly) slackened a bit. Whether because of the reduced demand, because NIH ICs finally got their houses in order and smoothed the payout stream or because some of the 5yr commitments from the end of the doubling finally started to subside I don’t know. Things seem ever so slightly better in the past 6-9 mo.
And now, the other shoe is falling. The local Universities are going broke and putting another squeeze on the research scientists.

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Commenter AREfromSW asked a couple of probing questions about whether and how the NIH deals with the question of increasing ethnic diversity in the funded PI population. Before this gets away from me I thought I would hit a couple of conceptual highlights (read, lazy posting ahead).

DM, I wonder how many were male minorities at your meeting?

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