BikeMonkey GuestPost
I had comments in the past on the topic of cognitive performance doping. You know, taking drugs to artificially improve how smart you are so as to gain a competitive advantage over your non-drug-taking peers. Doping. Just like sports doping. My prior comments on the WP blog were in these two posts.
Doping is A-Okay According to Nature.
November 14, 2007

Ha. Of course this is a considerable misrepresentation and minimization. Caffeine (prescribed by BM for “falling asleep in 4pm seminars”) and nicotine (ditto by a colleague) are also good for focusing of attention, improving memory and other GoodThings for complex brain function. Considerably more than 15% of students and “anecdotes” of “postdocs and academics” use these cognitive enhancers I can tell you. Sucks that they are addictive drugs, but them’s the breaks. I mean, we gotta function in our jobs, right?
But let’s get right down to the point in the Nature editorial, eh? Wouldn’t you become addicted to crack if it would cure “tumor development”? I mean surely if Nature believes a little chronic Ritalin (methylphenidate) is called for just for “memoriz(ing) a postulated signalling pathway” relevant to cancer they can get behind addiction for a cure, right?

Performance Doping in Academia, Take 2
December 19, 2007

The original commentary then asks, in essence if it is “cheating” for otherwise normal people to use cognitive enhancers. The central consideration is that we’ve already crossed that Rubicon. Caffeine and nicotine being the primary examples. It is completely acceptable, particularly in the case of caffeine, to brag on use of this stimulant to confer unnatural and unfair advantage over the competition in academic performance. From undergrad, to grad to professordom. Any argument that tries to overlook or minimize this reality is completely bogus. “I wrote my last grant on Modafinil”, “I wrote my last grant at the local coffeeshop” and “I wrote my last grant on Adderall” should have precisely the same ethical implications. The legal status, common acceptance, route of administration of the compound, specificity of the compound, etc have nothing to do with the ethical question of “cheating” by taking a cognitive enhancing compound.

This story just won’t go away. Today’s offering is from a PBS broadcast on smart drugs on a program called These Days.

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As many of you are aware, the UCLA research community has been under assault from the Animal Rights Activist community for a couple of many years now. There has been an escalating series of attacks on the individual investigator’s homes and property, the most recent being the successful fire-bombing of a researcher’s car.
This researcher has been instrumental in creating a chapter of Pro-Test in the UCLA community.

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HHMI Early Career Awards

March 31, 2009

While we are talking about stable funding, tenure and the value of scientists following their noses heedless of these issues, what should appear in my mailbox but a note from a reader about the HHMI Early Career Awards.

HHMI will provide each Early Career Scientist with his or her full salary, benefits, and a research budget of $1.5 million over the six-year appointment. The Institute will also cover other expenses, including research space and the purchase of critical equipment.

w00t! That sounds like a very GoodThing does it not?

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This month’s Scientiae is being curated by Candid Engineer, and the topic is “Overcoming Challenges”. Comrade PhysioProf has previously alluded to the fact that in his experience, the most important single character trait required for success in science (or any creative professional pursuit) is persistence. This is because persistence allows one to overcome challenges that seem insurmountable.
Inside the crack, I provide an anecdote from my own career that illustrates this maxim.

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A brief note to remind you of the opportunity to support young scientists. Isis the Scientist of On Becoming an Domestic and Laboratory Goddess blog has partnered with the American Physiological Society to fund an award for an undergraduate woman who has submitted a superlative research abstract for their Annual Meeting.
Go visit Isis for all the details, all she’s asking for is your eyeball, viewing her blog pages for the next few weeks. If you are feeling a tad more generous feel free to click the PayPal link on her sidebar and send a couple of bucks her way. It’s for the junior scientists!
The APS has also opened up a special line on their donation page for the David J. Bruce/ISIS Award fund. In case you want to directly donate in that way.

A Post-Tenure World

March 29, 2009

Regular bombthrower commenter whimple opines thusly in a recent comment:

The solution is to get rid of tenure altogether. That way the universities can just fire people who can’t compete for grants, which will automatically take care of the problem.

The original post was on a UK funding agency’s new policy that, if translated to the US/NIH-funded environment, would be a career ending policy for many scientists.
Another regular commenter, qaz, defended tenure:

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Prof-like Substance picked up on something I’ve been neglecting to cover after a correspondent* sent me the link. A policy from a funding agency which is intended to cut down the peer review burden. A policy with very nasty implications.
Prof-like Substance wondered what would happen if the NSF adopted a similar policy:

if NSF were to put this policy in place it would completely change the way I apply for funding. As of right now, I have two different grants under consideration at NSF and I plan to submit another in July. I submitted my first one last July, before I arrived here, and that one was not funded and did not receive very high ratings because of the lack of preliminary data. If the resubmitted version of this grant (submitted in January) and the most recent grant that just went in (two weeks ago) were to be similarly ranked, I would essentially be shut out from funding for the following two years. Rather than getting feedback on different proposals that as a new investigator, I would instead either have to change my research focus and apply to a different agency (a scenario where having preliminary data would be unlikely) or be looking at shutting down the lab and finding work elsewhere.

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