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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BikeMonkey GuestPost
Some of you are probably unaware, since the DM claims the traffic has exploded over here at Sb, but I used to coblog with these two clowns over at WordPress. I did not, however, assimilate. Don’t ask. Okay, there was that one post, sue me. Anyway, sending DM some funee pictures got me lured back into their shenanigans. Sortof. Okay, I accepted a guest login account and learned how to copy some text out of the clearly superior WordPress backend jobber and paste it into this MT editor. I promise nothing. (Although, cycling season is upon us and I am eagerly awaiting, as no doubt are you, this season’s new and exciting ways to cheat with pharmacology.)
Until we get to that, on with the funee pictures…
So I was just walking along, minding my own business when I happened to look up. Oh my….

I thought I’d better investigate further…The sign in the window makes a bunch of claims about holistic consideration of all the drug you are taking. Sounds good. Drug interactions are the suxxors. Inside I went….

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The Examiner has a piece up decrying the fact that “Federal Programs Gave Addicts Street Drugs” (Bill Myers, 03-26-09).
OMG! That sounds horrible! Why on Earth would the US government be doing that?

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One of my academic societies, namely the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, has a Facebook group page. At present there are over 100 people* following the group with nothing happening. Maybe about three posts on the wall.
This brings up the obvious question.
What role can a Facebook group possibly play in the function of academic / scientific societies?
I realize this is part and parcel of some larger questions about the role various so-called Web2.0 functions and features can play in the conduct of science as we go forward.
* my failure to recognize many names suggests to me that this is primarily an exercise for trainees at the moment.

I am…

March 25, 2009

I am a friend. A friend to women who I met when I was 5 years old, ones I met in high school, college, grad school. Women I met as a postdoc, as a faculty member, as an inhabitant of my community. They work in any number of professions from publication to politics to public health to scientific research to mainstream media to education, etc, etc. Many different walks of life. Many of them experience uncomfortable moments, sustained toxic work environments and/or flagrant discrimination in their working lives. I like my friends. Their continued happiness and well being is important to me.

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So by now, you have noticed that the Kirsh and Mooney of The Intersection have moved from the Seed Media blog enterprise to the Discover magazine one. Adjust your bookmarks! In this they follow the prior move of Carl Zimmer of The Loom. In case you are wondering what the Discover magazine blog effort is all about, a Columbia Journalism Review bit published a few days ago overviewed the Discover blogs and leaked the move of what turned out to be The Intersection.

When a team of investors, led by Bob Guccione Jr., purchased Discover from the Walt Disney Company in 2005, one of the first things the management team did was build a significant Web presence, according publisher and CEO Henry Donahue. Within the last year, the site has added a feature called 80Beats, which aggregates and analyzes daily science news, and a number of “outside” blogs. In addition to Zimmer’s blog, Discover picked up two others: Cosmic Variance, run by a group of astrophysicists, and Bad Astronomy, run by Phil Plait, a former researcher turned full-time blogger. Both of those were formerly independent, but next week the site will add another “top-ten” blog from the community.

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A recent episode of typical concern trolling of a science blog blipped up over at White Coat Underground, where PalMD has been rocking the daddy blogging of late.
Commenter Bill Williams expressed the following thoughts:

… I read science blogs to enhance my understanding of nature and scientific methods. …Obviously this is your blog and you can do whatever you like. I’m sure I speak for others when I say that too much fluff with lower your readership, i.e., I am likely to unsubscribe. Thanks for the great work (when it really is work).

Pretty standard nonsense around ScienceBlogs, wherein the commenter kindly notifies one of us that our blogging content is not what s/he would like to see. To which the response is usually a jawdropping disbelief that anyone thinks that we blog to satisfy their personal view of what the blog “should be about”. Don’t let the door hit ya where the good FSM split ya, is the preferred response.
Nevertheless, I see something a bit more interesting in the specific reason for this person’s objection to PalMD’s blogging.

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In the year 1899 an American cyclist won the world championship in the 1-mile track event. In those days, track cycling was what really mattered and cycling was a reasonably big deal. So this was an event in sport. An even bigger deal was the fact that Marshall “Major” Taylor (Wikipedia) was black. This fact was, likewise, important:

The League of American Wheelmen, then the governing body for the sport, banned blacks from amateur racing in 1894, just as bicycling’s popularity surged.

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As I cannot restate enough, some of our Readers were very generous during October’s DrugMonkey Blog Reader Challenge as a part of the other ScienceBlogs’ participation in the Bloggers Challenge. One of cool parts of DonorsChoose is that the teachers and children who have benefited from donor funded projects send Thank You notes.
I have just received another batch which I thought I would share with you.
Before you check those out, I thought I would mention another opportunity for you to support young scientists. In this case, 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!) [Update: I just noticed that the APS has 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.]

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