In our last episode of “CongressCritter Meddling”, it was Rep. Issa (R; CA) who tried to amend some appropriations bill or other to prevent the funding of three specific NIH grants.
The latest round of heroes are Reps Joe Barton (R; TX) and Greg Walden (R; OR) who are asking the new NIH director, Francis Collins, to come clean about a list of grants.

With that in mind, Barton and Walden are puzzled by some of the grants that were approved: “Impact of Dragon Boat Racing on Cancer Survivorship”; “Substance Use and HIV Risk Among Thai Women”; “The Healing of the Canoe”; “Patterns of Drug Use and Abuse in the Brazilian Rave Culture”.
“We do not doubt that there may be some degree of scientific benefit to be gained from these studies,” Barton and Walden wrote. “However, given the number of urgent public health issues facing the NIH, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and pandemic disease, we question how peer review panels determined these projects to have ‘high scientific caliber’ and how they are particularly relevant to the NIH Institute and Center research priorities.”

It is the usual blowhard posturing. Want proof?

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The initial news reporting from Baltimore led with “Post-Doctoral Fellow Charged After Girlfriend’s Death”. Oh Christ.

A post-doctoral fellow at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has been charged with illegal drug possession after his live-in girlfriend, also a fellow, died.

Not. Good. Not good in the least.

According to investigators, Dr. Carrie Elisabeth John injected herself Monday with a drug known as “bupe” in the house she and McCracken shared.
Bupe is intended to help addicts break their dependency on heroin.
Court documents said John stopped breathing and was pronounced dead in the university hospital emergency room.

“Bupe” or buprenorphine [Wikipedia] is an mu opioid receptor partial-agonist used as agonist therapy for opiate dependency under trade names such as Subutex® and Suboxone®.

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Undergraduate students approach professors with research labs all the time about getting “experience” they think they need for something or other. Typically for med school application in the biological science areas. I think it is bogus to let them in without either 1) academic credit through enrollment in the appropriate course descriptor or 2) being paid an hourly wage, preferably minimum wage or above.
Making them Allowing them to work for nothing other than a recommendation letter, even if they are willing to do so, is exploitation pure and simple.
That’s how I see it anyway.
I was reading these interesting comments at The First Excited State blog recently. The author was responding to some idiocy from a Mark Cuban who of course would not possibly be where he is today be exploiting other people’s labor, would he? The First Excited State blogger sums it up succinctly:

So, let’s recap Cuban’s argument in favor of unpaid interns:
* Isn’t it great that so many talented people are unemployed? Maybe I can use this for my gain!
* Perhaps they will work for free in the name of gaining experience.
* They can also do the dirty work that would normally be done by “The Assistant to the Secretary’s Secretary.”
* They don’t complain, so it must be okay. Oppressed people always speak up, right? Or maybe they know we’ll blacklist them…

Cuban’s logic is basically that of the pre-worker-protection robber baron. If you can find someone desperate enough to work long hours, under unsafe and dehumanizing conditions for minimal compensation then you should be allowed to exploit them right? No? Than why is it okay to exploit the relatively well-off middle class college kid / recent grad who can afford to intern for free so that you can avoid paying a worker for the work you are receiving?
Don’t be a Cuban.

Female Science Professor related a tale of a scientist directing inter-laboratory rivalry in a remarkably petty direction:

Now consider a different situation – one in which a faculty member in Research Group 1 tells a recent PhD graduate of Research Group 2 that the student made a huge mistake in choice of adviser and had probably ruined his/her career by working with this person.

FSP has a nice dissection of laboratory conflict going but I was struck by a simple thought.
I must’ve ruined my career a half a dozen times…so far.

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BikeMonkey Guest Post
I was emailing drdrA the other day about a song I queued up for her blog party. What I was realizing is that I probably first heard this song when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. For whatever reason it stuck with me. I don’t know that I’d heard it in decades before I ran across a link or reference to it on some physical science / engineer-type blog (Sciencewomen, maybe?). I just don’t tend to chat about old mouldy folksongs with people, go figure. Anyway, I had a bit of a head-smacking moment, “duh, of course this is still an anthem for women in the engineering fields“.
This is the one:

In my recent convo with drdrA, though, I came to the realization that it is pretty likely that memorable songs with evocative stories like this are just as likely to be a cause as a symptom of my political development. Impossible to disentangle of course, it was no accident that certain folksongs were actually available in my environment. Many factors shape a young mind but hey, song lyrics are one of those factors.
So what the heck, if you haven’t heard this song before, I hope you like it. Maybe play it for your mini-STEM-in-trainings at home a couple of times.
I totally love dredging up all these old dirty fucking hippy songs on YouTube…I think I’ll start annoying my kids with them.

We recently took up the Save-the-New-Investigators defense of the NIH against charges that it is violating the order of primary grant review by untoward administrative shenanigans. I was unhappy with the graphical defense and created a better version. (I see Science repeated the graphical-communication error. They are to be complimented on including the perspective of total funded application numbers though.) NIH-PickupStats-300.png
data source
Whether achieved by close examination or by reformulating the graph, the conclusion should be that the NIH strategy of funding New Investigator out of priority score order only had the effect of equating this number with the number of established investigator grants funded out of order. Note that before 2007 Program were funding about twice as many established-investigator exceptions as new-investigator exceptions. Just sayin’. There is always some context here people. And for those that want to argue that the current support for previously-unfunded scientists is the end of the world and a brand new introduction of age-discrimination….ROFLMAO.
I thought we could take the next step and further the examination of NIH funding behavior. In this case the data are the success rates for all competing New applications (termed Type 1) by fiscal year. Calculations of success rates are a bit tricky but basically this shows the number of awarded grants divided by the number submitted for consideration in that fiscal year. So even including the seemingly dramatic increase in out-of-priority-order grant pickups for New Investigators in 2007 (and presumably for 2008), the success rate is still only brought up to the same as established investigators in 2007-2008. A rate which, I will emphasize, is still considerably below that enjoyed by established investigators during the heady years of the NIH doubling (now un-doubled).

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For the half-dozen or so of my readers who are actually drug abuse scientists I note the recent issue of the Newsline of CPDD contains an interesting observation from the Publications Committee:

In addition, there are an increasing number of information venues becoming available. As more and more people use forms of communication such as blogs, the microblogging site Twitter and social networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace, a move to utilize such venues for communication among CPDD members becomes more attractive. It will become important to discuss which of these venues will be useful for society communication.

I recently noted the Society for Neuroscience is trying (in their own way, chill out) to get with the social media program. The CPDD is far behind but at least thinking about “what’s all this TwitterBook and FaceBlog now?”.
How about your academic societies, DearReader? Are they getting with the Web2.0 program?