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?

ODellLaura05.jpgLaura E. O’Dell, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Texas at El Paso (CV, PubMed, O’Dell Lab, Department Profile, Research Crossroads) where she investigates the rewarding and dependence-inducing properties of nicotine using rodent models.
I chose Professor O’Dell to overview in part because she is about 4 years into her Asst Prof appointment and therefore represents the recently-transitioned scientists that are a good part of our audience and blog-focus here. I think many in the drug abuse fields would view her career at present as reflecting one of our up-and-coming and highly promising young scientists who will shape our field significantly over the next few decades of her career.

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Why R21s Stink A Lot

September 23, 2009

A colleague of mine just sent me the following e-mail:

Dear Comrade PhysioProf:
I am reviewing an R21 A1 application that I did not review the original submission.
The stupid fuckers who reviewed the original submission dinged the only cool exploratory/developmental part of the whole fucking thing because it was a “fishing expedition” and “not well-supported by prelliminary data”, so the poor applicant cut that out in the resub. The only shit left is boring-ass crap that could just as easily be Specific Aim #2.A.1.c.ii of a boring-ass fucking R01.
Now I have to ding the poor fuck for not being “Developmental/Exploratory”.
Your Colleague

An article in the NYT [h/t: @salsb] is breathlessly aghast.

Managers at the National Institutes of Health are increasingly ignoring the advice of scientific review panels and giving hundreds of millions of dollars a year to scientists whose projects are deemed less scientifically worthy than those denied money.

The article gets a little better. It goes on to detail the NIH’s defense against the charge (see writedit link below) which boils down to “we’re saving the new investigators”. But it also continues with the skeptical tone that something is…wrong about Program re-shuffling the order of initial review when funding grants.
There is nothing wrong with this per se and in fact it is a good thing to have a multi-layered decision process.

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How indeed?

Protect Insurance Companies PSA from Will Ferrell

Earlier in the year D.N. Lee of the Urban Science Adventures! blog issued a call for a new blog carnival celebrating diversity in science, the inaugural edition made for some really interesting reading. I will be hosting an edition of the carnival: This one is is created in honor of the US National Hispanic Heritage Month [Wikipedia] which runs from 15 Sep to 15 Oct every year.
For a little background on the purpose and history of the celebration:

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.
The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period.

So I ask you to write and submit your posts in honor of scientists whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central or South America. Submissions can be submitted through the submission site, emailed to me (drugmnky AT the googly one) or left as a comment after this post. The last day to submit is Oct 9 so I can get these out in the last week of the celebration. Happy Writing!

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The Society for Neuroscience is encouraging members to blog and twitt the annual meeting in Chicago (Oct 17-22). As part of this they plan to highlight a subset of members on their website. The notion being that this will enhance the profile of your blog.

* Increased exposure to your blog before, during, and following the annual meeting
* An official “SfN Social Media” ribbon to wear at the annual meeting
* One Neuroblogger will be selected in a drawing to receive a new iPod nano
* The honor of taking part in SfN Interactive’s flagship year
Important Considerations
* By applying to be a Neuroblogger, from October 17 to 21, you are expected to write one or more blog entries per day about activities, events, and experiences related to Neuroscience 2009 in Chicago.
* SfN cannot provide blog hosting or online content management services. Your blog must be hosted by a third party host or yourself.
* You must be a current SfN member to submit an application.
* On the application, provide a link to your current blog(s) or writing samples from entries you’ve composed in the past, preferably during a previous scientific meeting.
* Selected bloggers will be categorized by theme but will not be limited to blogging about just that theme.
* Selected blog links will be posted on this Web site two weeks before the meeting and will remain until two weeks after the meeting.

You will need to fill out an application form by Sep 24 to be considered for official linkage.

A recent press release from the Society for Neuroscience informs us of the recent publication of two opinion pieces in the Journal of Neuroscience. One is by Professors Jentsch and Ringach and strikes a tone similar to their Letter to the Editor published Journal of Neurophysiology I mentioned previously. The J. Neurosci opinion by Ringach and Jentsch concludes:

We must now face the many threats to animal research in general and to neuroscience in particular. We must prove that “scientific community” means something more than the mere fact that we publish in the same journals and attend the same conferences. We must stand together to defend those colleagues under attack and defend the research we believe to be ethical and critical for our understanding of the brain in health and disease. The public is ready to listen.

Slightly more provocative is a call to NIH action from the current head of the SfN Committee for use of Animals in Research.

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“Uh, dude? The sunscreen goes on the part that sticks out, not under your clothes.”

BikeMonkey Guest Post
Let me tell you about a recent observation from a member of a very large and productive GlamourPub research group. “Gee, BigPIDude sure is looking pale these days, isn’t he?“. And he was. Translucent. Let’s be honest here. When you have a big group headed by one domineering PI with lots of people who are there essentially for their careers (as techs or doctoral level resident scientists) they get a little nervous about the PI’s health. As well they should. This business doesn’t always come with a succession plan for taking over an established research group.
But this guy is hale and hearty, comparatively speaking. Gets out and exercises fairly frequently. Still likes to compete in the physical games at the company picnic. And dude’s parents lived to a ripe old age. So what gives? Someone else pointed out that he’s obsessed with sunscreen- lathers up copiously before venturing out into the sun. They thought it was because he has some sort of anti-skin-cancer obsession.
I think otherwise.

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