One thing that people are very confused about is the idea that post-doctoral training is only about training. It is also about selection: identifying the most talented and accomplished scientists to give a shot at scientific independence.
It is delusional to think that post-doctoral training “trains” scientists to become PIs in the same way that plumber apprentices are trained to become plumbers: if you just slog through the training and keep your head down, you will become a decent plumber. The more accurate analogy is to minor league baseball: yeah it is necessary training to learn how to play ball in the major leagues, but it is also a selection mechanism to identify those players who have a decent shot at success in the majors.
This is exactly why the idea that two-year post-docs–like in the old days–are more than sufficient to “train” scientists to run their own labs is a fucking joke. It may be sufficient to “train” scientists, but it is insufficient under the vast majority of circumstances to implement the selection function of post-doctoral training. There are *many* more scientists seeking PI positions nowadays, and thus the selection function of post-doctoral training becomes more important and more stringent.
Longer post-docs should be welcomed by those aspiring to PI positions, as it provides a much fairer opportunity to prove one’s mettle. Many post-docs start slowly for a variety of reasons, and so just because you don’t have much to show after two years, doesn’t say much about your potential. But if you haven’t achieved much after 5+ years as a post-doc, it is reasonable to conclude that it is not just a matter of bad luck, bad mentors, or anything other than a simple–and unfortunate–lack of the skills and talents required to be a PI.

Had a letter come in to your friendly blogstaff today.

What are the implications (if any) of a three-year spending freeze by the Obama administration staring in 2011 on the NIH research budget (no money at all, no increase in money over 2010, a decrease vs. 2010)?

A couple of links to the story are here, here, here.
I don’t really have much of a response beyond “bad”. How about you?

UPDATE 020110:
Phew? ($1B, or about a 3% increase for NIH)


I’m elevating a comment I made in a prior thread. We’re chatting about the Nature Network exercise in self-reflection about the insularity of their blog community. I made two points.
True that there is a population for any blog that should theoretically be in the audience but that departs because of the “tone”. Allegedly I, for example, lost some readers because I extend latitude to certain antediluvian commenters. It should be a consideration.
What should also be a consideration is who is being excluded because they simply do not know you exist- individual blog, blog consortium or even the whole science blogosphere.

It was a good critique, but there are always going to be tradeoffs.I happen to think that one of the good features here at Sb is that we start with a very open approach from which individuals bloggers can tighten up if desired. This can be incredibly fine grained. I’ve had a commenter or three that others of my readers object to and want to know why I don’t ban them. Other Sb blogs that I share readership with may have done so. To the extent that we overlap in blog-interest, readers can find the content without being exposed to the ‘clownery of some of my commenters. Perhaps I lose a few voices, and I regret that, but I have to draw my own lines in making what I think of as my blog’s tone what it is.
There are other types of commenters who pervade other Sb blogs that simply don’t come around here and if they did express that type of behavior here would be moderated or banned. Yet I don’t think Sb is the weaker for the Pharyngaloids, ERV’s selfconsciously outre fanbois, Laden’s “the real” neandertals or even Ed Brayton’s libertardian halfthinkers. I think we are the stronger for it- as a collective blog enterprise.
There was a comment at that NN thread (see problem? I have no idea which blog it is on, see Munger’s comment about individualizing the blogs) about writing for her own peeps and not giving a hang about traffic. Why have a public blog? There are more private social media and fora. More generally, why have the NN blogs visible to anyone other than those who register and login?
The very fact one engages in *public* blogging says that one is interested in reaching new people. Period. After that we are merely discussing whether you are doing a good job meeting performance goals…

Right? Why are you putting stuff out there for the entire Internet to see if you don’t mean to reach people who might be interested in what you have to say, but you have no other way to reach them. In a word, perfect strangers. There are a plethora of controlled-access technologies that would serve the same purpose if all you were after was a private circle of friends.

ResearchBlogging.orgMost of my readers are aware of the growing head of steam being perked up by the medical marijuana movement (and that I think it is a Trojan Horse for recreational consumption). I have also described how perceptions of the harms associated with cannabis are associated with population level use. This suggests to me that it is important to identify adverse health consequences of cannabis smoking ranging from oral health complications to paradoxical potentiation of Ecstasy-induced hyperthermia, to a dependence syndrome in some users that shares some features with nicotine dependence.
I have a new and fascinating consequence of cannabis smoking for your consideration today, Dear Reader. There is an odd syndrome of cyclical vomiting that has resulted in a series of Case Reports. One theme that runs through these is the apparently mysterious presentation at the hospital, since most of the expected causes of severe episodic vomiting were painstakingly ruled out.

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The Americans for Medical Progress organization has opened the competition for the AMP/Michael D. Hayre Fellowship in Public Outreach for 2010-2011.


The Michael D. Hayre Fellowship in Public Outreach, established by Americans for Medical Progress in 2008, promotes peer education about animal research among students and young adults aged 18-30. Named in memory of AMP’s former Chairman, Michael D. Hayre, DVM, ACLAM, the Fellowship provides support for peer outreach and education projects in the United States.

These fellowships are modest awards ($5,000 stipend; $2,000 project support) intended for:

college students and young adults in the United States who are frustrated by the domination of animal rights rhetoric against biomedical research and who are committed to making a case for the necessary and humane use of laboratory animals in the pursuit of treatments and cures.

Applications are due May 15, 2010.
I would also like to ask my readers to consider making a small donation to the program. As you can tell from the fellowship amounts, a little bit from many people can go a long way.

The Nature Network of blogs announced reaching a 50,000 comment milestone today.

Yes, that’s right, we’ve reached the impressive though totally arbitrary milestone of 50,000 comments on the blogs. Congratulations to Richard Grant, who unwittingly tipped the threshold with his remark ‘Wintlito? Is that like Wintle Lite?’ on this post.

As you know, I’m of the opinion that blogging is mostly about the comments so cheers to them!
A related Twitt from @NatNetNews asked:

Is Nature Network too insular? How would you like us to improve? Have your say in the comment thread:

So if you have any opinion on that, go comment.

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Roosters and Lab Rats

January 27, 2010

A recent post over at Casaubon’s Book discusses the plight of the male farm animal and, in particular, the humble rooster.

What do I mean by “the problem of husbandry?” What I mean is that generally speaking, in the rearing of domesticated animals, one gender of the animals is more valuable than the other. Often, but not always, females are preferred, because they lay the eggs, give the milk, and can reproduce themselves perfectly well with only a very tiny number of male participants.

Now true, we have a highly similar problem in genetic research which involves breeding laboratory vertebrates (most typically mice) for a desired genotype. Frequently enough some fraction of the bred animals never make it into the papers. A desire to match group sizes means that in the simple Mendellian situation, you have twice as many heterozygous as homozygous offspring. A poorly-surviving genotype may further complicate the picture. As does the array of current multi-gene breeding techniques designed to target a controllable gene expression system to a specific tissue.
Nevertheless I wanted to address the broader points made by Sharon Astyk because they are critical for the well-intentioned, non-extremist person who only leans in the direction of Animal Rights wackaloonery.

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How to Blog

January 26, 2010

For my Twitter refusenik friends who may have missed this making the rounds this morning.
This is the title of a typical incendiary blog post

A Twitt from a currently ailing Abel Pharmboy alerted me to this article in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

A cannabis festival in Aspen this spring will be the first in Colorado for approved growers to put their strains in a contest. The Western Slope Cannabis Crown will have about 50 medical marijuana growers enter their strains of weed. The marijuana strains will be diagnostically tested for their THC levels.

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The Speaking of Research blog has an excellent backstory bit on the new film Extraordinary Measures.

The new Harrison Ford film, Extraordinary Measures, hitting US cinemas from 22 January, is a fictionalised account of the development of a treatment for Pompe disease, a rare genetic disorder. Pompe disease (glycogen storage disease type 2, acid maltase deficiency) is an enzyme deficiency with devastating effects – progressive muscle weakness and, in the severe infantile form, gross enlargement of the heart. Until fairly recently, the infantile form of the disease was invariably fatal within the first year of life. Now, however an effective treatment is in place.

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Young Female Scientist has an interesting post up concerning Francis Collins’s recent oblique comments on “soft-money” positions. One of her major points–one that she has emphasized numerous times in the past–is that it is both unfair and terrible for the scientific enterprise that post-docs are almost invariably not permitted by their institutions to serve as PIs on research project grants (i.e., R01s, R21s, R03s, P01 projects, etc).
One of her subpoints is the following:

It all seems backwards to me. Seems to me that the university should be allowed to guarantee resources IF AND ONLY IF the grant is awarded. Then the university isn’t risking anything.

It’s not that NIH at the administrative level won’t allow universities to guarantee resources if and only if a grant is awarded. It’s that study sections trash grant applications on the Investigator and Environment scoring categories when the PIs are perceived as not being genuinely independent investigators.
There are a number of reasons for this study section behavior, some good and some not so good.
Reasons for this behavior include preventing lab heads with large labs from further increasing the size of their empires through R01s being applied for by “junior PIs” who are not independent, and are continuing to work within the research program of the large-lab head. Another reason is that study sections perceive that this forces to institutions to make the decision whether to devote resources to a new PI with the understanding that they have proven their abilities in the past via substantial publication records and have excellent plans for future independent research, rather than exist in some “exploited” soft-money role.
Another reason is that essentially all members of study sections are tenure-track or (now more frequently) tenured faculty members (or the equivalent) and they want to protect their privileged status as such, by limiting RPG awardees to other tenure-track (or equivalent) investigators, and not allowing perceived rabble in the door.

Two on Sb

January 24, 2010

It was January 23rd, 2008 when PhysioProf and I posted our first entries here at
Time flies when you are having fun.

This morning I was having a discussion with one of my children about the wisdom and consequences of future actions. The way the conversation evolved cracked me up.
YHN: “No, you can’t put the horsie in the bathtub, because it has batteries.”
Child: “Yes, I can.”
YHN: “No, see it will get wet and eventually corroded and ruined.”
Child: “No, it won’t.”
YHN: “Yes, it will. Whatever gives you the idea that you can put this horsie in the bathtub?”
Child: “[Elder Sibling] said it was okay.”
Right. This would be the [Elder Sibling] who Child opposes at just about every turn, particularly when it comes to [Elder Sibling] informing Child what Child may or may not do. With toys, generally.
Our conversation ran aimlessly for a good while after that with Child sticking firmly to the assertion that throwing a horsie in the bathtub was okay under the aegis of [Elder Sibling]’s authoritative permission*. The discussion was more or less amicable and The Man did not have to break out the tools of repression. I.e., Child was eventually distracted by something shiny.
Deploying a cherry-picked authority in support of what you already believe or want to do, to avoid engaging evidence and rationale (and yes, opposing authority) which you fear might contradict your pre-existing position or desire is apparently an early-formed trait.
No wonder we have such difficulty maturing past it.
*note that it is entirely possible that Child misunderstood what [Elder Sibling] had to say on the topic or that [Elder Sibling] had never ventured an opinion on the topic.

Internet Beef and Civility

January 21, 2010

“Where men congregate and mix their testosterone with other intoxicants”.
HAHHAAHA, don’t take what you read on the Intertoobz too seriously people.

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Frequent commenter pinus has alerted me to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed which reports an interview with NIH Director Francis Collins. In comments, he appears to be warning local institutions that they are going to have to stop with the soft-money jobs and find a way to start supporting investigators themselves. Particularly the younger investigators.

Dr. Collins also said he wanted universities to steer more money to younger researchers, to avoid letting their researchers rely solely on federal grants

because there isn’t going to be as much federal money anymore…

the NIH, the nation’s largest provider of money for academic research, is warning universities that federal support will almost certainly decline after last year’s infusion of money from the stimulus measure.

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