"Their piece of the [NIH] pie". Oh really?

February 4, 2011

More thoughts on Professor Noonan’s lengthy criticism of the current state of NIH extramural research funding.
Realizing that not all aspiring scientists have what it takes to compete in this business, and recognizing that there needs to be a winnowing process at some point in the matriculation of an aspiring academic researcher, NIH has taken it upon itself to make this at the competitive renewal stage rather than the traditional initial funding stage. In doing this they have taken a substantial portion of an ever diminishing pool of funds for competitive renewals and established investigator grants, and thrown them into a large assortment of new investigator awards and special projects. What this results in is a very limited pool of remaining funds being competed for by a very large pool of independent investigators that includes Nobel Laureates, National Academy Members, research institute scientists and academic scientists. Unfortunately, the vast majority of academic scientists, with their teaching responsibilities and small lab operations, are relegated to the very little that is left after the funding initiatives and Wal-Mart operations have captured their piece of the pie.

“their piece”?

Says it all, doesn’t it? That and the part about the winnowing process being at the initial funding stage. BS. Look, perhaps it is true that once upon a time anyone who managed to land a grant and then pretty much had a pulse could keep getting renewed. And now it is a little harder.

But the entry card for starting scientists is no easier. Every bit of demographic and funding success data supports this. So the notion that there is a flood of easy-street new appointees competing for Established investigator’s private funding pool is a bit ridiculous.

More than likely these poor Established investigator’s would not be competitive for *jobs*, never mind NIH grants, if they had faced the same competitive environment our postdocs face today.

Maybe people like Professor Noonan should be grateful for the easy run they had because of circumstances, not intrinsic worthiness. And then, you know, STFU about “their” reserved pool of sinecure funding, and how “unqualified” reviewers are robbing them of it.

No Responses Yet to “"Their piece of the [NIH] pie". Oh really?”

  1. tideliar Says:

    Perchance St. N00n4n remembers only halycon days of yore, much like many greybeards and bluehairs do. When a postdoc was 18-24 months, and they (and their faithful spouses) relished the long hours and hard work.

    I must admit my own (unpublished) data show that the increasing length of the LifeScience postdoctoral training period directly correlates with the lower calibre of scientist being produced (r^2 = 0.92, P= < 0.001).

    St. N00n4n is correct in hir assertion that the current state of funding shows diminishing returns. Look at the lack, indeed dearth, of real progress in medicine in the last decade or two.

    Don't blame the messenger DrugMonkey. Blame the second string scientists who force Our Masters' hands at this critical time.


  2. saban_lab Says:

    how does one assess the association of postdoc duration and caliber?


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    how does one assess the association of postdoc duration and caliber?

    By sitting around the oak paneled faculty lounge, sipping one’s 10 yr tawny and pontificating to the sage nods of the rest of the DTFs sitting their behinds in the moldy leather armchairs.


  4. Goddamn if CPP wants to see War and Peace, he needs to check out Cedric Wesley’s comment…


  5. drugmonkey Says:

    cripes. another one. these dudes really need to, well, you know.


  6. drugmonkey Says:

    …although I have to admit ol’ Cedric does have a point about that Pioneer grant crapola.


  7. Noonan is Daniel Noonan of the University of Kentucky. Here is his faculty profile page:


    And here is the first sentence of his research description:

    Our global research interests are in understanding the mechanism(s) by which intracellular receptors for a variety of steroid and complex lipid based hormones comprise the largest known family of human transcription factors.

    Sorry holmes, but “mechanisms” by which “receptors” comprise a “family”? If this is the kind of sentence this d00d typically uses to explain his research in his grant applications, it’s not surprising they routinely get triaged.


  8. Global interests huh? Sounds like N00n4n isn’t running a research program but a multinational corporation. Amway maybe?


  9. Bashir Says:

    This NIH stuff is very interesting.


  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    You mean the fact that we PIs act like petulant children when our grant funding is at risk, Bashir?


  11. Jeremy Berg Says:

    I have been reading the numerous discussions related to D. Noonan’s comments. In the first paragraph, he raises the issue of the NIH Roadmap. While he is correct that some of the programs (a) Creation of molecular compound libraries, b) Molecular libraries small molecule repositories, c) High throughput screening molecular assay development, d) High throughput screening of molecular libraries) are related to NCATS (and will be moved into NCATS if the plan goes forward), the other programs (e) Building blocks, biological pathways and networks, f) Structural biology, g) Bioinformatics and computational biology, h) Nanomedicine) had very little to do with the development of small molecule probes and potential therapeutics. I can speak most directly about the structural biology and bioinformatics and computational biology programs since I was involved in running these programs. The structural biology program (http://commonfund.nih.gov/structuralbiology/) was focused improving methods for expressing and determining the structures of membrane proteins. The program utilized R01s and R21s in addition to centers. This program was funded at a relatively modest level yet it has coincided with substantial advances in this field of great importance to basic biomedical science. The centers within the bioinformatics and computational biology program (http://commonfund.nih.gov/bioinformatics/) are quite diverse and are focused on developing software for use in a range of fields including imaging, physics-based simulation, and the extraction and analysis of information from electronic medical records. These centers approached “driving biological problems” and invited collaborations through competing R01 and R21 mechanisms. Again, this program has been funded at a relatively modest level and has produced important resources for the broad scientific community.


  12. antipodean Says:

    What does he mean by the WalMart comment? That went straight over my head…


  13. DrugMonkey Says:

    Very large and of low quality, one assumes.


  14. Minor Rewards Says:

    Dan Noonan’s critique of the NIH grant process and research description are positively coherent compared to the series of emails he composed and distributed locally in response to the Dean’s decision that research space occupied by Noonan and some other unfunded faculty was to be reassigned (see below).

    For those of you in Post Doc purgatory who don’t have time to wade through the whole thing I draw your attention to the following choice quote from the “Dear MCB Faculty” email.

    > This may sound like the rantings of a disenchanted faculty member who is
    > upset about his loss of research space, but it is not so. Barring any new
    > funding, I am fine with idling out my remaining 4-20 years here teaching and
    > enjoying my life without the pressures of competing for the few grant
    > dollars available.

    Ever wondered why it’s so hard to get a faculty position?

    From: Noonan, Daniel J
    Sent: Thursday, December 23, 2010 9:55 AM
    To: Jones, Davy

    Dear Davy,

    []As a former Faculty Council member, I am writing to you in your capacity as a current Faculty Council member. I am also writing you, as opposed to our current Faculty Council Chair, because during the recent Deans presentation at the monthly Medical Center faculty update you were the only one to question the interim Dean¹s proposal for reorganization of the Basic Sciences departments in the College of Medicine. Below I have included recent emails, one sent to Dean Wilson and Lou Hersh on December 21 and the other sent to the faculty of the Biochemistry Department on December 22. These emails were precipitated by recent events in my department that upon further research point suspiciously to an administrative agenda that I feel has global implications on the well being of all Basic Sciences faculty in this Medical Center. My concern is that the current interim Dean (and obviously with consent of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs) is, in a less than open and honest manner, attempting to reorganize the faculty composition of the College of Medicine for the express purpose of shifting the balance of research faculty in the direction of clinical research. This hypothesis is based upon 2 pieces of factual data and 2 pieces of recently obtained strongly rumored data. The 2 pieces of factual data are:
    1. The proposed reorganization of the College of Medicine with the dominating theme being the creation of “Research Emphasis groups” that would cross clinical and basic sciences departments and be under a totally separate authority.
    2. The recent letters from the current interim Dean to basic department chairman Hersh and basic department chairman Kaplan that dictate that they immediately forfeit 20% of their research space and 7 offices (this in spite of the fact that, at least for our department, we meet the grant $/sq.ft. research space mandate by the Deans office). The reason given was that it was need for the recruiting of a new Dean and that the College of Medicine research space is at 98% filled. These are the only 2 letters that I have direct confirmation of, and I have not inquired into the other basic sciences departments.
    The 2 pieces of recently obtained strongly rumored data include:
    1. From multiple sources I have heard the rumor that the administrative components of the Medical Center are working on a buyout package that they hope to sell too select senior faculty. The stated purpose is that it would reduce the salary burden, but considering that all of these faculty salaries are being paid off of state lines it is most probable that it is the state lines that are the desired goal here.
    2. A second rumor that I have heard from more than 1 source is that Dr. Evers has identified or obtained funding for 10-12 new hires. I know nothing else about it. If true I can only guess it is either grant derived, but more probably benefactor derived. I include these rumored items because I received them from fairly reputable sources, and because they are a logical explanation for the very clear attempt by the Dean’s office to ram this through the system. Dr. Wilson has explicitly stated to the committee involved in the reorganization of the basic sciences departments that he wants their feedback on his desk by the beginning of January. Similarly, Dr. Wilson gave Dr. Hersh less than a week to come up with a plan to release 20% of his research space. I suspect some impending deadline associated with respect to the announcement of this donation or grand plan to develop a Clinical Research Center is behind all of the mandates we are receiving. These rumors also nicely explain the factual items. To create the research emphasis areas there will be a need to recruit more clinical researchers. This in turn requires 2 line items, research space and state lines. Therefore, you retire faculty to get state lines and you simply demand the research space under false pretenses. Being all too familiar with the clinical research cadre Dr. Evers brought with him from Galveston (6 were assigned to our department) I feel certain I know where the majority of these new clinical researchers will come from. The trick will be (as we have struggled with) to identify the teaching component these faculty will need to justify their state lines. This will probably come in the form of the mentored medical student research program the Deans office is pushing for the new medical student population.

    My concern isn¹t so much with the idea of expanding the clinical research being performed here at the university, but rather the underhanded approach being used to implement it and the direct impact it is having and will have on current and future basic sciences research faculty. The loss of 20% of our research space is enormous and disruptive to the whole department. It in actuality will require minimally 10 laboratories to either relocate or consolidate their existing space, this at a time when everyone is scrambling to get grants out and teach. There is also the great concern that this will truly leave us with absolutely no place to expand our research as we get new grant funding. From a long term perspective, this will also impact us in: a) retention of our currently funded research faculty, b) teaching loads, c) obtaining grant support, and d) mentoring of basic sciences faculty. I think it is fair to predict that the vacated senior faculty positions and, most probably if the reorganization goes through, all of the subsequent recruiting and state line positions will be transferred to the auspices of the clinical directors of the research emphasis areas. This ultimately will reduce the number of basic sciences faculty, which in turn will globally impact teaching loads and research time for basic sciences faculty in the College of Medicine. Unfortunately, it will probably not impact tenure requirements and therefore will ultimately impact tenure.

    I am not sure what can be done about this, because I have my suspicions that the administration has recruited a select number of positioned basic sciences faculty to help push this through. I realize there is a major component of speculation in the above hypothesis, but the speed and force at which this is happening clearly suggest an alternative agenda to what we have been fed, and I would much rather make a fool of myself than be made a fool of. If I am wrong and it turns out the administration is working in the best interests of the basic sciences faculty, I will gladly apologize to whomever I need to. I guess what I am asking you to do is to voice my concerns to the Faculty Council and see what they think, realizing that this council is made up of both clinical and basic sciences faculty. Because I like to keep everything out in the open I will be ccing this email to my chairman Dr. Hersh. I will also cc it to Dr. Peek, our BOT faculty representative. Although there is nothing Dr. Peek can do about these happenings and this is simply a FYI item, he has asked me to keep him updated on faculty matters happening in the Medical Center side of the campus. Thank you for reading these ramblings, any assistance you can give them [].

    > From: Dan Noonan
    > Subject: FW: Happy Holidays
    > Dear MCB Faculty,
    > I just thought I would pass on an email I sent to our College Dean (go to
    > the end of this long diatribe to see that letter), just in case any of you
    > might be wondering why my research and office space have been moved into the
    > boiler room of the old hospital. The email may contain a bit of sarcasm, but
    > it also presents some real concerns that I have, and most probably you
    > should have. I have been with the department for 18 years and watched it
    > grow from 6 full professors, 1 associate professor and 2 assistant
    > professors to what it is now. I would hate to see 18 years of progress be
    > wiped out by the manipulations of a few self-serving autocrats with designs
    > for glory and little real vision or humanity. Like many other businesses,
    > these people are looking to capitalize on the current global financial
    > crisis, and use it as an excuse to downsize as well as change power
    > structure. This would entail removing faculty that they view in a dollar
    > and cents perspective as a burden on their profit margin and available state
    > lines , and replacing them with “minion producers”. Here at the Medical
    > Center you can expect basic sciences faculty positions will be replaced by
    > state-line funded tenure-track and non-tenure-track clinical researchers
    > (e.g. new Cancer Center or Internal Medicine researchers), teaching loads
    > for existing basic sciences faculty would increase due to the decrease in
    > basic sciences faculty, grant funding for the basic sciences faculty would
    > decrease due to the increased teaching loads, tenure for these same faculty
    > would decrease due to the lack of grant productivity, and wahla, we reload
    > the system. It’s the Medical Center’s version of the Calipari one and done
    > approach to basketball. Fortunately, due to employment laws and unions,
    > industries cannot use the 6 year probationary period we use for tenure,
    > because if they could this is exactly how they would set it up to optimize
    > their profit margin.
    > This may sound like the rantings of a disenchanted faculty member who is
    > upset about his loss of research space, but it is not so. Barring any new
    > funding, I am fine with idling out my remaining 4-20 years here teaching and
    > enjoying my life without the pressures of competing for the few grant
    > dollars available. The 2 main reasons I bring this up are; 1) I hate being
    > minimally manipulated and most probably deceived by administrators, and 2)
    > there is enough circumstantial evidence to support the contentions put forth
    > above. These include:
    > 1) The departmental reorganization with its “centers of research emphasis”
    > rather than departments fits perfectly into this scenario. Centers of
    > research emphasis would marry research efforts in clinical departments like
    > Internal Medicine, Surgery, Neurology etc. with basic sciences departments,
    > and it can be expected that under this new system that recruitment of
    > faculty would no longer be done by departments, but by the centers. Of
    > course the departments would continue to pseudo exist. Teachers will be
    > needed to maintain the state line appropriations for funding new faculty
    > appointments, and maintain the image of academia. As the aged tenured
    > department faculty retire or are driven out they will logically be replaced
    > with centers of research emphasis hires. It can be expected that the
    > department rule will, in most respects, be transferred to some of Caesar’s
    > loyal subjects, or “Centers of Research Emphasis Directors”. These you can
    > expect to be key clinicians with names like Evers, de Beer, Zwischenberger,
    > etc.
    > 2) Emery Wilson has openly stated on multiple occasions that the Medical
    > Center has too many basic research faculty.
    > 3) There is a rumor flying around, that I have heard from multiple reliable
    > sources, that the administrative components of the Medical Center are
    > working on a buyout package that they hope to sell too senior faculty. The
    > stated purpose is that it would reduce the salary burden, but considering
    > that all of these faculty salaries are being paid off of state line budgeted
    > items it would not appear to be a true Medical Center budget item.
    > Alternatively, I direct you to aspects of item 1 above and note that removal
    > of these senior faculty would more importantly free up state lines for new
    > hires.
    > 4) A second rumor that I have heard from multiple sources is that Dr. Evers
    > has identified or obtained funding for 10-12 new hires. I direct you to 1, 2
    > and 3 above.
    > 5) Lou stated 2 things that bothered me in the letter that Dean Wilson sent
    > to both he and the Micro Chair. Those are that the space they are taking
    > away is needed for the new Dean and that 98% of the available research space
    > in the Medical Center is occupied. To begin with, the College of Medicine
    > Deans rarely if ever do research or even maintain a research program. This
    > is an obvious distortion of the truth and definitely not a requirement for
    > recruiting a good College of Medicine Dean. Secondly, if 98% of the research
    > space in the Medical Center complex is occupied this would mean that 2% is
    > available. I have no idea how much research space we have, but if one
    > includes the Hospital, Combs, HSRB, BBSRB, Sanders Brown, Cardiovascular
    > Research Center, Wethington etc. it has to be over a million sq ft. That
    > would leave over 20,000 sq. ft. available (or enough for 20 new assistant
    > professors). Again, this sounds like another red herring.
    > 6) Finally, Lou made the statement that he thinks Emery is simply being
    > someone’s puppet in this whole thing, to which I disagree. Emery has this
    > way of shrugging his shoulders and smiling when presented with controversial
    > concerns, and people misconstrue this for “I have no control over these
    > things”. Minimally Emery is fully complicit in the agenda being pushed
    > through in the absence of a real Dean. As an interim Dean there is nothing
    > he is compelled to do, therefore one can only conclude this is something he
    > is fully in favor of if not his own personal agenda.
    > Well that’s it. I hope everyone has a great Holiday break and please keep
    > in mind, if you don’t vote you have nobody else to blame but yourself for
    > the future that is thrust upon you.
    > Dan
    > —— Forwarded Message
    > From: Dan Noonan
    > To: “Wilson, Emery”
    > Conversation: Happy Holidays
    > Subject: Happy Holidays
    > Dear Dean Wilson,
    > Speaking on behalf of the Biochemistry Department I would just like to take
    > this opportunity to thank you, in this season of good will and these times
    > of struggle, for sending us home for the Holidays in such a joyous state. I
    > am certain that your letter dictating that the Molecular and Cellular
    > Biochemistry Department will be required to give up 20% of its research
    > space just could not wait until after the 1st of the year. Following the
    > announcement I could just read the joy in everybody¹s face. The senior
    > faculty were elated to discover the respect and consideration they received
    > from their Dean for their years of service and millions of dollars of grant
    > funding they have brought into this College and University throughout their
    > tenure here. The associate professors were similarly overjoyed at the
    > prospects that this research space micromanagement approach offers for their
    > future here at the university, and the new assistant professors were in such
    > awe of this declaration that all they could think about was where their next
    > faculty position might be. Of course everyone is certain this disruption
    > of their ongoing research will do nothing but great things for their future
    > opportunities to obtain grant funding.
    > I have to say, if it¹s your goal to completely destroy the Biochemistry
    > Department, you are well on your way to success. Unfortunately, there will
    > be a price to pay for this. The discontent is fairly strong amongst the
    > faculty, and many with grant support are seriously weighing their options
    > for leaving this zoo. On the other hand, many of the struggling tenured
    > faculty have simply thrown their hands into the air asking, ³what¹s the use
    > in writing for grant support if there is no available research space should
    > we get it²? The real folks I feel sorry for though are the talented junior
    > faculty we have recently recruited. These young scientist entered what they
    > thought was a fairly solid and secure department, with a great support
    > structure and room to grow. Little did they know that this would all go out
    > the window. Add to this the grand scheme to reorganize the department
    > structure in the College of Medicine (under an interim Dean and a lame duck
    > President no less) its no wonder faculty are beginning to seriously view
    > this as the beginning of the end to academic research here at the College of
    > Medicine. Although I am no Nostradamus, I feel safe in predicting that this
    > micromanagement of space along with the grand scheme of restructuring the
    > departments in the College of Medicine will cost more money (through loss of
    > funded faculty, impacts it will have on obtaining grant funding and the
    > ultimate impact it will have on recruiting new faculty) than it will save.
    > Finally, I would like to leave you with a quote from an ancient Irish
    > philosopher Leniad Annono, ³There is a difference between resistance to
    > change and resistance to stupidity².
    > I hope your Holiday Season turns out to be as joyful and peaceful as those
    > you have touched.

    > Respectfully,

    > Dan Noonan


  15. drugmonkey Says:

    Oi. Okay, I’m inclined to leave that comment up. Obviously, I have no way to vouch for the authenticity of any of it. Ok, that’s not strictly accurate but let us say that I have no way to vouch for the accuracy of it on blog.

    It raises, however, some questions about the nature of emails circulated either to a select group of recipients or even to a departmental/University-wide email list, expectations of privacy, etc. My tentative view is that when one has taken one’s issues public, such as the original comment D. Noonan left on the OER blog that sparked all of our awareness of local goings-on, this modifies certain expectations of privacy. If you have any, that is.

    I am certainly open to all y’all’s thoughts on this.


  16. becca Says:

    People who I am glad I am not:
    1) Noonan. I’m glad nobody put me in a boiler room.
    2) Dean Wilson. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with rumormills and cutting people’s space.
    3) Drugmonkey. I don’t know what I’d do if I had a blog on which that kind of shenanigans showed up on ‘my’ interent space. On the one hand, there’s no blow or underage interns- it’s not really that scandalous. On the other hand, people have probably been fired over less. Maybe not people with tenure though.


  17. drugmonkey Says:

    Fired over releasing emails sent to a Department-wide or University-wide email list? Not in academia, I would reckon.


  18. Has this guy ever written a short form of communication in his life. Did this dude take writing lessons from fucking Ayn Rand?


  19. drugmonkey Says:

    I would imagine that he feels very strongly about his topic, GR…


  20. Minor Rewards Says:

    Not only does he feel strongly about the topic but (aside from his responsibilities bumming out graduate students in his capacity as co director of our “umbrella” graduate program) Noonan also has a great deal of time to spend composing these emails and postings.


  21. (1) Suckes getting moved to the motherfucken boiler room.

    (2) Thatte d00d is a long-winded motherfucken turgid writer. If he writes his fucken grants like that, I can see why he’s had trouble with funding his entire career.


  22. Minor Rewards Says:

    The boiler room statement was hyperbole. He hasn’t actually been moved anywhere (yet).


  23. Minor Rewards Says:

    One last point. If you’re not outraged enough by now, Noonan’s Department is the recipient of a ~$2.5M/year NIH/NCRR Center of Biomedical Research “Excellence” grant which is intended to “enhance[s] the competitiveness of investigators at institutions located in states in which the aggregate success rate for applications to NIH has historically been low”

    Obviously in this case the grant hasn’t served its purpose.

    Maybe the University needs to keep people like Prof Noonan and his buddies around to ensure eligibility for these COBRE grants?


  24. […] on the NIH OER director’s new blog. Check DrugMonkey’s excellent posts on this here, here and here. You should also read (if you have the time and patience) some of the comments following […]


  25. Odyssey Says:

    Minor Rewards:
    It’s my understanding that COBRE money can’t be used to support established investigators. It’s meant primarily to support unfunded junior people. I’m not sure you should be condemning an entire department for being saddled with a delusional deadwood faculty member.


  26. Minor Rewards Says:


    [edited-DM] at least 5 [ditto] unfunded tenured [profs] with “hard money” appointments are partially supported by the COBRE grant in their capacities as “mentors” and “core directors”. Several of these people actually have even worse NIH funding records than Noonan which begs the question of why they were given tenure or appointed with tenure in the first place.


  27. drugmonkey Says:

    As a reminder to everyone, I would appreciate you keeping your speculations as to the identity of pseudonymous commenters to yourselves. Even if it is “obvious” to you, 1) people are very frequently (sometimes hilariously) in error and 2) that doesn’t mean it is obvious to every random on the Internet.


  28. Minor Rewards Says:

    I was trying to keep away from this trainwreck but I just spotted this online.


    Its also here if you have a subscription.


    Apparently Noonan thinks his infamous 3000 word NIH Blog post was “spontaneous”


  29. Minor Rewards Says:

    I suppose you could describe diarrhea as spontanous so maybe he was right on the mark there.


  30. […] is a not uncommon suggestion. Our old friend Noonan was proposing this just a little while […]


  31. […] who is not under potential attack under this scenario is the small town grocer. Otherwise known as Noonan. I have been reluctant, I will admit, to even think very much about something that has been raised […]


  32. […] "likely impact" is obvious to all. Demand more Preliminary Data. Save the Small Town Grocer and the Noonans. Just keep plodding along with your models, the same as half a dozen others, and you deserve "your […]


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