Another fascinating proposal on how to fix the NIH

February 8, 2011

Really, first there was the diatribe of one D. Noonan that kept giving and giving and giving. And seriously, people, you need to comment and remain engaged. Some clown wants to publish his rant in

…ASBMB Today, the monthly news magazine for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (

Rumor has it that this is being passed around as if it represents the will of the damn people, or some such nonsense. And these diatribes from left field have a way of being used to support existing agendas at the NIH. Your voices of reason need to be heard so make sure to comment over at Rock Talk.
Oh, and go read Odyssey’s comment on mid-late career folks who simply will not listen to anyone about the quality or importance of their research programs.
Meet you back here after the jump…

So here it is. One Cedric Wesley proposes the following solutions:

1. Only scientists working at the bench are eligible to apply for R01 or a new comparable program. Why: They would have intimate knowledge of data, their strengths, and limitations in explaining a phenomenon.
2. If a PI envisions a new project but cannot be the first and corresponding author on papers resulting from that project, he/she recruits and supports another person to obtain a grant for that project as a PI. On this second grant, the first PI would be one of the authors or even a co-corresponding author but not the first or the sole corresponding author. Why: if one cannot oversee a project intimately, they cannot take responsibility for it (note that issues affecting patents and ownership of ideas can be dealt with separately from publications and nowadays most journals list specific contributions of authors).
3. The size of the team linked to a PI is limited to between 9-12 members (2-3 PI team). Why: Since the earliest time of organized warfare (that has informed the most on group dynamics towards achieving a goal under stressful conditions) the size of the platoon has remained about the same (9-12). The reason is because that is the size that makes a good and productive team. A smaller number could lead to collusion and a larger one would lead to disarray.

I don’t really get the sense he is kidding either. I mean seriously, organized warfare? And just how shall we ensure that the PI is “working at the bench” (hey genius, not all of NIH funded science is done at a “bench”) for sufficiently long amounts of time? And you have to hand off all your good ideas to some other PI to “oversee” because you “cannot be first and corresponding author”? What the hell is that about? Oh, this ties into the first, right? That the PI has to be at the bench and be expert in all the experimental minutia to be the first and corresponding author right?
So basically he is proposing that the NIH shift entirely to the Small Town Grocer model. Yeah, that’ll work out great.


source and blog of the original cartoonist Dent (9 types trilogy)


17 Responses to “Another fascinating proposal on how to fix the NIH”

  1. becca Says:

    Scientific teams are platoons now? AHAHAHAHAHA.
    None of this solves the basic problem: trust in the system breaks down when a system is asked to do something it was never intended to do.
    NIH needs more money, or fewer people competing for it. This suggestion is just a way to try to get fewer people competing for the funding. Frankly, I’m not sure it wouldn’t work- there might be fewer people willing to work with those rules.


  2. whimple Says:

    Honestly, the NIH doesn’t have a problem. It’s the institutions and individuals that are dependent on the NIH that have the problem. The NIH is the customer, and research grants are the product sold. There’s no point in getting all bitchy at the customer if they don’t want to buy your crap, or if your business model of indefinite building expansion in the face of declining revenues is stupid and crashes.
    On the other hand, if the customers of the NIH, the American taxpayers, don’t think they’re getting good value for their money buying the product the NIH sells to them, advances in human health, then the NIH DOES have a problem.


  3. Lorax Says:

    The fact that you are personally unsuccessful does not mean the system is “broken”.

    Actually the fact that you are personally unsuccessful may mean the system is working, depending on who the “you” is.


  4. Uhm, possibly a stupid observation, but if the PI is the first and the corresponding author, is at the bench doing the work, where do I, the lowly grad student fit in? Knowing how much I struggle with the weight of TAships, research, and family, I would think that under the proposed model, researchers are once again regulated to being single individuals, working by themselves in dark laboratories….


  5. To finish my thought, the proposed model basically requires the PI to do everything I do, PLUS manage a freaking lab and write grants. Hahahahahahaha!!!!!


  6. This is a load of self-serving sniveling bulleshitte. This fucken asshole wants to force PIs to the bench in the same way that better golfers are forced to give strokes to shittier ones in handicap play. He’s a fucken ineffectual loser who never figured out how to actually run a productive research program, and so he wants to force his more-creative more-effectual competitors to be hobbled by bench-monkey activities.


  7. William Says:

    What’s also weird is the use of the word platoon for a group of 9-12 people. In modern military parlance the word usually refers to a group of around 20-50 people.


  8. Onkel Bob Says:

    Rumor has it that this is being passed around

    It’s true… The frau forwarded it to me from one of the more established stars (one whom she claims will win the Nobel) at a neighboring prestigious university. (One with Nobel laureates teaching and a history of winning Nobels.) He in turn had sent it to the MD/PhD students he teaches at the same prestigious tri-institutional program. He is pretty much is telling the next generation that it’s time to reconsider their career goals.


  9. bacillus Says:

    Wasn’t it once considered normal for scientists to spend a lifetime at the bench? If so what led to the “show me a 40 year old bench scientist, and I’ll show you a failure” attitude? Do PIs vacate the bench because they consider it beneath them, or because their other responsibilities deprive them of the time?


  10. Do PIs vacate the bench because they consider it beneath them, or because their other responsibilities deprive them of the time?

    In many cases, the answer is “neither”.


  11. DSKS Says:

    Come on, DM. You were there, man. We all were. Wesley is just tellin’ it like it was.


  12. Is Cedric Wesley a pseudonym for Sol Rivlin?


  13. Anónimo! Says:

    Oliver Smithies (won a Nobel) still works in the lab every day and did his whole career. But he IS really old.
    Should we limit the size of research groups? Maybe it would help grad students/post docs if their PI was responsible for < 10 people instead of ~50. But then again if someone is really good at managing very large groups of people (and total productivity per funding dollar does actually go up) I don’t see a reason to put an artificial cap on things.


  14. So because Smithies works in his lab and he won a Nobel Prize (a readout for successful research and mentoring?), we all should? But then I guess as they say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
    Horseshit. Luc Montagnier, another Nobel Prize winner, believes in bullshit pseudoscience, so now are we all supposed to?


  15. pinus Says:

    clearly we should do pseudoscience every day in the lab. crap…you grad students are slow.


  16. Marcus Says:

    So students or postdocs can’t be first authors on even a paper unless they have their own grant? Am I reading that right?
    This would seem more like the small town grocer with control issues model. How would students learn if the PI were required to do everything?


  17. rs Says:

    Probably you and your readers have already seen this, but thought to share this fun video which is making rounds in the community;


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