More on the mega lab

April 11, 2011

Sally Rockey of OER posted data suggesting that most laboratories funded by the NIH are single-grant affairs. This was an attempt to deflate the belief on the part of many critics of the current state of NIH-funded affairs that, well, qaz put it best:

I think the people who complain about multi-grant labs/empires … are thinking “if only those multi-grant empires didn’t exist, there would be more for me, and, just maybe, I could survive.”

Remember, DearReader, that Jeremy Berg, Director of NIGMS, put up the following figure in a post on productivity per (direct cost) grant dollar?

Histograms showing the distributions of total annual direct costs, number of publications linked to those grants from 2007 to mid-2010 and average impact factor for the publication journals for 2,938 investigators who held at least one NIGMS R01 or P01 grant in Fiscal Year 2006.

As we always note, it is unfortunate that this is data only from a single Institute. However, I still believe the null hypothesis has to be that these data are representative of the whole NIH until Rockey gives us more comprehensive data.

The point for today is in the left hand panel. If we assume the vast majority of R01 awards are at the modular limit ($250,000 / yr) or below, the histogram supports the contention on Rockey’s blog that the most populated category of investigators is that of those with only a single award. Account for those with a single award over the modular limit but under the special-circumstances* $500,000 limit, add on the second grant labs and it should be clear that the vast majority of PIs are captured.

So yes, numerically if you prevent the fifth, fourth or third R01 from going to a single PI, another investigator can be supported. But in terms of percentages, this is going to be a drop in the bucket. To get any significant traction you are going to have to go with the single-grant limit.

And that is just plain crazy talk.

Final Note: In all of this hoopla it continues to bemuse me that Early Stage and New Investigators are aligning themselves with the Benezra’s and St. Noonans. They are not your friends, people. They are the ones who have no problem with the holding pattern. They are the ones that think that having already been a NIH funded investigator counts more than the quality of the proposal or of the science. The ones that think that getting started off with NIH funding today is no harder then it was twenty or thirty years ago.

*Program has to agree in advance to take a R01 proposal that asks for $500,000 or more in direct costs per year