Our very dear blog friend writedit is mads with Your Humble Narrator.

Perhaps DM can restrict these sorts of discussions to his various for-profit plots in the blogosphere, where he is welcome to take on all comers.

So, alas, I simply must, MUST I tell you, take the discussion over here…

If you haven’t been following along, start with this comment from the walrus is paul, a self-identified NIH SRO that has been frequenting writedit’s blog of late. The triggering comment was walrus referring to a query about idea thievery in grant review as “tin-foil hat paranoia”. I disagreed that this qualifies as the “tin-foil hat” variety of paranoia. My argument is that usually this term is reserved for the most extreme beliefs in conspiracies and weird events for which there is no plausible evidence or rationale in the land of the sane. I also pointed out that this epithet is usually not dictated by the number of people who maintain a particular belief but rather the nature of that belief.

In this particular case, I argue that we hear assertions of idea stealing now and again from angry applicants. I hear this in person and I’m pretty sure the triggering comment (UPDATE: and additional comment making it clearer that this is indeed what the person meant) is not the first time this has surfaced in the blogosphere. Note that my recognition of this tells you absolutely nothing about whether I personally credit each such accusation. OTOH, being the good student of human behavior that I am, I also assert that yes, it is highly likely that there are or have been some incidents where the content of a grant application influenced the scientific conduct of the reviewer.

The proper answer is that of course somewhere, sometime an idea has been lifted from a grant application to the advantage of the reviewer and disadvantage of the applicant. It seems unlikely that it happens anywhere near as often as paranoid applicants who comment online would like us to believe, however. This latter derives, IMNSHO, from a laughable conceit on the part of many scientists that they are uniquely brilliant snoflakes and nobody else could possibly have the same exact ideas from reading the same literature and being in the same subfield.

The more interesting question is the degree to which subconscious influence operates despite the reviewer’s best intentions not to benefit from reviewing someone else’s grant proposal. IMO, of course

To ignore this reality and pretend that all possible participants in grant review are as pure as the driven snow, and that the structural features of the grant review meeting itself

we are REQUIRED to make a speech at the start of every review meeting about ethical conduct which includes a section on ” the ideas presented in applications are not to be pilfered”.

the walrus (and writedit) thereupon asserted that in their professional (and online?) capacities they have never, ever run across any PI who argued that his or her ideas had been stolen from a grant application by a reviewer.

All well and good. Unfortunately I tend to be a little suspicious when NIH staff pretend that all is perfect and well and the system works as it should and all that. You know how it goes. Things get testy. So here’s the rest of it. the walrus got all miffy and pouty and offered to take his or her toys and return home.

since you have such a low opinion of the abilities and integrity of NIH staff, I won’t waste anyone’s time here by offering any further responses to their questions.

HAHAHA. For the record, I do not, in fact, have a low opinion of the abilities and, most especially, the integrity of NIH staff.

What I said, reasonably clearly, is that I assume that there are very good reasons for a public face of NIH staff (SRO and PO) that is not entirely compatible with my accompanying assumptions that said staff are smarter than your average rutabaga. This has nothing to do with “integrity” and everything to do with professional requirements.

Now, if the walrus is telling me that his/her public/professional need to pretend that everything is always perfect and rose-smelling in grant review is the actual, entire belief, then yes, I’d have to revisit my assumptions in his/her particular case.

There is never any bias in review, reviewers are always perfect and expert and engaged, the review order is meaningful to the last digit, new investigators just need to “write better grants”, if Universities offer soft money jobs they “shouldn’t” be doing this and “why would you want to take a job there anyway”…..the list goes on and on for those things where the actual time it is on the street is not part of the official, public NIH line. I understand why they need to do this in some cases, not in others.

But not acknowledging that if you have lots and lots of scientists involved in reviewing grants there will be a suspicion of idea stealing at times? Ludicrous. And then going on to get all huffy just because I have one set of experiences and the walrus (and writedit) have another? hmm.

Okay, now on to the good writedit who seems to have let discomfort with my commentary overrun good sense.

Perhaps DM can restrict these sorts of discussions to his various for-profit plots in the blogosphere, where he is welcome to take on all comers.

My response: As you are very well aware, writedit, there is precisely one of those. Not plural, singular. As you are also very well aware, despite this scurrilous intimation, my tone and approach has been invariant on blogs that accrue “profit” to me (or any other entity) and otherwise. It is also the case that through the writedit blog you build additional credibility for what are most assuredly your primary professional talents and endeavors at present. Credibility that would, should you every see the need to deploy it, enhance your future job prospects. So if we are suggesting that someone is in this because they

get nothing out of maintaining this blog other than the satisfaction of being a good citizen and helping the biomedical research community through the exchange of useful information.

waayul, that is not strictly accurate in your case, now is it? I’d say this very real professional capital* that writedit has built amounts to a bit more than the beer money I make from the DrugMonkey blog, wouldn’t you?

*don’t believe me? Which of you writedit (the blog) readers, if asked by your University if they should hire writedit (the blogger) to support their grant seeking faculty, would say anything other than “Yes dammit, right now!!”? Which of you would say that for some random administrator for whom you have no other evidence of their abilities? hmm? That’s professional capital.