The Nature News Blog has a bit on the recent meeting of the Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The NIH commissioned the Institute of Medicine to:

Explore contemporary and anticipated biomedical research questions to determine if chimpanzees are or will be necessary for research discoveries and to determine the safety and efficacy of new prevention or treatment strategies. If biomedical research questions are identified:

Describe the unique biological/immunological characteristics of the chimpanzee that make it the necessary animal model for use in the types of research.
Provide recommendations for any new or revised scientific parameters to guide how and when to use these animals for research.

Explore contemporary and anticipated behavioral research questions to determine if chimpanzees are necessary for progress in understanding social, neurological and behavioral factors that influence the development, prevention, or treatment of disease.

I was struck by a comment reported by the Nature News blog from a participant who objected to the scope of the study.

Read the rest of this entry »

I have blogged, now and again, about the ~four-tiered nature of the selection process for NIH grant awards. These consist of initial peer-review, Program Officer expression of programmatic interests, the National Advisory Council (of peer scientists) for each Institute or Center of the NIH and the Director of each IC. We tend to clump the latter three into “Program”, since they really all do express the interests of a particular IC whereas the initial peer review process focuses so strongly on the quality of the science and the strength of the overall proposal.
Unlike the apparent position of many fellow scientists, I have no problem with this multi-tiered selection process nor, more pointedly, do I have a problem when Program interests override or overturn the strict priority order / priority score that comes out of initial peer review.
I have even mentioned now and again that I think a little more transparency from Program on how they select applications outside of the review order would go a long way to damping down the whinging.
A bit of Program Officer transparency has emerged, however, that gives me pause.

Read the rest of this entry »

What is the point of NIH having dual assignment of grant applications if it ends up being a huge negotiating hassle to even get the second IC to consider picking up the award if the primary passes on it? And how many successful secondary pickups of applications are there?

I really should apologize to my readers who get their feelings hurt when 1) I bash GlamourMag science and 2) CPP bashes society journal level science. I just couldn’t figure out how to make it something other than a nonpology. So the nonpology version is, sorry dudes, sorry that your feelings are hurt if there is some implication that you are a trivial fame-chasing, probably data faking GlamourHound. also, if the ranting that I trigger from certain commenters has the effect of making you feel as though you are a trivial, meaningless speedbump who is wasting NIH dollars better spent on RealScientists who do RealGrandeWorkEleven. The fact is, CPP and I are in relatively comfortable situations compared with many of our readers. It is no secret that we have jobs and grant funding. Although it is true that both of us are not above making an exaggerated point for dramatic discussion-encouraging purposes, it is probably no surprise that we come from distinctly different points of view ForRealz on this particular issue. Speaking only for myself in this case, I’ve been around long enough and enjoyed enough of what I consider to be success in what I want to do as a scientist that it tends to insulate me against criticism. I get that this is not true for all of you. If my intent in raising these issues (i.e., to show that the dominant meme is not reflective of the only way to have a career) backfires for some of you, I do regret that.

Louis CK is so fucking funny it makes my teeth hurt.

Sen Tom Coburn is a jerk but he comes from a long tradition of right wingers trying to make hay out of ridiculing science. Don’t fall for it. [update: read Namnezia, Neurodojo and Dr.O on this issue]

I still haven’t worked out if the idea that there are a host of “good” postdocs out there if the PI could only get them to come to their lab is a pleasant fantasy, a recipe for mentoring disaster or a truth that is only available to that guy, over there.

What IS it with people who arrive at these unshakable assumptions about others based on only the tiniest sliver of the available evidence, and cling fast to these assumptions no matter the additional evidence?


This kind of dude is a stone cold professorial mensch for doing thankless labor on behalf of very young would-be scientists. Really. I mean that.

Huh, I wonder how the Britlandisher science blog collective has been getting along?

I just don’t get what is in the heads of these journalists. Look at sports journalists. They get the box score right. They pursue the injury story, ask questions, do the follow up. Heck, they even do follow up on contract negotiations FFS. Coverage of a drug story in the press, though? Forget about it. No details, no followup. A million stories in the news these days about “bath salts” or “plant food” and allegations of emergency room visits and overdose deaths. Do you think we EVER see followup stories with definitive identification of the drug content (methylenedioxypyrovalerone and 4-methylmethcathinone, we presume)? Never. Journalism sucks.


Update 2: Oh, man, this Gallup poll on estimating the proportion of Gay-Americans is gonna reverberate. I would’a said 5-10% myself. Srsly though, 43% of Democrats think more than 25% of Americans are gay? Really?


A study in Perspectives in Psychological Science by Norton and Sommers is getting a lot of attention. It shows that eleven percent of White people in their sample think that there is maximum anti-White bias in US culture in the 2000’s compared with just 2% of Whites who gave a maximum rating to anti-Black bias. The mean rating of White subjects for anti-White bias in the present day is actually higher than their mean rating for anti-Black bias.

I really don’t have much more to say than this to those poor deluded teabagging souls…

The topic was launched by a query over at writedit’s blog. Someone wanted to know if any K99/R00 awardees had landed R01 grants.

The answer is yes. Some have.

I suspect the question was motivated by a broader curiosity given that it referred to “success” of the grant program itself.

How would you define “success”?

Do you ask about the proportion that landed R01 support versus folks hired at same time w/o a K99/Roo? Seems to miss the idea that transition to independence was the point of the program. Valid or not, the assumption is that these folks were appointed faculty earlier than otherwise would have been the case. Or, appointed, period.

How about versus postdocs awarded F32 at time of K99s? That seems like a better comparison to me. Or maybe the K01- the K99/R00 population I am familiar with is one that might otherwise have been poised to pursue small level funding in almost-faculty positions typical of K01 recipients of my acquaintance.

On the smaller scale answer about success, I know 4 or 5 current Assistant Profs who were/are K99/R00 recipients. All of them seem to feel this was a positive contribution to their job hunt and negotiations. Although one has R01 support already, I don’t think it is necessarily expected value at this point. We’ll have to give it another year or two to really assess if they are having trouble landing grants or having an easy time of it, given the difficulties everyone faces right now.


May 26, 2011

How often do you cite a paper for the overall, Gestalt thrust of the story? For the whole picture?

How frequently do you cite a paper for only a figure or two out of the whole thing? Or for a method?

What does this tell you about the notion that there is such a thing as a meaningful standard of a “complete story”?

I find myself increasingly trying to hold back and let the trainees have the ideas.

Meaning when I’m discussing one of the projects with a postdoc or two, there are gonna be a lot of ideas that we all could possibly arrive at in the discussion.

I think I used to just ramrod ahead with my ideas and let them state theirs if they could get a word in edgewise. Now I try to hold back more. Let them say the more obvious, and not so obvious, ideas in their own ways.

I am uncertain if I am getting older, better* at mentoring, worse** at mentoring or if it even matters.

*recognizing the power and “style” differential?

**babying them?

The question is for current trainees with respect to their current lab or for those who have moved beyond training to answer with respect to their prior labs.

Sports doping is in the news again this week. Some 60 Minutes program accusing Lance Armstrong, yet again, of being a doper who just didn’t get caught. Prof-like Substance has a few thoughts on the matter under a title which questions whether pro cycling can survive if Lance is proven to have doped. Are you kidding? Doping has been with cycling since forever.

I put this up at the original DrugMonkey blog on 8/21/2007.

We’ll start off our discussions on sports doping with the classic psychomotor stimulants, the amphetamines. You know, good old “speed”. A class of drugs primarily considered indirect dopamine agonists because they bind to the dopamine transporter with good affinity (dopamine reuptake inhibitor) and also act to facilitate dopamine release from the terminal. As with similar compounds they also tend to have some affinity for other monoaminergic transporters and will thus modulate norepinephrine and serotonin. Nevertheless, the major action usually under discussion is to increase dopamine levels in the synapse. Read the rest of this entry »

Advice on paper writing over at NatureJobs is mostly boilerplate but I was struck by the first observation.


Consider the final paper when you first plan your project


This doesn’t seem as obvious to trainees as one might think, particularly postdocs.


Sometimes I think it is the most essential role of the mentor to keep harping on “how is this going to contribute to the story, how is this going to fit into a paper?


I am not whinging.
ok. maybe a little. But not a lot. Because this has been the accepted deal for most of my NIH grant funded career in science. Grant awards get reduced from the amount that you have requested and the study section has approved as being appropriate for the work as described.
Notice OD-11-077 gives us the current version of the bad news.

Non-Competing Research Awards for All NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) Except the National Cancer Institute (NCI): The FY 2011 appropriation level specified in P.L. 112-10 reduces funding from FY 2010 levels and thus warrants reductions in commitment levels for NIH research grants. Non-modular research grants, from all ICs, with the single exception of NCI, will be reduced to 1 percent below the FY 2010 award level. Future year commitments will be adjusted for inflation based on this revised FY 2011 level, taking into account the policy assumption in the FY 2012 President’s Budget. Modular grants will be reduced to 1 percent below the FY 2010 level and may be reduced by an inflationary adjustment level set by each Institute or Center (up to the level set by that Institute or Center for non-modular research grants). The adjusted FY2011 award level will also be the new base for future year commitments.

(NCI is starting with a 3% base hit, btw)
So…what does this mean?

Read the rest of this entry »

Remember "Redneck"?

May 20, 2011

No, not these kind.

This one.

He’s tearing up the Tour of California!

With five kilometers to go to the third KOM, the gap had increased a bit with a lead of one minute and 10 seconds on the chasers, still led by Team RadioShack. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) of Team Garmin-Cervelo launched an attack on a small climb that interrupted the decent and was quickly joined by Paul Martens (GER) of Rabobank Cycling Team, but Hesjedal continued to do most of the work on the front. On the third KOM, Anthony crossed the line first, and the fourth KOM was captured by Jonathan Patrick McCarty (USA) of Team Spidertech Powered by C10.

As the race continued, three riders from Team RadioShack kept pace at the front of the peloton. Horner and Leipheimer leapt off the front to chase Hesjedal, leaving Schleck and David Zabriskie (USA) of Team Garmin-Cervelo behind. They were able to catch him, but Horner proved to be too strong for both and he established a gap between himself and Leipheimer and Hesjedal, a decisive move that put Horner in the lead with three kilometers to go until the finish.


The most annoying type of grant to prepare, by several orders of magnitude, is the T32 Institutional Training Grant.

I can’t believe anyone signs up to be the PI of one of those more than once.

So when you are whining about how PIs exist only to exploit you, postdocs, um…shaddap.

Grant Overlap

May 19, 2011

Should you be so lucky to be awarded a new NIH grant, one of the things you have to do right before the award is made is to report to them your sources of Other Support. Meaning an accounting of all your other research funding. One of the things that you have to address is “Overlap”, meaning the degree to which the new award and one of your existing awards proposes to do the exact same research. This is not uncommon and a question at writedit’s blog pleads for help in addressing overlap so as to avoid any reduction in the budget of a new award.

For this project, currently I have a small foundation grant ($100K for 2 years) and I am one year into it. Though the goals and approach are very similar on paper, the scope of the two projects are very different because of the money and duration. How do I report my current funding without getting budget slashed? Do I have to report the ‘overlap’ quantitatively (% overlap) or qualitatively (pilot vs detailed project etc) in my funding list?

Not too unusual, particularly for newly appointed Assistant Professors, right? They are cobbling together little bits of research support in the beginning that allows them to generate the Preliminary Data that are necessary for the NIH R01 proposal to sail through to funding. So it would not be at all strange that at some point there will be a lot of apparent (and actual) overlap between smaller, foundation-type grants and the big R01 proposal.

My prior experience suggests that it is really not that hard to deal with potential overlap and that NIH Program Officers aren’t too hard-case about the issue. They are just looking for a general response, not a point-by-point (or dollar-by-dollar) accounting. They understand that foundation and local awards are the seeds of Preliminary Data. Times change, of course, so it is always worth seeking other experiences and opinions.

My generic advice is to talk about the research progress and not worry so much about specific experiments. Point out what was proposed in your new grant that is already funded by the foundation grant. Roughly. Although in some cases, depending on how y0u wrote your pending NIH proposal, I suppose you might want to reference specific experiments.

Then, outline what you are going to do with the “saved” money and how this will enhance the project *as proposed*. This is important. Your goal, after all, is to preserve your original budget as proposed. You can say things such as“This will allow me to hire an undergrad for the summer.” Or perhaps, “The postdoc proposed for 50% time will now be 75% time…” Perhaps you are going to buy some bling-bling equipment that is going to speed many of your proposed experiments.

The goal is to write something that suggests you will able to do better without stating that you had a compromise in the original budget, if you see what I mean. A couple of additional experiments might be okay but be wary of venturing too far outside of the scope of what has been peer reviewed (in the eyes of the PO). This makes them very nervous.


Any other thoughts Dear Reader? How do you phrase your Overlap excuses?

One of the issues we often discuss on this blog and in the general academic blogosphere relates to generating credit for your scientific work. Your career is influenced in many ways by the degree to which you receive recognition for the work you have done. For the most part this centers around the scientific publication of novel research findings. The issues are varied.

  • What is the reputation of the  journal in which you have published your work?
  • How many authors are credited and what is your position in the list?
  • How good are the experiments, controls and interpretations?
  • How many different methods and approaches did you use to triangulate your conclusions?

These are but a few considerations.

Ultimately, one of the more important ways to value your work brings together many of these other factors.

Citations. How many subsequent publications see fit to cite your paper? This shows, imperfectly, that your paper matters in some way. Matters to the subfield you are in, matters to the larger -ology or matters to other fields entirely. People have read your paper and have decided that your data in some way or other are necessary to the interpretation of  their data. Or are necessary to credit for instigating their work, for shaping their work or for making their work possible.

The topic for today is a simple question. What if your work influences scientific work that is invisible?

Invisible because it is being conducted in a setting in which public communication of results is not a priority or is banned?

In the behavioral pharmacology fields most familiar to me, the best example is the pharmaceutical industry. They use a ton of assays that have been developed, verified, refined, proven, extended, controlled, enhanced….in traditional academic laboratories. They get some ideas about applying a given compound series to a specific disease condition or within a preclinical paradigm from the academic literature as well.

Over time, some of these become their bread-and-butter assays that are used day in, day out to evaluate drug candidates.

Examples are legion but when it comes to methodological approaches, we are talking about such things as intravenous self-administration, locomotor stimulation (or suppression), the Morris water maze, tail suspension, forced swim, the elevated plus-maze, the 5-choice serial reaction time test….and many, many others. These are established/historical examples but science is ever moving forward. People developing methods in their academic labs now are going to create some methods that are used over the next couple of decades in industry.


Now if all of this private use was published, the original academic scientist would accrue traditional credit in citations. And all would be hunky-dory for that person’s career. The trouble is, there is really no way other than word of mouth to assess the invisible, private use of a scientific paper, finding, method or assay.


I’m curious, DearReader, if you have any thoughts on how the academic might make some of this invisible use of her work more visible?  Do you get support letters for your Promotions and Tenure committee evaluations from someone in industry? Do you invent new subcategories on your Full Monty CV to indicate this in some way? List consulting work with an emphasis on how the private company needs you to help them with a method that you developed or invented?