From Research!America we find link to a letter from Reps Markey (D; MA) and Bilbray (R; CA) who ask their colleagues for support in an effort to increase NIH funding. It reads.

We urge you to join the following bipartisan letter supporting the proposed level of funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the FY 2012 Labor-HHS appropriations bill.
The $31.75 billion proposed for NIH (a $1 billion increase from FY 2011) is vital to sustaining NIH’s mission of improving health through medical science breakthroughs and maintaining international leadership in science and biomedical research.
By supporting bright and talented researchers, NIH ensures that the next medical breakthrough will be discovered in American rather than imported from China or India. Today, NIH funding supports more than 350,000 high-paying research positions at over 3,000 universities and research institutions across the country. Another 6,000 scientists work in NIH’s own laboratories.
The letter also urges the Appropriations Committee not to fund NIH at the expense of other programs that improve the health of Americans and supplement the work of the NIH, such as CDC or other medical research and surveillance programs.
We urge you to join this letter and support promising scientific research projects, high-paying jobs, and the hopes of finding cures for devastating diseases that impact millions.
Edward J. Markey Brian Bilbray
Member of Congress Member of Congress

Indeed. Please go to the Congressional directory, find your CongressCritter, click to his/her page and find the “submit email” button. Use their Web form, not capwiz or your own email. Write a note expressing why NIH funded science is important to you, your community, your Congressional district and our country.

If you need some talking points, go on over to RePORTER and do a search gated by your Congressional District. Say something specific about the amount of funding, the awesomeness of your research University or Institute, the types of projects, etc. Take note of your Critter’s pet interests that may intersect with NIH funded science, be they health, the military, children or whatever. Point out the connection between your interest and theirs.

Thanks. All it takes is a few minutes of your time.

[h/t: Isis]

Thanks to all my Readers who have already contributed to Donors Choose this year under my challenge, those of other Scientopians or those of blogs affiliated elsewhere. At present, $24,796 has been contributed by 364 readers of science-related and freethinking blogs. This is fantastic.

We can, however, do more. My blog has only a medium sized audience and I know there are thousands of readers over the course of a couple of weeks.

If you have not contributed yet because you were waiting for a paycheck or have been working on a grant or manuscript, I have another one that caught my eye for your consideration.

A teacher in a high poverty school in San Diego CA explains:

We have two classes of third graders and 1 class each of fourth and fifth graders that include GATE, Special Education and regular ed students. I will be sharing many of these materials with all of our third, fourth and fifth graders. Our school has a 76% free and reduced student population. Many of our students spend 8-10 hours at school each day due to childcare issues.

We are a small public school in a large urban school district in California. With all of the cutbacks in our state, all of our budgets for extension activities have been cut to almost nothing. Without assistance from grants, etc. our students will not be able to experience educational and fun activities like these.

She had me at “GATE”, which stands for “Gifted and Talented Education“. It may be elitist of me, but so be it. The available demographic IQ stats that are available suggest that post-graduate students are on average at least a standard deviation above the mean. We all know that “smarts” are highly valued in our business. We have the sneaking suspicion that very smart people are disproportionally drawn to science careers.

My researches (ok, a few minutes with Google, sue me) suggests that while Gifted students are identified in public education around the US, they are not always well served. Why should they be? They can meet the minimum standards and public education is not so much interested in making sure everyone reaches their potential, just that they meet minimum competency. Middle and upper middle class parents with a smart kid have some options, typically. I may have mentioned that my own children are given numerous extra-curricular educational opportunities because my spouse and I can afford it. Many of your children have, do or will enjoy a similar benefit. Can we not spare $10 or $25 to help some kids who do not have parents who can afford science camps?

My Project: Our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders need live animals to observe (i.e., ladybugs and praying mantis), as well as preserved specimens to dissect (i.e., crayfish, earthworms, starfish.) With this project, we will be able to ensure that our students are able to take part in activities that are meaningful, as well as educational and FUN! This will help me to expose our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders to experiences that they will not be exposed to outside of our classrooms.

It is ever so slightly unusual that this project will impact three grade levels instead of a single classroom. That’s kind of neat. As the teacher states, this is not solely for GATE kids but rather for the general classrooms that happen to include the Gifted children along with the general population and even some Special Ed kids. A nice broad impact for the low, low price of $492 to complete the project.

Won’t you take a moment to donate?

The latest thread over at OER head Sally Rockey’s blog is a treasure trove of disgruntleprofness. I’d like to draw your attention to this comment from “seasoned reviewer”.

As a reviewer, I see grants all of the time with 400K budgets that are essentially paying a PI 180K, a postdoc 50K and a senior tech 75K that produce 1-2 papers per year. Yes, that is reasonable for the amount of staff, but it is WAY over priced in relationship to grants with 250K per year budgets that have a PI paid 25% of salary, a tech and some grad students that publish 2-3 papers per year. Further, the grad students end up paying back the US economy greatly since they then go to high paying jobs in industry, increase the tax base, and provide skilled workers for the biotech industry. Thus, the grant’s impact is greatly multiplied, great science is done and skilled workers are produced.

Easy fix, no? Well…no.

I’m not going to argue with the soft money versus hard money PI issue except to point out that in my grant reviewing experience, and general knowledge of how many grants a lot of hard- and soft-money colleagues maintain, it is rare that a PI who is at cap is devoting 100% effort to one R01.

One essential point is that this person seems to be objecting to the sort of living wage, career stability and anti-exploitation issues that often pop up on the other side of the equation. How can this person suggest prioritizing grad student labor over postdoc labor? Where are all those grad students supposed to go after they defend if we shrink back the postdoctoral support on funded grants? They are all going to just shuffle off into “high paying” jobs in industry and biotech, eh? This betrays fantastical thinking. Those jobs are drying up too! There is no guarantee that a steady stream of graduate student labor (and there is an argument that you are going to need even more warm bodies if you dispense with the expertise that is represented by the postdoc cadre of labor) is going to find a home in industry the minute they defend their PhD.

The comment objects to “senior techs” and presumably refers to more junior ones in the second sentence. Again, where are these junior techs supposed to go? Is this person recommending age discrimination as an industry (NIH funded science, that is) wide practice to save money? Really? This is morally reprehensible.

Then we come to this prediction that the single* grant lab is more productive on a per dollar basis. I used to share this bias but it needs to be placed in a bit of context. One of the things I have ranted on about in the past is the assessment of productivity of a PI. I’ve commented that it is unfair during grant review that the Gestalt impression of a lab’s productivity usually fails to account for the denominator. This can be because a reviewer has an impression based on reviewing manuscripts, seeing TOC feeds and PubMed alerts that this lab is really pumping out the papers. When it gets more objective, say on a competing renewal application, there can be a lot of papers listed which serve double duty. That is, a smart PI will list every plausible grant award as having contributed to each paper. That way each paper counts 2 or 3 times. The reviewer who looks at the Progress Report is not typically motivated to assign fractional publication credit by delving into the PIs other Awards, the Acknowledgement sections of each paper, etc. It is just too much work, there is no good, objective way to do the fractional crediting and it is unclear that such an analysis would do anything but irritate the rest of the panel anyway!

So far I’m sounding on the side of “seasoned reviewer” on the productivity front, no? But here’s the thing….the appearance of higher productivity is also the reality of higher productivity…over the long haul. Sometimes projects go into a rut. Sometimes the grant renewal cycle is painful and long….and can introduce funding gaps. You can’t always hire 1.5 staff members on one grant but you can hire 3 on two grants. Major equipment or other resources…ditto.

I am reluctant to admit this. I still believe that all else equal the starting out, n00b young lab with one grant is likely to be the best productivity bet. But this requires that things go well. That the person has startup to buy the equipment. That staff can be found when needed (i.e., day 1 of the award). That the scope of the science that is necessary (in a post-hoc sort of way) to good productivity has been proposed and funded by the award. That unforeseen holes are not stepped into.

The trouble is, things don’t always go perfectly in science. And the single-award, $250K direct costs laboratory is at greater risk for major productivity disturbance from hindrances that a multi-award lab can surmount.

*I’m assuming from context the person doesn’t really mean only $400K single-R01s but is probably referring to overall level of support…