February 28, 2012

Reader jekka asks:

Are you advocating Least Publishable Unit papers here DM?

My answer?


Naturally this comes with qualifiers. For now, however, I invite you to stretch yourself and

1) Define the Least Publishable Unit concept and manuscript type as cleanly as you can.


2) explain to me what the cost/problem/drawback is in the PubMed era.

Finally, please assure me that you have never cited a paper you consider an LPU, never allowed* such a turd to shape, motivate or inform your research and for goodness sake never polluted a grant application with any such thing.

*naturally, I have done all these things. Repeatedly.

Oh yes, “again“*.

As mentors and lab heads we should make it emphatically clear to all members of our labs that “co-equal” is only equal in the Animal Farm sense. I.e., not. And to secure the specific understanding that it is a nearly valueless sop.

As reviewers, we should start criticizing the practice with some StockCritique action. I suggest “The co-equal credit is a lie and a sham and serves only to buy off the authors who are not listed first. Please explain in full how the contributions are equal”.

As Associate Editors, ditto. Only in spades and with the full weight of accept/not accept behind us.

As Journals, generically, there should be a required statement signed by all co-equal authors. To the effect that “I understand that despite the foot note about co-equal contribution, this will not be viewed as such by the academic community at large. I recognize that it is not permitted to re-order the author line on my CV or biosketch or website. I have made this decision to accept the author position of my own free will with full understanding of the career consequences.

If you cannot sign onto this behavior you are admitting you are an exploiting jerk who is full willing to lie to mentees and/or your fellow trainees about their best career moves and have nothing but your own** selfish interests at heart.

ps. it is an absolute OUTRAGE that PubMed doesn’t include the symbols. This should be a trivial fix.
*for those who think this is a mere trifle, why does it keep coming up, eh? The websearch hits coming to our older posts on this topic never die down.
**if you are the lab head or listed-first author

A Sermon on this Sunday

February 26, 2012

…and now, Santorum saying this speech makes him “want to throw up”.

I wonder why we’ve fallen so far back into darkness.

A query on mentoring

February 24, 2012

One of the most fundamental roles the mentor plays in the development of a scientist is the introduction to the subfield. Making the trainee known to other scientists who make up the field. Publication is key. Proper crediting during seminars is another. Sending the trainees to meetings and introducing them around to the key players is good too.

As I said, in my view this is fundamental. Inescapable. Science is a human enterprise like any other and therefore interpersonal relationships matter. A lot. Even if they are not supposed to, we are unable to escape our biases related to “knowing” and “not knowing” other people.

My question for you Dear Reader, is whether you were Introduced to a subfield as a trainee. Did your mentor(s) make a specific point to enshroud you in a field? If you are a mentor, do you go out of your way to Introduce your trainees?

(If applicable, feel free to tell me that this is a mark of backwater, BunnyHopper dominated OldBoyzGirlz backslapping subfields and should be rigorously uprooted.)

Commenter Physician Scientist notes on a prior post that an individual scientist under suspicion for several dubious papers has retained his NIH funding.


This grant was RENEWED!!!!

Not quite. Or maybe the timeline is not quite what it seems. This would appear to be the most recent competing award in 2009. The budget is listed as ending in 2010 but then it continues onward under the “7R01” code in the next year (indicating a change of University) until 2014.

So the objection may not be all that direct if the news of these alleged frauds, misdeeds and/or actual retractions and corrections hadn’t been known when the grant was reviewed.

However, davebridges continues from my more general query about whether PIs should be viewed as innocent* until proven guilty of fraud.

innocent until proven guilty, but im sure reviewers sure can take into account historical accuracy of a lab. Better to renew a grant of a good lab with an instance sloppy record keeping (if thats the case) than a non-retraction lab whose data is never reproducible

This brings up a related, and more pernicious, issue. In my limited experience, “lab whose data is never reproducible” tends to be the stuff of rumor. Word around the campfire. Suspicion. Widespread far beyond those who might actually have tried seriously to replicate said data.

Correct or false, rarely is it a matter of well-explicated, scientific lack-of-evidence. Which, in itself, would still be problematic. There are many Nobel prizes and other fantastic scientific discoveries with a back story of “nobody believes his data”. At least at first, but that could have continued for years or decades. But if it is only suspicion? even if there are a couple of retracted papers….

Should the grant reviewers bust on an application on this basis? If there was one retracted paper would you refuse to issue a fundable score, even if the application had little to do with the topic of the retracted work?

What if you’ve read some internet clown detailing the “obvious” duplications of figures in papers but they’ve yet to be retracted or corrected? Would you mark the present application from that PI downward?

The flip side is that nobody deserves NIH funding. It is a privilege that is getting rarer all the time, going by the success rates. Seemingly the proposals that make it over the bar are held to the highest standard. As we’ve noted repeatedly, there are LOTS of great applications which are not going to get funded.

So why should we (the system) tolerate even a whiff of impropriety? Why not apply the one-strike and yer out principle?

As you know, we had one major ass retraction in the substance abuse fields in recent memory. Major because of the profile and public interest rather than because it had broad influence on the other scientists. I mean sure, maybe people were trying to replicate and follow up but the retraction came out within a year. Not too much damage was done**.

As far as I can tell Ricaurte kept his grants and kept getting more of them. Never paid any obvious price. Was this right? Should he have been busted out of the business for something over which we still do not know, and will never know, the extent of culpability. Should the reviewers simply moved on to a less tainted individual?

I don’t know. All I know is what I would do as a reviewer which is to try to be as fair as possible and to rely on my fellow panel members to reach consensus over how retractions or more suspicions should be viewed.

What would you do?

*from what I can tell in the chatter, this Chu case is limited to suspicion and a few retractions so far?

**yes, if you were the one wasting a year of work it sucked.

Stephen Curry has asked a key question in the wake of his post on the Welcome Trust’s Open Access policy. I was not previously aware that this policy launched an attack on GlamourMag science.

-specifically the Welcome Trust:

affirms the principle that it is the intrinsic merit of the work, and not the title of the journal in which an author’s work is published, that should be considered in making funding decisions.

Stephen eventually got around to asking how we scientists could reinforce this principle.

It is my view that merely asserting “there are great papers published in journals with more pedestrian IF ratings” will not be enough. This will require explaining just what is wrong with the enterprise of high-IF journal chasing “science”. Confrontation, if you will.

You may recognize that I have been pursuing this agenda on this blog for some time.

As I noted on the repost for Percy L. Julian, Ph.D., earlier this week, I’m swamped this month. So for Black History Month I’m offering up reposts. Today’s installment features a scientist who authored a paper I had occasion to blog a few weeks ago and my email box reports has just been elected to the Board of Directors for the academic society College on Problems of Drug Dependence. This post originally appeared on the Sb blog Feb 2, 2009.

CarlHart.jpgAssociate Professor Carl L. Hart, Ph.D. (PubMed; Department Website; ResearchCrossroads Profile) of the Psychology and Psychiatry Departments of Columbia University conducts research on several drugs of abuse with concentrations on cannabis and methamphetamine. In his studies he uses human subjects to determine many critical aspects of the effects of recreational and abused drugs including acute and lasting toxicities as well as dependence. Dr. Hart is also a contributing member of the New York State Psychiatric Institute Division on Substance Abuse.
In his academic research role, Professor Hart works within the highly respected and very well known Substance Use Research Center of Columbia University where he directs both the Methamphetamine Research Laboratory (Meth R01 Abstract) and the Residential Laboratory. The blurb for this latter will give you a good flavor for the workaday of Dr. Hart’s work:

The residential laboratory, designed for continuous observation of human behavior over extended periods of time, provides a controlled environment with the flexibility to establish a range of behaviors, and the ability to monitor simultaneously many individual and social behavior patterns. This laboratory is equipped with a closed circuit television and audio system encompassing each individual chamber for surveillance and measurement purposes, and to provide continuous monitoring for the participant’s protection. We believe that this relatively naturalistic environment can best meet the challenge of modeling the workplace to predict the interaction between drug use and workplace variables. Because our participants live in our laboratory with minimal outside contact, we are able to evaluate multiple aspects of the effects of drugs on workplace productivity in the same individuals.

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