July 10, 2012

Do you save the manuscript reviews you’ve written?

I’ve never purged that directory.

I have no idea why not.

I am struck, today, by the thought that a significant benefit of growing old and comfortable as a laboratory is that you don’t care anymore. Read the rest of this entry »

The recent Rock Talk posts on graduate student and postdoctoral training are putting data behind truths that many find self-evident. I am struck by the ensuing commentary threads which say the NIH must do better at tracking the fates of trainees.

The subtext seems to be that the NIH should 1) care about large numbers of people training for ten years for academic careers and not achieving those jobs and 2) do something about it.

There is a very good argument to be made that the NIH is quite happy with the status quo. It permits them to get their work done more cheaply. The labor force is persuaded to work hard for less money through the strategy of dangling a PI career on a stick ahead of postdocs.

The “trainees”/labor force are induced to voluntarily put up with exploitation now because they imagine they will be compensated later for their sacrifices.

Understanding of how the odds apply to themselves is, shall we say, incomplete and optimistic.

The interests of the NIH are best served by maintaining the value of the future reward as high as possible.

With this lens we should view any NIH
protestations about alternative careers for which someone trained by them is suited with a healthy suspicion. The NIH does not have any interest in the nature of the carrot they tie to the stick. They only care that it induces the donkey to keep walking.

sometimes stuff just brings you up short, you know?

Between our high schools, there were three out/outed gay kids. Not one – 0% – of them lived long enough to graduate. All three committed suicide – two in “car accidents” and one with his father’s gun.

I missed the GertyZ-hosted Diversity in Science carnival, Pride Edition.

Whether you are one of us queer scientists, an active ally, or a person who realizes that they have queer friends and/or family members that they care about. What does queer advocacy mean to you? What works? How do these issues change your life as a scientist?

Or, probably not “missed” it. I thought about chiming in several times. But as you know, Dear Reader, I don’t like taking up self-appointed mantles of “ally” or anything like that.

I don’t feel like I have anything authoritative to say beyond, “Be a fucking decent person, why doncha?”.

And it isn’t that hard at all. I am not particularly special, I’ve lived in a fairly heteronormative path of life and I’m, as a certain beloved blog commenter is fond of pointing out, blind as a bat to many of the hyphengendered issues.

So all I ever have is the usual.

I have friends that are gay. Friends from high school, friends from college (hmm, not sure about grad school, have to think about that) and friends from now. Colleagues in my professional life. Members of the extended family. Gay parents in the neighborhood within which I do my own parent thing.

They all deserve the same things everyone else deserves. Period, end of story, why is this even an issue anymore. This is the level of obviousness to me.

Advocacy? Not really, no.

I’m sure many of you are not much different from me….all I can ask is that you take the low-inertia path. Many of you are already on social media of various stripes….just take that extra effort to post your links and views and RT the hell out of things you see that support equality. It isn’t big stuff but then, you already know how to bake your own cookies, right? you don’t need your back patted.

You just want to make your support emphatically clear. You never know when a teenager is going to run across a critical mass of support out there at at a critical moment. Or when a right-wing relative on Fb is finally open to reason. Or when that advocacy link you posted or RT’d will finally, *finally* get through to Uncle Joe.

I’m making this a poll because I fear some might not want to go on record with their response.
Read the rest of this entry »

I received a kind email from Elsevier this morning, updating me on the amazing improvement in 2011 Impact Factor (versus 2010) for several journals in their stable of “Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience Journals”. There are three funny bits here, first that the style was:

2010 Impact Factor WAS 2.838, 2011 Impact Factor NOW 3.174

You have to admit the all-caps is a crack up. Second, THREE decimal places! Dudes, this shit is totally precise and that means….sciencey.

As you know, however, DearReader, I have a rather unhealthy interest in the hilariousity of the Impact Factor and I was thinking about the more important issue here.

Is this a significant difference? Who gives a hoot if the IF goes up by 0.336? Is this in any way meaningful?

I suspect the number of available citations is ever on the increase. The business of science is ever expanding, the pressure to publish relentless and the introduction of new journals continues. This means that IFs will be on some baseline level of background increase over time. This is borne out, I will note, by my completely unscientific tracking of journals most closely related to my interests over the past *cough*cough* years *cough*cough*. They all seem to have gradually inched up a few decimal points year in, year out.

For the 0.336 increase, let us do a little seat of the pants. Let’s say a journal with 20 articles per issue, 12 issue per year….480 items over the 2 year tracking interval for calculating IF. Round it to 160 extra citations*. If only 17% of the articles got two more citations, this would account for it. If a mere 3% of articles turned out to be AMAZING for the sub-sub-sub field and won an extra 10 citations each….this would account for the change.

For one thing, I can now see why editors would be willing to try the “Cite us a few more times” gambit with authors in the review stage. It doesn’t take many intimidated authors throwing in 4-5 more citations of recent work from the journal in question to move a third of an impact factor.

Heck, just one solo operator author could probably make a notable impact over two years. If I put everything we submit into a single journal over two years time, and did my level best to make sure to cite everything plausibly relevant from that journal, I could generate 40 extra citations in two year easily. Probably without anyone so much as noticing what I was up to!

The fact that the vast majority of society rank journals that I follow fail to experience dramatic IF gains suggests that nobody is trying to game the system like this and that seemingly universal increases are a reflection of overall trends for total number of publications. But it does make you wonder about those few journals that managed to gain** a subjective rank over a few years time, say from the 2-4 to the 6-8 range and just how they pulled it off.

This tool permits you to search some citation trends by journal.
*Yes, I realize the overlap year for adjacent annual IFs. For our thought exercise, imagine it is non-overlapping years if this bothers you.

**My hypothesis is that an editorial team would only have to pull shenanigans for 2-4 years and after that the IF would be self-sustaining.