September 28, 2012

It is possible that I am even more motivated to write that grant, finish up that paper or take an experimental run at a project when the competition is someone who is personally a jerk.


September 28, 2012

I recently completed a streak of 32 days in which I got my behind out for a run of at least 1 mi per day.

This followed another streak earlier in the year in which I made it 24 days.

The earlier one, in particular, was sustained through a social media reinforcement meme (#RWRunStreak).

Sustained behavioral change is quite a hurdle for health care, particularly when it comes to exercising regularly, changing food intake and reducing the use of psychoactive substances.

There is a grant application or three in here somewhere.

Analysis II

September 28, 2012

…those who take the listed-second, alleged co-equal contribution author slot are like abused children or battered spouses with Stockholm Syndrome.

It is going to require professional help to bring them back to reality.


September 26, 2012

Junior scientists who have spent many formative years in GlamourMag pursuing laboratories suffer from the academic equivalent of Stockholm syndrome.

It is really not kind of me to front their illusions all at one go.

The always perspicacious Biochemme Belle noted that Francis Collins, boss of the NIH, is suggesting that they need to take steps to de-stigmatize the idea of alternate careers. I.e., careers outside of the traditional academic, grant funded, professorial-appointed track.

At the NIH, we’re in the middle of analysing whether we have the right quality and quantity of training programmes, so people are well prepared for a satisfying and rewarding career. They don’t all have to become tenure-track scientists and clones of their mentors. We need to stop talking about alternative careers as if they are somehow second rate.

I have noted before that the NIH, if you view it as an entity which pays for a service, is making out like a bandit on loopholes to traditional worker protections. Actually, it isn’t all that different from any other white collar, salary style job loophole but it is still a loophole. The work of the NIH is primarily person-work. Lots of people conducting experiments, analyzing them and writing them up into manuscripts which will eventually be published. It is labor.

Correspondingly the NIH benefits when it can get this labor done for less money than would otherwise be accomplished. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Free enterprise my friends, much beloved of all US politicians.

via this

The way it has done this is to get as much of its labor done by “trainees”. That would be graduate students and postdocs. People who are paid less than what we think of as market rate (as indexed by professorial salaries, scientist salaries in industry and even academic technician salaries) to do the work. The way that these poor suckers are deluded into providing this underpaid service is by sticking a carrot in front of their faces.

The carrot is that of a subsequent job on EasyStreet.

Well, a highly desired job, anyway. Which the trainees are told can only be obtained by working their behinds off (often time at well above standard 40 hr weeks), sacrificing many traditional life goals (like marriage, home ownership, childrearing) and the like. The carrot is tasty, and the working conditions for the trainee are hardly slavery, so the system works.

It should never, ever for one second be missed that the NIH is making out like a bandit from this situation and has every interest in continuing it. Otherwise their money would go nowhere near as far in research productivity. Because their labor force would cost them more if the approximately 75% of PHD students who should really be career techs just started as techs the month after their BS was awarded. It would cost them more if the postdocs who really are best suited for some sort of career staff-scientist, low level project directing type of position* likewise started such a full-benefits, COL adjusting, regular raising job right after the PhD dries.

I think Collins’ comment is consistent with trying to keep a good thing going a little longer.

The heat is on about the carrot. People are talking about how few of the donkeys ever get the carrot and how long they keep plodding away in pursuit of an empty goal. If the suckers trainees don’t believe in the carrot anymore, the scam scheme unplanned exploitation structure will start to collapse.

“Aha!”, thinks** the beast that is the NIH. “All we need to do is put up a carrot and three turnips and the poor fools will think they have better odds of getting something!”.

updated: also see this.
*lest this come off as unduly dismissive from my lofty throne, but for a quirk of fate I very likely would have ended up in such a position and have been reasonably happy about it.

**no, I don’t think any of this is explicit and Machiavellian.

As everyone enjoys themselves predicting their h-index using this new tool, it returns us to talking about the measurement of science and the bean-counting of citations.

For those who are new, citations of your academic papers are good, the more you have the better and all of this is well over 90% dependent on factors such as field size and vigor that have essentially nothing to do with the actual quality of your work itself.


Nevertheless, within some approximation of a related set of peer investigators who publish in roughly the same journals you do….well, the number of citations you get may have something to do with how cool your work is. So there’s that.

My point for today is an excessively narrow one. There are plenty of reasons to show why citations cannot be compared to each other. But I mention to you a reason that will forever be transparent to any bean-counting attempt to quantify your paper quality.

A citation is not a citation.

Sometimes a paper is cited in a fluffy or peripheral way. Mentioned once in the Intro along with four other citations as a general point. Maybe even overgeneralizing and getting it a bit wrong.

Sometimes, a paper is cited in a fundamental, formative way. It is an essential background motivation or concept around which the present work is constructed.

The latter is fantastic and means the paper really had impact.

The former can be little better than a marker for being in the game and communicates very little other than the mere fact that you published a paper. That popped up on the first page of a PubMed search or something. Or happened to be lazily cascade-cited through a small thread of science.

The bean counting doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about which type of citation your paper received.

Middle income

September 14, 2012

Romney has really done it this time.

Stephanopoulos: Is $100,000 middle income?

Romney: No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.

Where the middle is approximately the 96th-98th percentile apparently….