We are going to fix the NIH

January 28, 2013

Scicurious went to the trouble of Storifying a Twitter conversation that involved @mbeisen, YHN and @KateClancy, among others.

Kate Clancy provided more context for her outrage here in this post, Kate Clancy’s Short Grant Rant: On Broken Promises:

Last night I was talking to a colleague who just heard he missed the funding cutoff for his NIH grant by a single point – a score of 19 and under was funded, and his grant was a 20. He had applied to one of the many institutes that is trying to keep the R01 afloat by reducing funding to all the other funding mechanisms – which happen to be the mechanisms used more by early career faculty because they don’t have enough preliminary data for an R01 for several years.

Michael Eisen’s promised post is here, Restructuring the NIH and its grant programs to ensure stable careers in science:

It is an amazing time to do science, but an incredibly difficult time to be a scientist.

There is so much cool stuff going on. Everywhere I go – my lab, seminar visits, meetings, Twitter – there are biologists young and old are bursting with ideas, eager to take advantage of powerful new ways to observe, manipulate and understand the natural world.

But as palpable as the creative energy is, it is accompanied by an equally palpable sense of dread. We are in one of the worst periods of scientific funding I – and my more senior colleagues – can remember. People aren’t just worried about whether their next grant will get funded, they’re worried about whether a career in academic or public science is even viable

The very first post on the DrugMonkey blog read, in it’s entirety:

Biomedical research scientists in the US (and worldwide) are bright, highly educated and creative folks. Most are dedicated to the public good, undergoing years of low pay while fueling the greatest research apparatus ever built- the NIH-funded behemoth that is American health science. Yet they persist in various types of employment stress and uncertainty for years, with minimal confidence of ever attaining a “real job”. It is dismaying to realize that by the time he received his first R01 (the major NIH research grant) Mozart would have been dead for 7 years (tipohat to Tom Lehrer). The official noises coming from the National Institutes of Health, and even some individual institutes such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (scroll for comments on the young investigator) are positive, sure. We’ve heard such sentiments before, however, and most objective measures show long, uninterrupted dismal trends for the young and developing scientist.

So yeah, my disclaimer is that I have some interest in efforts to fix some of the problems in the career arc of extramural NIH-funded science.

I anticipate that I may get even preachier than usual about these issues on the blog, encouraged by Michael Eisen’s post.

My aspiration is to damp down my tendency to snark and dismiss and exhibit a lack of patience with those who drag up the most obvious and tired points (soak the rich! too many overheads! greedy deadwood tenured jerks with 20 grants!). Feel free to hold me to that on posts tagged Fixing the NIH.

NIHtargets8typesofPIMy request to you is to take your suggestions all the way down. Stand up for what you are really calling for. This means that you should identify who is going to pay the price for your fixes. What type of investigator, what generation of scientist, which types of University. Above all else, step up and admit when your policy plans are designed to conveniently also assist your situation now, in the past or in the future. I will endeavor to do the same.

There is a very simple truism of politics that never fails.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease.

Step up, my friends. Step up to the plate. Go over to Sally Rockey’s blog and throw down comment each and every time there is an opening. Write a letter to Science or Nature. Blog yourself. Write comments on blogs like Eisen’s, Clancy’s or mine. When you talk to your Program Officers at various Institutes or Centers of the NIH…slip in your points about careerism.

SuccessRates1962Don’t whine. Make it about science in your subdiscipline as much as you can and about your personal situation as little as possible. Quote facts about the NIH, preferably those they have generated themselves. Make specific proposals, constructive proposals and be honest about the impacts and implications.

PSA: Beware the 'nip

January 25, 2013

ht: @merz @dirk57

Scientopia Schwaggage

January 25, 2013

I’m doing a face lift over at the Scientopia Blogs CafePress shoppe.

scientopia_performance_dry_tshirtIt’s been a little while since I messed around and they have a few new products including this little number for the #phitnessdouchery types. I realize I never really set this up beyond the basics so it may take me a little bit of time to put up the items that I think would be of interest. Meaning that in the event that you know there’s something in the cafepress catalog that I haven’t put up yet and you want it, drop me a note (drugmnky at the googles mail). I also tend to put images on the back of the shirt where cafepress permits. This is a personal preference. If you want something with the logo on the front drop me a line and we should be able to work that out.

DMScientopiaMugOh, and I got around to making a DrugMonkey logo with the right URL on it finally. Here’s the much beloved simple coffee mug. I’ll get to the rest later.
The only other news is that I’m adding a $0.50-1.00 markup which will be funneled back into the Scientopia operating fund. This is part and parcel of the effort previously leading to the paypal link and now the Google ads on the sidebar. We’re still running a hefty monthly deficit, this is being footed by one of the gang so anything you care to do to chip in will help out a ton.

College demographics

January 23, 2013

From the Atlantic:

Yes, yes, well I’m sure this is all because the pipeline is bad and we all know the blacks just aren’t very smart…

because after all…

huh. waitaminnit….something is odd…..


Read the rest of this entry »

Tragedy of the NIH Commons

January 23, 2013

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

…a fresh look under new Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. The discussions will last into next year and are likely to lead to expansion. Khosla has said that UCSD should be closer to UC Berkeley and UCLA when it comes to graduate student enrollment. About 30 percent of the students at those two schools are graduate students. The figure is roughly 20 percent at UCSD, and only about one-third of those students are Ph.D candidates.

Khosla told U-T San Diego that the campus probably could add 1,000 doctoral students at no additional cost because their tuition and stipends are paid from the research grants obtained by faculty. UCSD gets about $1 billion a year in research grants, ranking the campus among the top 10 nationally.

The part that I bolded tells the tale. The tale of our recent history during the NIH doubling in which all and sundry sought to increase their University standing and prestige “for free” on the Federal grant dime.

Khosla appears to be remarkably out of touch with current reality if he thinks this continues to be a winning strategy.

Perhaps he should survey his faculty and ask them who anticipates being able to swing more grad student positions (for 5-6 years) in the future based on their grants.

@mbeisen is on fire on the Twitts:

@ianholmes @eperlste @dgmacarthur @caseybergman and i’m not going to stop calling things as they are to avoid hurting people’s feelings

Why? Open Access to scientific research, naturally. What else? There were a couple of early assertions that struck me as funny including

@eperlste @ianholmes @dgmacarthur @caseybergman i think the “i should have to right to choose where to publish” argument is bullshit


@eperlste @ianholmes @dgmacarthur @caseybergman funding agencies can set rules for where you can publish if you take their money

This was by way of answering a Twitt from @ianholmes that set him off, I surmise:

@eperlste @dgmacarthur how I decide where to pub is kinda irrelevant. The point is, every scientist MUST have the freedom to decide for self

This whole thing is getting ridiculous. I don’t have the unfettered freedom to decide where to publish my stuff and it most certainly is an outcome of the funding agency, in my case the NIH.

Here are the truths that we hold to be self-evident at present time. The more respected the journal in which we publish our work, the better the funding agency “likes” it. This encompasses the whole process from initial peer review of the grant applications, to selection for funding (sometimes via exception pay) to the ongoing review of program officers. It extends not just from the present award, but to any future awards I might be seeking to land.

Where I publish matters to them. They make it emphatically clear in ever-so-many-ways that the more prestigious the journal (which generally means higher IF, but not exclusively this), the better my chances of being continuously funded.

So I agree with @mbeisen about the “I have the right to choose where I publish is bullshit” part, but it is for a very different reason than seems to be motivating his attitude. The NIH already influences where I “choose” to publish my work. As we’ve just seen in a prior discussion, PLoS ONE is not very high on the prestige ladder with peer reviewers…and therefore not very high with the NIH.

So quite obviously, my funder is telling me not to publish in that particular OA venue. They’d much prefer something of a lower IF that is better respected in the field, say, the journals that have longer track records, happen to sit on the top of the ISI “substance abuse” category or are associated with the more important academic societies. Or perhaps even the slightly more competitive rank of journals associated with academic societies of broader “brain” interest.

Even before we get to the Glamour level….the NIH funding system cares where I publish.

Therefore I am not entirely “free” to choose where I want to publish and it is not some sort of moral failing that I haven’t jumped on the exclusive OA bandwagon.

@ianholmes @eperlste @dgmacarthur @caseybergman bullshit – there’s no debate – there’s people being selfish and people doing the right thing

uh-huh. I’m “selfish” because I want to keep my lab funded in this current skin-of-the-teeth funding environment? Sure. The old one-percenter-of-science monster rears it’s increasingly ugly head on this one.

@ianholmes @eperlste @dgmacarthur @caseybergman and we have every right to shame people for failing to live up to ideals of field

What an ass. Sure, you have the right to shame people if you want. And we have the right to point out that you are being an asshole from your stance of incredible science privilege as a science one-percenter. Lecturing anyone who is not tenured, doesn’t enjoy HHMI funding, isn’t comfortably ensconced in a hard money position, isn’t in a highly prestigious University or Institute, may not even have achieved her first professorial appointment yet about “selfishness” is being a colossal dickweed.

Well, you know how I feel about dickweedes.

I do like @mbeisen and I do think he is on the side of angels here*. I agree that all of us need to be challenged and I find his comments to be this, not an unbearable insult. Would it hurt to dip one toe in the PLoS ONE waters? Maybe we can try that out without it hurting us too badly. Can we preach his gospel? Sure, no problem. Can we ourselves speak of PLoS ONE papers on the CVs and Biosketches of the applications we are reviewing without being unjustifiably dismissive of how many notes Amadeus has included? No problem.

So let us try to get past his rhetoric, position of privilege and stop with the tone trolling. Let’s just use his frothing about OA to examine our own situations and see where we can help the cause without it putting our labs out of business.

*ETA: meaning Open Access, not his attacks on Twitter


January 21, 2013

Against my usual principles in such matters, I’ve been reading pro-cyclist Tyler Hamilton’s confessional book. It isn’t the finest writing in the world, as you might imagine. There are also a lot of specifics about particular races, events and participants/characters that will be of interest only to those who followed pro cycling during Tyler’s career.


There is a great deal of parallel here for the top level ranks of competitive sciencing. A great deal. And if we do not clamp down hard on where the Glamour Game has been taking science lately, this is where we are headed.

A place where “everybody is doing it, so we’re just leveling the playing field by photoshopping bands” is true, if not an excuse.

I suggest you read Hamilton’s book with a constant eye on science fraud.