Too many applicant institutions at the NIH Grant trough?

April 4, 2013

Head of the NIH OER Sally Rockey posted another set of data on the extramural research population, this time focused on the applicant institution, aka, Universities, Med Schools, Research Institutions, etc.

my staff and I took a look at the number of institutions that submitted competing research project grant (RPG) applications each fiscal year, going back to 1995. In addition to looking at all RPGs, we also looked at data for R01s only.

This post is relevant to our ongoing discussion of the RealProblemTM at the NIH and the consequent ObviousSolutions(R). A comment on a recent post trolled me into revisiting this Rock Talk post.

At least with respect to RO1s it would seem to argue against the “a bunch of middling non-research intensive institutions jumped on the extramural bandwagon during the doubling” theory that’s occasionally been floated here.

Rockey-Applicants_ChartMarch2013I don’t agree that these data “argue against” at all. Not in the least. Unique Research Project Grant applicant* institutions went up 80%, if you limit the analysis only to R01s, 40%. This was the maximum effect of the doubling and numbers have subsequently subsided from the peak. Still, the most pertinent observation is that RPG seeking institutions remain 50% more numerous than they were in the late 1990s. As we’ve previously discussed, the unrelenting pace of inflation has resulted in an effective Un-doubling, putting the NIH budget back on the trendline established in decades prior to the doubling (and again, inflation means it never really doubled, 50% more purchasing power at best) interval. That un-doubling analysis is a bit old (2008) so we could be in quite a bit worse shape right now, following a few more years and the sequester.

Any way you look at it, seems a significant increase in competition from the *institutional* perspective to me.There are half again as many institutions fighting over what is very likely less than 150% of the purchasing power of the late 1990s budgets.

Is there anyone out there that believes that the pool of NIH-seeking institutions that existed in the late 1990s have shrunken the number of PIs that they each have applying?

__
*awardee RPG institutions went from 600 to 800 during the doubling. R01 *awardee* institutions went from about 450 to 55o. 33% increase versus 22% increase. Not much better than the applicant-institution numbers. I argue that the applicant institution number is more relevant to the low paylines, increased grant churning and overall dismality of the NIH situation at present.

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109 Responses to “Too many applicant institutions at the NIH Grant trough?”

  1. AcademicLurker Says:

    Trolling? Moi?

    It’s interesting that when the number of competing institutions for RO1s returned back to the baseline in the late 00’s, there was no accompanying easing up of paylines. The “undoubling” at work, I suppose.

    Like

  2. drugmonkey Says:

    Why are you so obsessed with the R01s as opposed to the RPG numbers?

    Like

  3. AcademicLurker Says:

    Why are you so obsessed with the R01s as opposed to the RPG numbers?

    Because it’s the mech. that I apply for 95% of the time.

    I guess the question is: how much $$ do the other RPGs draw away from the RO1 pot?

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  4. Dave Says:

    Does it really make any bloody difference? Do we really care where the applications come from?

    All that matters is 1) has the number of applications changed over the last x years, 2) has the number of awards changed over the last x years, 3) has the success rate changed over the last x years and, 4) what is the effect of inflation on the buying power of a standard modular R01?

    That’s it.

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  5. Mike Says:

    This may be an inappropriate question, but straightforwardly speaking, is there a list of these new institutions seeking R01s which never did so before? Most of the provincial places that leap to mind, my mind being probably biased and elitist, have been medical schools for a very long time (UAMS, MUSC, GHSU). I have no real notion of what the research landscape was like 20 years ago, beyond the obvious prestige institutions.

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  6. Does it really make any bloody difference? Do we really care where the applications come from?

    Of course it does, dumfucke. We gotta decide which of those other fuckers over there is gonna get whacked.

    Like

  7. DrugMonkey Says:

    It only makes a difference if you think the current level of grant churning and the success rates are a problem, Dave.

    Like

  8. Dave Says:

    So what are you suggesting? Ban certain institutions from submitting NIH grants? That’s stooooopid.

    I reckon we should ban Harvard, Yale, Columbia etc from submitting any grants at all. Kill the Ivy pussies.

    Like

  9. Mike Says:

    Travel back in time and ban certain institutions from overbuilding new facilities?

    Like

  10. DrugMonkey Says:

    I am suggesting only that successful resolution of problems requires a thorough understanding of what brought those problems about.

    Like

  11. zb Says:

    I did not know that there were 2000+ institutions in the US that could even submit an NIH grant. It must be possible to parse out this info on whether any of them get grants, right?

    I’m wondering if any significant part of the increase is an increase in private institutions (the Allen Institute comes to mind), but I’m sure there are other similar institutes, some of which might be university spinoffs. Or is the increase an increase in lower tier universities?

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  12. NIH Budget Cutter Says:

    Que Viva el Partido del Te!!!

    The data is clear. The number of R01 applicant and awardee institutions hasn’t really changed in a scale large enough to justify the R01 success rates to drop from the 30s% to the low 10s%. And I don’t know why you guys are worried about this issue. It’s irrelevant where the NIH beggars are from; what really matters is why there are some many NIH beggars.

    According to our friends at FASEB, it’s because you guys keep making clones of yourselves:

    http://www.faseb.org/Portals/0/PDFs/opa/NIH%20Grant%20Slideshow.ppt

    From:

    http://www.faseb.org/Policy-and-Government-Affairs/Data-Compilations/NIH-Research-Funding-Trends.aspx#sthash.pJDsNQEE.dpbs

    And,

    http://www.faseb.org/Portals/0/PDFs/opa/Education%20and%20Employment%20Data%20Slides.ppt

    From:

    http://www.faseb.org/Policy-and-Government-Affairs/Data-Compilations/Education-and-Employment-of-Scientists.aspx#sthash.d6w3hAbO.dpbs

    The take home message is that the NIH has been decreasing the amount funds to R01 grants (in proportion to their budget), while at the same time, the overall budget has stalled (and now cut, thank you–Lord Jesus!!!). Therefore, as you can imagine, the number of R01 awards has been decreasing. When you couple that with the fact that there are more and more R01 beggars like yourselves (because you keep mass producing them), the success rate plummets and you start crying.

    Yes, it’s true, you can blame the NIH for throwing less and less money for R01s, but you should also look in the mirror: the second component of the “crisis” is that there are more and more mouths to feed. Grad students and imported postdocs are your cheap labor, and to you they might be attractive in the short-term, but what about the long-term? What did you think all these guys were going to do after you “trained” them? After all, weren’t you teaching them how to be R01 beggars?

    By the way, did you know that Sally’s legal name is Sarah Rockey?

    https://ned.nih.gov/search/ViewDetails.aspx?NIHID=0012081281

    And did you know that she made 240k in 2011?

    http://php.app.com/fed_employees11/details.php?recordID=428522

    Now, **that** is a sweet deal!

    Like

  13. NIH Budget Cutter Says:

    LOL! My comments now must await moderation… I am so proud of myself!

    Like

  14. drugmonkey Says:

    Pretty standard for linkfests, genius.

    Like

  15. Me Says:

    240K is a lot of money.

    Like

  16. kant Says:

    Yes, it is a lot!. And a lot of outrage.

    Like

  17. Ola Says:

    An interesting take home from the FASEB .ppt posted by NIH Budget Troller, is that the “average” RO1 (including indirects) is now about $420k, up 92% from the mid’ 90s. I would bet that inflation in IDC rates might be a driver behind that 92% number.

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  18. Grumble Says:

    Has anyone noticed the Stupid Graph Trick that Sally/Sarah/$240kperyear/whatever Rockey used in that graph? Namely, the data maxes out at about 2200, but the Y axis maximum is… 3500. Why not just increase it to 10,000,000 to make it look like there was *no increase at all*??? In my lab meetings the adjective used to describe this sort of thing is “slimey.” (I wonder whether sliminess correlates with salary?)

    Anyhow, the next graph in her post is very enlightening compared to the first. The next graph shows that the number of institutions who actually received one or more awards is well under 1,000. That means that a lot of those 2000 applicant institutions were submitting only one or two grants. So collectively, as competition for the rest of us (most of whom are at big universities that get a lot of NIH funding), these 1,2 grant institutions are a drop in the bucket.

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  19. Dave Says:

    NIH Budget Cutter is right on the money. All this chat about who is applying and from where is a waste of time. This has been a problem long in the making and my major concern at this point is that many schools are continuing to ramp up graduate school enrollment. My school certainly is (president was touting a 15% increase in enrollment as a good thing in a speech two weeks ago) even when existing (very poor quality) students can no longer find labs to work in because of the financial issues. We just received a campus wide email yesterday begging PIs to accept the “very talented” students that are now labless, but nobody has any money for them. Apparently our administration is unable to connect the dots.

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  20. Dave Says:

    And did you know that she made 240k in 2011?

    Maybe she will also give back 5% of her salary 😉

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  21. Grumble Says:

    Dave – eventually the administrators will get the message. They’re taking on so many students with the expectation that PIs will find ways to cover their stipends. When the PIs can’t do so, the administraton will cut the number of students in a big hurry. That or stop guaranteeing that every student will get a stipend.

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  22. DrugMonkey Says:

    Without making comment on the current incumbent, I sure as hell want the OER of NIH headed by someone of the talent and capability that can command a $240K salary. You don’t?

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  23. DJMH Says:

    Obviously, the increase in R01s came from ignorants who think the “0” in R01 is the letter “oh”, not the number “zero”. Killing those dummies off should clear the decks pronto. Who’s with me????!

    Like

  24. Grumble Says:

    Grumble for head or OER!! All I have to do is sit around making misleading graphs and posting them on a blog, right? And constantly assert that everything is just fine and those shudders you feel have nothing to do with the ship striking an iceberg. I could do all that for $240k. Sounds just as useful as my &^$# dean, who earns considerably more. Where do I sign up?

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  25. Dave Says:

    I sure as hell want the OER of NIH headed by someone of the talent and capability that can command a $240K salary.

    Goes without saying, but it’s not easy to determine who and who doesn’t “command” such a salary.

    Like

  26. drugmonkey Says:

    Pointing out Rockey’s salary as if it is notable and a bad thing is stupid. We want that to be the level the head of the OER gets paid because we want someone of that quality to inhabit the job. If the complaint is that the current inhabitant of the job isn’t up to the task, whinging about the salary level is a total distraction from the real point. right?

    Like

  27. DJMH Says:

    My only comment about Rockey’s salary, again independent of the actual holder of the post, is that the President of the Unites States of America earns $400,000. Do we think being head of OER is 60% as difficult to do as being POTUS is?

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  28. drugmonkey Says:

    No, we think that the POTUS is woefully underpaid.

    Like

  29. Jonathan Says:

    DJMH you know that the most well compensated federal employees are the coaches of the various service colleges’ hand egg teams?

    Like

  30. Potnia Theron Says:

    This –> I am suggesting only that successful resolution of problems requires a thorough understanding of what brought those problems about.

    It may not matter, but its good to have all the background data you need before you start trying to do something, rather than just whinging in the comments.

    Caring about Rockey’s salary is irrelevant. Or Collins’. etc. There are lazy bad people who make more than you or me, and there are very good hardworking people who make more of a difference and less of da money. More to the point, it is a drop in the bucket of the financial problems. Pay more attention to where the money goes.

    I tend to agree that what matters is the number of mouths at the trough. And that people at the Glamour Institutions get a leg up over the slobs at the K-mart ones.

    But in the end, what are you doing to change this, beyond bitching here? Beyond writing the occasional email to your congress critter?

    Like

  31. Eli Rabett Says:

    Eli calls bullshit. Go the NIH reporter and sort on funding amount for 2013. There are 854 institutions

    1-100 $2,799,018,838 75%
    101-200 $532,137,224 14%
    201-300 $184,308,833 5%
    301-400 $97,404,245 2.6%
    401-500 $56,102,553 1.5%
    501-600 $34,758,171 0.9%
    601-700 $24,114,379 0.6%
    701-800 $12,823,410 0.3%
    801-854 $1,487,134 bupkes

    The only way to solve this is to wipe out Hopkins and the University of California

    Total funding 3,742,154,787

    Like

  32. DrugMonkey Says:

    Death to Hopkins and UCs!!!!!

    Like

  33. Potnia Theron Says:

    Actually, these numbers are misleading, as the lumping of what constitutes a university is not totally kosher. Hopkins is on top because APL (advanced physics laboratory) is counted as part of it, and it is about 10-20% of the total (can’t find numbers right now, but will look). Harvard, on the other, does not get to count various hospitals where its professors profess and occasionally do research and rake in the enormous great gobs of money. This is an issue to the USN&WR rankings of medical schools (which matter ferociously to Boards of Trustees), as grant dollar rankings count heavily in this.

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  34. Dave Says:

    Caring about Rockey’s salary is irrelevant

    Oh, yeh, of course it is. Whinging, no less, right? I would argue salaries at the NIH is very much on the table given the sequester and given that the NIH refuses to furlough their workers and instead passes off budget cuts to you and I in the form of payline cuts. Next time you whinge about paylines, think more about where the money goes.

    And that people at the Glamour Institutions get a leg up over the slobs at the K-mart ones.

    Right, and this isn’t irrational whinging at all.

    But in the end, what are you doing to change this, beyond bitching here? Beyond writing the occasional email to your congress critter?

    The amount of times I have seen this bullshite written in blogs lately. What exactly do you propose we can do to change anything at the NIH?

    Like

  35. DrugMonkey Says:

    Well, people on faculty could certainly shut off the grad admissions, kick students out for failin quals/advancement, refuse to train postdocs and go after particular categories of grant applicants on study section if they so chose.

    Is this what you meant Potnia?

    Like

  36. DrugMonkey Says:

    Oh and Death to Harvard and any grant receiving hospital within a 100 miles of Harvard!!!!

    Like

  37. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I don’t think we should do anything other than (1) lobby our congressdouches to appropriate more funds to NIH and (2) try to keep our own asses funded as best as possible. I see no evidence that “the system is broken”. If the budgets stay tight, then the fairest way to shell motherfuckers out of the system is via peer review.

    Like

  38. TwoYellowsMakeRed Says:

    Semi-random thoughts.

    1. The NIH is a public agency. Anyone who can follow the process to submit a grant application, regardless of whether he/she can put together one coherent sentence, is allowed to apply for a grant. That’s what you get for insisting on taxpayer-funded science.

    2. Grants are awarded or a competitive basis and it would be unfair to assume that the grants awarded to new institutions were not earned. So there are two sides: one saying that they can’t get grants because Podunk U is getting funded and the other saying that thier small institution can’t get a fair shake in study sections made up of the good ol’ boy network of ILAFs (learned that one recently). Sure, there are small programs for research non-intensive institutions, but if you have a problem with that, take it up with Congress. [WARNING: Hyperbolic hypothetical ahead] When an influential member of Congress (i.e. on an NIH appropriations committee) complains that his/her state doesn’t get NIH grants (even though they may not have a medical school) NIH has to play the political game and develop “mechanisms for institutions that have no facilities to support biomedical research.”

    3. Universities spin off research institutions that may account for some of the “new” institutions. WTF is Ragon?

    4. Complaining about Rockey’s salary or the lack of furloughs at NIH is playing right into the tea party’s hands.

    Like

  39. Terry Says:

    Hmm. I find it kind of heartening that folks at big institutions working to get their share of the R01 pie are bothered by Rinky-Dink universities trying to get a seat at the table.

    I’m in an NSF and not NIH field, and the dynamics are really different. Though my campus isn’t thought of as one that’d host an R01, we have one person at SUNWP (State University of NorthWestern Podunk) who has no problem landing them and doing well with them. Good on him.

    I’m generally tired of the trend that large research institutions need to bring in so much overhead just to keep the campuses afloat. For example, when the UCs were developed, the state actually paid to run the places and the overhead was a lot of gravy. Now, without a massive flow of grants and contracts, the UC system would crash overnight. This indirect fashion in which the federal government props up state institutions isn’t in the long-term interest of the research community. As competition for federal dollars gets tighter, as we get more and more universities that can run Ro1s successfully, the man is going to have to figure out how to run a university without using its research staff as the sole breadwinner. Interesting times ahead.

    Like

  40. DrugMonkey Says:

    Why is the indirect system by which states prop up the research that the Fed wants done so much more justifiable? What other needed Federal good or service has this cost sharing arrangement?

    Like

  41. Dave Says:

    Complaining about Rockey’s salary or the lack of furloughs at NIH is playing right into the tea party’s hands.

    That is total nonsense. Pretty much every other fucking government department that is taking it up the arse with the sequester is including furloughs as part of dealing with the cuts. And the NIH is probably one of the worst hit by the sequester overall because of the way their budget is structured, and so it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that NIH issue furlough notices. Or at the very least consider it as part of a management strategy.

    Like

  42. Eli Rabett Says:

    Potnia NIH doesn’t fund much at Hopkins APL which is a Navy shop. You are right on total support, APL does distort the JHU share, but what Eli pointed to is NIH support.

    Death to Hopkins and UC.

    Like

  43. The other Dave Says:

    Personally, as a taxpayer I’m ticked off at the soft money institutions and medical schools that provide no hard salary support charge grants and for every time the PI uses the toilet. This is inefficient use of NIH dollars, compared to places that get work done with much less overhead cost. Ban all soft money places. They are parasites.

    And like NIH Budget Cutter said, we need to stop churning out more beggars. NIH should stop funding all trainees. Why spend money exacerbating the problem?

    Like

  44. yikes Says:

    I like this blog, but I’m a Princeton alum with a soft money position at UC. Crap! Well, at least I didn’t marry a Princetonian.

    I like the idea of increasing the NIH budget much better than the idea of us scientists figuring out who among us is not worthy of the remaining scraps. I think UC and Hopkins and Harvard put their NIH money to good use, and that SUNWP should get some funding too. I’m trying to hang on until the GDP picks up and maybe NIH funding will increase again.

    As far as reducing the number of grad students – can they just go to industry? It seems to me that fewer and fewer incoming students want a TT position anyways. They see how ridiculous it is.

    Like

  45. Dave Says:

    I’m trying to hang on until the GDP picks up and maybe NIH funding will increase again.

    GDP picks up? That’s a laugh. Have you seen what is happening in Europe? If the GOP deficit hawks continue along this path, GDP growth will be very modest for years to come. 2014 mid-terms are very important but, failing that, a double-dip recession ASAP could do wonders for the NIH budget and might bring another targeted stimulus.

    As far as reducing the number of grad students – can they just go to industry?

    No jobs there either.

    Like

  46. Dave Says:

    Ban all soft money places. They are parasites.

    Riiiiight. There goes every med school.

    Kill the tenured douches instead!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lazy old fuckers.

    Like

  47. TwoYellowsMakeRed Says:

    Dave – The part of the NIH budget that includes employee salaries is called Research Management and Support. I’m not sure about intramural research, but RMS covers salaries for POs, SROs, secretaries, travel, paper, staples, etc. This was 5% of the total NIH budget in FY2012 (http://report.nih.gov/nihdatabook/index.aspx click on Budget History, then the FY2012 link)).

    So arguing that cutting into this 5% is necessary is analogous to the tea party argument of making repeated cuts from a small slice of the federal budget (discretionary spending in the case of the TPers) to balance it. But if what you’re going for is enpty symbolism, then sure.

    Like

  48. Dave Says:

    So arguing that cutting into this 5% is necessary is analogous to the tea party argument

    LOL no it isn’t. This has got nothing to do with bloody politics so get over it.

    The 5% RMS budget is just for admin and doesn’t include salaries for research etc. In any case my general point, which you clearly have missed, is that the NIH should have at least considered furloughs as part of the overall plan of absorbing the sequester cuts. I do not think that is unreasonable. Don’t mistake my comments on this as an indicator that I support in any way the sequester and, according to your definition, the GOP. I absolutely do not.

    Like

  49. Eli Rabett Says:

    Yikes, yes, UC and Hopkins do a great job, but anyone who thinks that you can get 5% reduction out of the bottom 100 failed math. For 5% you need to eliminate about 500 of the 850 NIH grantee institutions. Good luck on that.

    Like

  50. DrugMonkey Says:

    Kill the 500!!!!!!

    Like

  51. TwoYellowsMakeRed Says:

    Nah. It’s pretty much the Tea Party strategy to save money by shaving the already-cut smaller slices of the pie and putting the burden on Federal workers. You may not be a Tea Partier (and I never said you were) but you’re making their argument.

    Like


  52. Answers to various points:

    @Dave “Next time you whinge about paylines, think more about where the money goes.” – BS salaries of administrators are a relatively small ortion of the pie. Do the math.

    “And that people at the Glamour Institutions get a leg up over the slobs at the K-mart ones. Right, and this isn’t irrational whinging at all.”
    It is. It is.

    @DM “Well, people on faculty could certainly shut off the grad admissions, kick students out for failin quals/advancement, refuse to train postdocs and go after particular categories of grant applicants on study section if they so chose. Is this what you meant Potnia?”
    Yes, and there is more to do. Talk to the fracking administrators at your uni. I wrote a post about the power of jr faculty (on Isis’s blog, I think). People do listen. Stop singing to the choir. Go find someone who might listen. More on this later.

    @CPP ” I don’t think we should do anything other than (1) lobby our congressdouches to appropriate more funds to NIH and (2) try to keep our own asses funded as best as possible. I see no evidence that “the system is broken”. If the budgets stay tight, then the fairest way to shell motherfuckers out of the system is via peer review.”

    Half right – The breakage in the system is that there is not enough money to go around. Peer review may suck, but please come up with a better system that does explicitly benefit YOU (not CPP, whoever is proposing the system).
    Lobbying congress-critters is important. All you have to do is look at the unequal distribution of money to disease entity. It is not based on severity of disease, or occurrence in the population. It is based on lobbying.

    @TwoYellowsMakeRed “The NIH is a public agency. Anyone who can follow the process to submit a grant application, regardless of whether he/she can put together one coherent sentence, is allowed to apply for a grant. That’s what you get for insisting on taxpayer-funded science.”
    Not sure why this is a problem. Alternatives (please see comment above to CPP)

    Like

  53. Dave Says:

    Crowdfunding FTW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  54. The other Dave Says:

    “Ban all soft money places. They are parasites.

    Riiiiight. There goes every med school.”

    No. The people who actually teach at medical schools stay. Thus, the medical schools are fine. The only thing that gets chopped are the professional grant writers that the medical school hired in order to extract money from NIH. Medical schools traditionally were hard money places, until med school administrators got greedy. Start reading at page 254 “Recent Change sin Federal Research Funding” in American Medical Schools and the Practice of Medicine: A History. Conveniently online:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=f6-X_5XBNeoC&pg=PA257&lpg=PA257&dq=med+school+hard+money+history&source=bl&ots=Y52hfqkTgq&sig=KHVPLbLqzOWvPegvgRuq0HT2t-c&hl=en&sa=X&ei=mvRhUd7QBMfUqAG79IGoBQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=med%20school%20hard%20money%20history&f=false

    Anyone here who thinks that biomedical science funding is going to substantially increase again is dreaming. Most likely it will be cut further. The writing is on the wall. The Great NIH Funding Experiment failed.

    Like


  55. […] Quick fucking around on the internet and get one more paper out. CPP said it best one strategy is to keep our own asses funded as best as […]

    Like

  56. Dave Says:

    I agree with you that the NIH will likely see flat budgets for years to come and I also agree with you that med schools have contributed to the problem with the expansion of soft-money positions. No doubt about it.

    What I don’t think will happen is that med schools will suddenly realize that the writing is on the wall and start supporting more of their faculty with hard money. Never going to happen. I don’t know if you are in a med school, but at mine the response to the NIH funding decline is pretty and clear and boils down to this:

    Increase revenue from clinical services and put research on a back burner.

    Build more clinical buildings with no labs, increase MD hires, close more labs etc etc. Worst case scenario? Research will be a luxury that only elite schools (and investigators) will be able to partake in.

    Like

  57. fjordmaster Says:

    Dave,

    As an intramural researcher, albeit one that would not be directly affected by potential furloughs, I think NIH made the correct decision by taking intramural furloughs off the table. My institute has lost many of it’s most productive investigators over the last five or so years. Major factors in the exodus have been relatively low salary and/or political disagreements.

    Furloughs are highly emotional and can produce outsize responses compared to the actual financial hit. I think the NIH administration was worried that more top investigators, who even in tough times have other job opportunities, would leave. This would damage the intramural program for long time. With that in mind, furloughs would have been a short-sighted way to deal with what they hope is a temporary funding crunch.

    Like

  58. fjordmaster Says:

    I should also add that the “researcher salary” line item in the intramural budget has not been untouched. I have seen cases of staff scientists’ contracts not being renewed and those particular positions being eliminated.

    Like

  59. DrugMonkey Says:

    fjordmaster-

    You do grasp, do you not, that all of your fears apply to extramural institutions as well? So all you are arguing is that intramural research is a special flower that deserves unique protection. What is the basis for that argument?

    Like

  60. Potnia Theron Says:

    more than special flower – a snoflake embedded in superglue. See: http://www.ehow.com/how_2062910_save-snowflakes.html

    Like

  61. Grumble Says:

    “I’m generally tired of the trend that large research institutions need to bring in so much overhead just to keep the campuses afloat. For example, when the UCs were developed, the state actually paid to run the places and the overhead was a lot of gravy. Now, without a massive flow of grants and contracts, the UC system would crash overnight. This indirect fashion in which the federal government props up state institutions isn’t in the long-term interest of the research community.”

    Hm, OK. Do you own a home? Then let me change a few words and see what you think:

    “I’m generally tired of the trend that homeowners need the federal mortgage interest tax deduction just to keep their finances afloat. For example, before we even had income tax, home buyers actually paid for their houses themselves. Now, without a massive flow of tax money to fund this deduction, the housing market (and economy as a whole) would crash overnight. This indirect fashion in which the federal government props up housing prices isn’t in the long-term interest of the community.”

    But that’s not true, is it? Just like with homeownership, Federal investment in research, including in overhead, is just that – an investment that makes the government a partner. This leads to more research being done (and more widespread home ownership), both of which benefit society as a whole.

    The question is how to limit the number of researchers competing for a fixed pool of dollars: when it gets to the point where researchers are obligated to spend 90% of their time writing grants, then the system no longer produces research results as efficiently as it could. One method of accomplishing this is to demand that universities put more skin in the game: people don’t expect the government to pay for all their housing costs, only a sizeable chunk. In the same way, institutions shouldn’t expect the government to pay for all the administrative costs of doing research.

    In other words, it should no longer be enough for the dean to raise money to build a new research building. The dean should also be required by the IDC agreement to raise money to endow some set portion of administrative costs.

    Like

  62. fjordmaster Says:

    Drugmonkey,

    I believe the same thing does apply to the extramural community and I did not mean to give you the impression that I think intramural researchers are special or deserve special consideration. However, I do not think (maybe I am wrong) that NIH administration has direct control over extramural staffing. Since they have control over intramural staffing, I think they have made the most rational long-term decision in avoid furloughs, if at all possible.

    Like

  63. Jonathan Says:

    Dave your arguments are incoherent. As TwoYellowsMakeRed points out, only 5% of NIH’s budget goes to RMS, and the place is already running so understaffed that furloughing workers (which would take 60+ days FYI for FTEs and not sure how long for contractors) would still only save pennies. What’s more, NIH ICs have been running all year on budgets that built in an expected 10% cut, so actually you’ll probably find that the last councils of the year will contain a flurry of awards which everyone suddenly discovers they can pay. Oh, and that means intramural labs have already absorbed a cut for FY13. But please, by all means, keep telling us how further trimming at the ends can save us. Because you know, it’s not like the sequester law says that every account has to take the same haircut or anything. Oh wai

    Like

  64. Dave Says:

    Incoherent Jonathon? Dramatic, much?

    If you read my post, the 5% just covers the admin and not the entire intramural staff. Further, nobody knows that the NIH built in the 10% cuts as they should have. According to Writedit, this is definitely NOT the case so your scenario of a NIH grant happy ending may not come true. And the argument that is saves “pennies” is a stupid one. I could argue that cutting a post-doc from a grant is “pennies” in the grand scheme of things, same goes for cutting a couple of K-grants off the budget. Or I could argue that cutting the NIH travel budget is “pennies”, but they did that didn’t they? The point is it’s all pennies until it all adds up.

    For the 100000000000th time, all I’m saying is that I feel it would have been appropriate for them to issue furloughs in an attempt to at least lessen the pain on the extramural community. That’s all. That’s it. Incoherent? I don’t think so.

    Like

  65. Dave Says:

    As an intramural researcher…

    Go on….

    I think NIH made the correct decision by taking intramural furloughs off the table

    Shocker.

    Like

  66. Jonathan Says:

    “Further, nobody knows that the NIH built in the 10% cuts as they should have.”

    Yes, people know, and I’m telling you this happened.

    Like

  67. Terry Says:

    Sorry for the slow reply.

    Why is the indirect system by which states prop up the research that the Fed wants done so much more justifiable? What other needed Federal good or service has this cost sharing arrangement?

    Well, it’s the states that own and run these universities. In my state, the UC and the CSU provide massive direct benefits to our own state’s economy, and the more the state pays, the more the benefits are directed to the state itself. As the money comes from outside, then the universities themselves are now doing what it takes to bring in outside money and are no longer focusing on serving local interests. Of course they need big federal grants as a part of big federal projects. It is lamentable that the state is paying less and less, and then they can’t demand that the state train its own. More and more people are coming from outside to get an education and leave, which isn’t good for California. The CSUs used to be essentially free, and now they’re 10K a year or so. When they were free, more people went to college and then they did more to help the local economy when they were done. Every state dollar spent on public universities is returned with massive return on investment. Now that the state isn’t paying for the schools as much, there is a focus on landing big federal projects and outside donors and out-of-state tuition, all of which harm educational quality and make it less possible for citizens of the state to enroll and get a good education.

    Like

  68. fjordmaster Says:

    As an intramural researcher…

    Go on….

    I think NIH made the correct decision by taking intramural furloughs off the table

    Shocker.

    Fair enough. I put that information in my comment so if anyone wanted to dismiss my opinion based on where I work, they could.

    I still believe the NIH administration made their decision to avoid furloughs at least in part due to their concern about how furloughs would influence whether a PI would stay or go. If I were an administrator, I probably would have made the same decision. To the extent that they could transfer intramural money to the extramural side, your position on furloughs is a reasonable alternative. I just happen to disagree from a strategy stand point.

    Furloughs most likely would have been used to offset other budget cuts within the intramural program. That situation, even taking into account cuts in my salary, would have probably been better for me personally. We’ve had cuts that could impact my future much more than the loss of current salary.

    Like

  69. mikka Says:

    This is depressive. We are fighting over scraps. It’s like the raft of the Medusa.

    Like

  70. drugmonkey Says:

    However, I do not think (maybe I am wrong) that NIH administration has direct control over extramural staffing. Since they have control over intramural staffing, I think they have made the most rational long-term decision in avoid furloughs, if at all possible.

    Indirect control via grant awards makes the same difference, fjordmaster, as far as I see it. The point is that extramural folks would like to know that intramural is sharing the pain. Sure, the IC admin could choose to preserve jobs and just dock the research funding itself. something, anything. This is about the optics of knowing that each side is taking a hit on this. If there are no visible hits to Intramural, then it looks like we extramural folks are taking an unfair part of the burden. They can do that but the optics are crappy.

    at least in part due to their concern about how furloughs would influence whether a PI would stay or go. If I were an administrator, I probably would have made the same decision. To the extent that they could transfer intramural money to the extramural side, your position on furloughs is a reasonable alternative. I just happen to disagree from a strategy stand point.

    because, “screw you guys”? It is beyond short sighted to think that intramural disruption is somehow different to the mission of the NIH than is extramural disruption.

    Well, it’s the states that own and run these universities. In my state, the UC and the CSU provide massive direct benefits to our own state’s economy, and the more the state pays, the more the benefits are directed to the state itself. As the money comes from outside, then the universities themselves are now doing what it takes to bring in outside money and are no longer focusing on serving local interests.

    Terry, you are making little sense here. Like Lockheed doesn’t provide massive state benefits? Like an Army base doesn’t do the same? Sure, some States provide a little tax incentive here and there but it hardly amounts to the expectation that the State will pick up a decent part of the operating costs of the Fed’s desired good or service. but in any case, this isn’t a question about whether it is good for the State or not. Clearly it is or they wouldn’t be seeking federal grant funding.

    The question is why, on what basis, by what justification you think it is okay from the *federal* perspective for them to demand such extensive cost sharing for this particular area of expenditure but not within other areas of federal expenditure. Why is scientific research different?

    anytime the fed demands anything significant with regard to cost sharing from the States when it comes to social services you hear a grand hullabaloo about unfunded mandates. This is in the same ballpark of the fed wanting something done but not wanting to pay the full costs of it.

    Like

  71. fjordmaster Says:

    Indirect control via grant awards makes the same difference, fjordmaster, as far as I see it. The point is that extramural folks would like to know that intramural is sharing the pain. Sure, the IC admin could choose to preserve jobs and just dock the research funding itself. something, anything. This is about the optics of knowing that each side is taking a hit on this. If there are no visible hits to Intramural, then it looks like we extramural folks are taking an unfair part of the burden. They can do that but the optics are crappy.

    Drugmonkey, I think we are on the same page here. I wasn’t very clear in my first comment about this fact, but as Jonathan mentioned, intramural labs have taken cuts on research funding. My group had a 10% cut with this fiscal year. That didn’t mean people were immediately fired, but it did mean that as individual lines of research are scaled back, the personnel associated with those projects have not been renewed. So we have shared in the pain in some sense. I won’t pretend to know how things compare to what is happening on the ground on the extramural side.

    If the funding situation does not improve or gets worse, I know that my project is one that is close to the edge next year.

    because, “screw you guys”? It is beyond short sighted to think that intramural disruption is somehow different to the mission of the NIH than is extramural disruption.

    I think going with cuts in research funding as opposed to furloughs more closely aligns the intramural pain with extramural pain from a structural standpoint. The administration has put the onus on PIs to decide what they want to cut within their individual programs.

    Like

  72. Terry Says:

    Obviously federal funds are good for the state. More money is good.

    However, when the existence of the state universities is subject to whether the researchers pull in federal dollars, then this weakens the state university’s ability to fulfill its mission.

    The existence of indirect funds into state institutions has allowed the state to steadily divest from its own universities. Now the UCs get less than 10% of their funds from the state, or some crazy low percentage like that.

    The federal money should be gravy to make things nicer and more effective, and not 100% critical to the existence of the institution. The steady loss of state funds has definitely caused the UCs do decline in their prominence and their ability to retain top researchers. This isn’t caused by federal dollars, but these federal dollars have enabled the state to slowly screw over the campuses.

    I wasn’t saying that a decline in federal dollars is a good thing. But I am appreciating the sad irony that, from my perspective within an institution that doesn’t rake in the federal bucks, these research universities are now having to deal with the vagaries of funding shortages that we’ve been dealing with for even longer.

    Like

  73. The other Dave Says:

    I’m surprised at all the discussion. The problem is too many applicants for not enough money. There are two fixes: 1) more money, or 2) fewer applicants. For several years now, NIH and institutions have been rearranging deck chairs in hopes that the NIH budget would start ballooning again. But I think reality is setting in. The Great Biomedical Culling has begun. The faster we get it over with, the better.

    1) Limit the production of new scientists (by reducing incentive, eg training grants)
    2) As PP says, let peer review do it’s bloody work

    Like

  74. Grumble Says:

    Or:
    3) Limit indirect cost rates, which will (a) increase available funds to support the direct costs of research while (b) decreasing the incentive for universities to build more labs, thereby slowly decreasing the number of mouths at the trough.

    Like

  75. Potnia Theron Says:

    @The Other Dave. Yes, yes, yes. And for every post here about the “horrible situation” you need to write one email to 10 congresscritters or organize 10 people to write one each.

    Like

  76. Lee Says:

    @ grumble limiting indirect cost rates will essentially cull the soft money research institute. In my field that equates to at least 4 well-known unique, research institutes that can’t be recapitulated anywhere else. Granted their indirects are ~120%….

    Like

  77. DrugMonkey Says:

    c’mon lee! It’s not about excellent science, it’s about fair indirect cost rates and making sure everyone gets part of the pie….when everybody is super, then NObody is…errrr

    Like

  78. Eli Rabett Says:

    120% indirects, at least in physical sciences, are as a percentage of salary w/o benefits. Other things included in MDC art not included such as supplies, travel, etc. These rates are used by non profit research institutes, and as far as Eli can see are pretty close to the real costs.

    Like

  79. Grumble Says:

    Whether the IDCs are close to the real costs or not is beside the point. The point is that forcing the IDC rates lower would incentivize universities, institutes, med schools etc to obtain funding from other sources to cover administrative expenses. In other words, as I wrote somewhere above, colleges should raise not only the money needed to build new labs, but also the money needed for an endowment to pay for some portion of the cost of administering the research that will go on in those labs. That will have the effect of slowing the growth in soft money faculty hiring – which, in the absence of increased NIH funding, must be accomplished one way or the other.

    Like

  80. DrugMonkey Says:

    It will also reduce the number and diversity of locations / jobs where it is possible to do NIH funded science. Are you cool with that being another gatekeeper? Texas and coastal states only. Mostly private Universities too I reckon.

    Like

  81. Lee Says:

    Grumble, what are these other funding sources you speak of? The state? Foundation grants? Ha! The net effect of reducing IDCs would be a loss of faculty positions, which would compound the problem of too many graduates not enough positions. Do you think administrative positions would be cut with a reduction in IDCs?? You should also take a long hard look at DM’s comment. Do you want the only viable research universities to be clustered in high cost of living areas? My feeling would be a further upward pressure to increase post-doc salaries in that case, which I believe you are strongly opposed to.

    Like

  82. Dave Says:

    If IDCs are so low compared to the “real” cost of research, then why does my institution reimburse “unused” indirect funds?

    Like

  83. Jonathan Says:

    “It will also reduce the number and diversity of locations / jobs where it is possible to do NIH funded science. Are you cool with that being another gatekeeper? Texas and coastal states only. Mostly private Universities too I reckon.”

    At what point are you trying to have your cake and eat it too? There is less federal money to spend on science. There are too many people applying for that money. They’re using it to train more scientists than we need. At some point, as the the Other Dave points out, there’s going to be a cull.

    Like

  84. DrugMonkey Says:

    Oh I think pretty much everyone wants a cull. They just want it to happen in a way that leaves them categorically protected.

    Like

  85. Eli Rabett Says:

    Dave, IDCs are a percentage of assigned costs (MDC most placed). They are collected as the grant spends down in strict proportion. If some of the direct costs are not spent the institution cannot claim the IDC, which is why the grant office is all over everyone to spend down to the last penny.

    Like

  86. Grumble Says:

    Lee, I don’t want any of the effects of cutting IDCs that you mention. But the bottom line is that the NIH budget is decreasing. One way or the other, there are going to end up being fewer funded faculty. Yet colleges are still influenced by the perverse incentive to “invest” in more lab space and hence more faculty positions. By asking them to invest even more, the growth in the number of applicants will slow to more sustainable levels – which is why I think that cutting IDCs is a reasonable option to deal with the declining NIH budget.

    “What are these other funding sources you speak of?” Well, when colleges build or renovate a lab building, who pays for it? Sometimes it’s through a federal grant, but more often it comes from the sources you mention – state money, philanthropy, etc. All I’m saying is that colleges should be forced to raise more than just the cost of the building: in the same way that the federal mortgage interest tax deduction does not pay the whole cost of your mortgage, neither should IDCs pay the whole cost of research administration.

    As for DM’s worry that cutting IDC’s will “reduce the number and diversity of locations / jobs where it is possible to do NIH funded science,” I agree that this will reduce the number of funded colleges (that’s partly the point), but not that it will necessarily reduce their diversity. Why should it?

    Like

  87. Grumble Says:

    Regarding the diversity-of-locations issue, one could reasonably make the argument that cutting IDCs would favor colleges in rural/low salary areas precisely because those colleges’ administrative costs are more affordable.

    Like

  88. drugmonkey Says:

    I agree that this will reduce the number of funded colleges (that’s partly the point), but not that it will necessarily reduce their diversity. Why should it?

    Because you will be gating participation on a certain type of institution. It could be by states that are willing to throw down more General Fund cash to their Universities for this purpose. It could be by endowment. It will most certainly be by “ability to come up with the extra cash”. Any axis of constraint you care to mention (and there are not that many of them) is going to decrease the diversity of institutions involved in the NIH extramural service.

    one could reasonably make the argument that cutting IDCs would favor colleges in rural/low salary areas precisely because those colleges’ administrative costs are more affordable.

    Which will decrease certain collaborative, big science, high-investment types of research that depend on the economy of scale represented by a larger, extensively grant funded University.

    Like

  89. The other Dave Says:

    IDC is supposed to support the funded research. Use of IDC to build new labs or anything else not directly related to the funded project is misuse of federal funds, same as when Stanford bought that sailboat. The institutions should be audited and punished.

    As for IDC rates: This is taxpayer money. Taxpayers deserve the most science for the buck. Sure, some high IDC institutions produce a lot of great science. But do they produce enough to justify quadruple the price? Overpriced goods are overpriced goods. We should not buy them.

    Like

  90. Grumble Says:

    @DM: OK, so there will be consequences to cutting IDC rates. So what? Something has to be done. The budget is declining – every suggestion to deal with that new reality has its disadvantages. I think the disadvantages you identify are minor – in fact, if that’s all you can come up with, it seems to me that cutting IDCs is really what NIH will be doing. (Not that they ever will – colleges and med schools will use all their political clout to prevent it from happening, and as far as I know cutting IDCs isn’t on the table at all.)

    Like

  91. physioprof Says:

    gating participation

    axis of constraint

    Jeezus motherfucke, holmes. Where the fucken fucke do you come up with gibberish like that?

    ENGLISH, MOTHERFUCKER!!!! DO YOU SPEAK IT!?!?!?!?!?

    Like

  92. Lee Says:

    Based on your reasoning, Grumble, then state’s with budget surpluses should be havens for research since they can invest in higher education… Here’s looking at you North Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Montana, West Virginia, Alaska and Texas. Which of those have state legislatures that actually care about research over say infrastructure? 1 maybe 2.

    Like

  93. anonymous postdoc Says:

    Fuck this shit is exhausting. Just someone tell me if I should just give the fuck up on my fucking dreams already. – Every postdoc ever

    Like

  94. The Other Dave Says:

    @anonymous postdoc: Yes, you should. Go into nursing or something. Good job prospects, and you actually get to help people instead of curse them for their ignorance and unwillingness to pay for your expensive hobby.

    Like

  95. anonymous postdoc Says:

    That is an asinine suggestion. You know what, I don’t like serving people. I would have gone into medicine if I did. If I hadn’t gone biomed, I probably would have gone engineering…which also happens to have shitty long term job prospects if you’ve been following Science Careers, with even fewer women.

    Science wasn’t always a priority in this country, but then the space race happened, and then space funding went into the shitter. Later, NIH had a doubling, then NIH funding went into the shitter. You can claim all you want that this funding belonged in the shitter the whole time with your “expensive hobby” shade throwing, but the fact is, the high levels of funding at one point betray the truth that science funding was once important to the people. This implies that it may still be important to people, and that it is elected officials who are behaving as if things were otherwise.

    Like

  96. The Other Dave Says:

    One of the greatest myths in the world is that scientists don’t need good people skills.

    Good luck, anonymous postdoc.

    Like

  97. The Other Dave Says:

    “This implies that it may still be important to people, and that it is elected officials who are behaving as if things were otherwise.”

    Yea, well, if congress thought science was important to the people (e.g. re-election), they’d vote for it.

    And Tennessee would have a real school system.

    Most people in this country don’t even know what science is. They just think it’s a collection of esoteric stuff that’s hard to memorize.

    Like

  98. Jonathan Says:

    “Any axis of constraint you care to mention (and there are not that many of them) is going to decrease the diversity of institutions involved in the NIH extramural service.”

    So then we keep on with business as usual?

    Like

  99. Jonathan Says:

    Sorry, hit reply too soon. This gets back to my point about wanting to have cake and eat it too.

    Like

  100. Grumble Says:

    “Yea, well, if congress thought science was important to the people (e.g. re-election), they’d vote for it.”

    Oh, that’s a laugh. People think Social Security is important and that it shouldn’t be cut, yet here we have Obama Himself proposing cuts. Which means they will probably happen.

    People think assault weapons ought to be banned, yet…

    And on and on and on. People do actually want the government to pay for scientific research, and anyone who thinks about it for 2 seconds realizes the advantages. Poll after poll shows that people think the government should fund biomedical research. The problem is that the people as a whole don’t control their politicians. Very wealthy people do, and they don’t want to pay taxes. No taxes means no government money.

    So, to answer the disgruntled anonymous post-doc: I think society does value us, but society is not very effective in getting government to support what it values.

    Like

  101. The Other Dave Says:

    “Oh, that’s a laugh. People think Social Security is important and that it shouldn’t be cut, yet here we have Obama Himself proposing cuts. Which means they will probably happen.”

    Your argument is flawed. Of course people think social security is important. But they think that reducing deficit is MORE important.

    And anyway, wasn’t it on this blog that people were arguing for elimination of all the old profs not long ago? You weren’t one of them, were you, Grumble?

    As for assault weapons… that’s big business. Certainly vital to our economy. Maybe more so than supporting a bunch of grumpy postdocs. And you can’t blow the shit out of a watermelon or protect your trailer with a postdoc fellowship.

    Like

  102. anonymous postdoc Says:

    I am highly gruntled in my current position. I am merely disgruntled about NIH complacency about shifting the uncertainty of this career towards later stages. I believe that ultimately they must believe that funding will recover in the span of a decade, because this is the only reason I see for them doubling down on NRSA and career awards while letting standard R01s fall lower and lower.

    Perhaps by the time the career awardees are past ESI status everything will be better. Otherwise I kind of wish they would eliminate these awards, even though it is self-serving for me to think otherwise. Uncertainty is easier on people who have more options, but these dwindle as people age, have families.

    Anyway, I think The Other Dave is NIH Budget Cutter trying out a new nom de plume. I have decided henceforth to endeavor towards career success in academia just to spite him.

    Like

  103. GAATTC Says:

    Keep at it anoymous postdoc. You have the advantage of youth and us older guys are this much closer to riding off into the sunset or wearing diapers, or both.

    Like

  104. dsks Says:

    “I believe that ultimately they must believe that funding will recover in the span of a decade, because this is the only reason I see for them doubling down on NRSA and career awards while letting standard R01s fall lower and lower.”

    I wish I shared your optimism. As it is, I don’t think funding will be increasing anytime in the next 10 yrs and, worse, I don’t think the NIH has much of a long view about the bottle neck. Paula Stephan, who’s written extensively on the subject, was on an NIH panel tasked with addressing the grad student/postdoc problem, but most of her substantive suggestions were ignored. The bureaucratic inertia is just to strong for any real change, I reckon.

    Like

  105. The Other Dave Says:

    dsks: That’s not bureaucratic inertia. That’s powerful research forces that want the NIH to keep supporting their cheap labor force. If money for ‘trainees’ dries up, their research programs dry up. What happens to the trainees later doesn’t concern them.

    Like

  106. Dave Says:

    And there is no way the NIH is doubling down on career awards. Quite the opposite, actually.

    Like

  107. Grumble Says:

    “Your argument is flawed. Of course people think social security is important. But they think that reducing deficit is MORE important.”

    Wealthy people who don’t want to pay taxes need an additional argument against government, because it’s unseemly to be greedy (see Romney’s 47% comment). So their strategy is to get everyone worked up about the deficit instead. Despite the bests efforts of Krugman and other economists, their strategy seems to be working. In fact, social security has nothing at all to do with the deficit: it’s an insurance program, and cutting it won’t reduce the deficit.

    “And anyway, wasn’t it on this blog that people were arguing for elimination of all the old profs not long ago? You weren’t one of them, were you, Grumble?”

    Actually I was one of the commenters who argued vociferously against age limits in science or any other field.

    “As for assault weapons… that’s big business. Certainly vital to our economy. Maybe more so than supporting a bunch of grumpy postdocs. And you can’t blow the shit out of a watermelon or protect your trailer with a postdoc fellowship.”

    All it takes is one funded post-doc to discover the next Viagra, and the benefit to the economy will dwarf the benefit of all the assault weapons ever sold combined. And besides, the real economic benefit of gun sales has to be adjusted by the costs they incur, such as dead people.

    Like


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