Shut it down

September 30, 2013

Umlaut Friday

September 27, 2013

Boicott Barilla

September 27, 2013

This is why I will never purchase Barilla pasta again.

Guido Barilla, who controls the fourth-generation Barilla Group family business with his two brothers, sparked outrage among activists, consumers and some politicians when he said he would not consider using a gay family to advertise Barilla pasta.

“For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company,” he told Italian radio on Wednesday evening. “I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others … [but] I don’t see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family.”

Asked what effect he thought his attitude would have on gay consumers of pasta, Barilla said: “Well, if they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don’t like it and they don’t like what we say they will … eat another.”

A day later he apparently had been talked to by either the bean counters or lawyers (or both).

The Barilla chairman issued a statement saying that he was sorry if his remarks had caused offence and that he had only been trying to draw attention to the “central role” played by women within the family.

“I apologise if my words generated misunderstandings or arguments, or if they offended the sensibilities of some people,” he said.

So he’s a sexist anachronism too. Wonderful. Yeah, I’m the one in the household that is most likely to default to making a pasta dinner, genius.

And no, I’m not buying your retrenching because your words were exceptionally clear the first time, Guido. Walking it back now and pretending you didn’t mean what you said is what is even more insulting to me, your occasional previous customer.

[Guido] went on to discuss gay rights, saying that he “respected everyone” and was in favour of gay marriage, but against gay adoption.

Nice try. Clearly, you do not respect gay people. So you are totally full of stuff and nonsense on this one. Again, which makes for the additional charge of insulting my intelligence.

Sorry, but I have other pedestrian box-pasta to choose from at the market. And I will choose elsewhere.

Attention other competing pasta companies! My consumer dollars are now up for grabs to whichever of you launches the most touching and diverse Family Dinner styled ad campaign. Hint, the first one should probably be a gay couple. One of them obviously an ethnic Italian archetype of some sort would be bonus.

or so asketh Mike Eisen:

There’s really no excuse for this. The people in charge of the rover project clearly know that the public are intensely interested in everything they do and find. So I find it completely unfathomable that they would forgo this opportunity to connect the public directly to their science. Shame on NASA.

This whole situation is even more absurd, because US copyright law explicitly says that all works of the federal government – of which these surely must be included – are not subject to copyright. So, in the interests of helping NASA and Science Magazine comply with US law, I am making copies of these papers freely available here:


Go Read, and download the papers.

h/t: bill

oh, did I blow the lede on that title?

A letter to the blog points to the NIGMS FeedbackLoop blog and an entry from Jon Lorsch on their “Large Scale Research Initiatives and Centers:. One of these, the Protein Structure Initiative is being readied for decommissioning.

At last week’s National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting, Council members and staff discussed the future of one existing large-scale program, the Protein Structure Initiative (PSI). The Council heard the results of a midpoint evaluation of the PSI’s third 5-year phase, PSI:Biology. The evaluators found that PSI investigators have determined an impressive number of high-quality protein structures and that some of the program’s accomplishments, including methodological ones, could not have been readily achieved through R01-type investigator-initiated grants.

The evaluators concluded that the PSI will reach a point that no longer justifies set-aside funding and, as a result, strongly recommended that NIGMS begin planning the sunset of the PSI, being careful to identify resources developed by the initiative that should be retained for use by the biomedical community.

The blog entry details how the NIGMS only got into Big Mech science during the doubling and generally questions the value of massive projects focused on one topic or theme.

The obvious debate item for this and all ICs that throw money at BigMech science (Centers and Program Projects, assuredly. Sometimes big cooperative agreement U-mechs and contracts as well) is that the more plebeian R01s, investigator initiated and solicited alike, must be sacrificed to pay for larger projects. They have to balance the relative value of a Center or P01 Program Project against the loss of 3-4 individual R01s. Maybe even more of them, depending on size.

First, my disclaimer. I’ve had benefits from BigMech science for a good number of my months of support from the NIH as a PI. Sometimes the bennies amounted to less than an R03s worth of funding and sometimes it has been as large as R21 or small R01 money. I am also at the stage of my career where I not only can be a semi-credible substantial participant in someone’s BigMech but I should be planning for a not-to-distant future in which I try to head one up. And by “should” I mean for the benefit of not just my own lab and career but in a more generational sense for the benefit of my scientific subfields of interest.

I occasionally wring my hands with observation that as the Baby Boomer contingent ages, there are not enough of the following generation to take over the large scale projects that we have at present. This is because both of broader demographic issues (I was born during a particularly low-ebb in total US births) but also because of the over-shadowing, squeezing of my generation of scientists out of academic jobs. So if the larger mechanisms of science funding are to continue, my tiny generation needs to step up.

There’s a final knock-on problem. Because the few of us who managed to transition did so later, and with less assurance of continual funding, we are not ready. Our labs are less stable at this stage of the process. We have not been in them as long at a given age of life, either. We’ve had less time to reach a stage of comfort and (slight) boredom with our own thing that might motivate us to think of the larger picture. Why bother captaining a P01 application that will eventually fund ourselves with R01 money and four of our colleagues when we could just write two or three new projects for our own labs?

I see these pressures. And I see it as a challenge to my generation. Which means a challenge to me personally.




This all hinges on the assumption and stipulation that Big Mech Projects are a GoodThing.

I am ambivalent.

If you can get one, they are a very GoodThing. That is the tragedy of the Commons answer that governs our existence under the NIH-funded extramural system. I see Big Mechs as barely living up to their promise in the best case scenario. The promise of “the whole is bigger than the parts and SYNERGY”. I’ve been around a BigMech or two and I’m not sure that I believe in the hype. As a general rule, I mean. What the BigMech does in my opinion is provide a very tasty carrot to pull together some investigators around one project. And let a subset (even just one) of those investigators herd the cats a little harder than would otherwise be possible. But there is nothing fancy about the unified project. A group of friendly, collaborating laboratories can do the same thing with individual R01 funding. The extra, add-on Cores that you get with a Center or Big Mech sound good in theory but in my experience may not be much in the way of value added.

And all the monthly Project Meetings and Advisory Board Lunches and other box-ticking stuff? It’s about 10% about the science and 90% about making the next competing renewal go well. IME.

So there is some waste to balance out the theoretical synergistic advantages.

Of course, what is sacrificed is unknown. The Big Mech has to be unified under a common set of Aims or it is dead in the water. So obviously it is throwing a lot of cheddar at one particularly topic or theoretical orientation. That might be wrong or less valuable compared with the hypotheses generated by two or three other groups.

Those other groups will either fail to seek (because those Big Swaaanging GreyBeards have the Center) or failing to secure (ditto) funding for their own, more modest, R01 projects. We know this. What we can never know, is who has the best approach. The funds have to be directed to one strategy or another.

I am a big believer in the underlying structure of a democratic competition of ideas from all comers that underlies the NIH system of funding. Lots of smart people offer their take on the world and collectively we make sure to cover our bases. Great ideas can be recognized no matter where they come from. This is the superior way to get the best of the best ideas at the table.

I am not naive. I know it doesn’t work exclusively this way in practice. But it is the ideal to which we should aspire.

Big Mech projects contradict this ideal. So I am reflexively against them.

Even if it would be in my present best interest to back an expansion of Big Mechs at the NIH ICs of my greatest interest.

As far as I can tell, the British Journal of Pharmacology has taken to requiring that authors who use animal subjects conduct their studies in accordance with the “ARRIVE” (Animals in Research: Reporting In Vivo Experiments) principles. These are conveniently detailed in their own editorial:

McGrath JC, Drummond GB, McLachlan EM, Kilkenny C, Wainwright CL.Guidelines for reporting experiments involving animals: the ARRIVE guidelines.Br J Pharmacol. 2010 Aug;160(7):1573-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00873.x.

and paper on the guidelines:

Kilkenny C, Browne W, Cuthill IC, Emerson M, Altman DG; NC3Rs Reporting Guidelines Working Group.Animal research: reporting in vivo experiments: the ARRIVE guidelines. Br J Pharmacol. 2010 Aug;160(7):1577-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00872.x.

The editorial has been cited 270 times. The guidelines paper has been cited 199 times so far and the vast, vast majority of these are in, you guessed it, the BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHARMACOLOGY.

One might almost suspect the journal now has a demand that authors indicate that they have followed these ARRIVE guidelines by citing the 3 page paper listing them. The journal IF is 5.067 so having an item cited 199 times since it was published in the August 2010 issue represents a considerable outlier. I don’t know if a “Guidelines” category of paper (as this is described on the pdf) goes into the ISI calculation. For all we know they had to exempt it. But why would they?

And I notice that some other journals seem to have published the guidelines under the byline of the self same authors! Self-Plagiarism!!!

Perhaps they likewise demand that authors cite the paper from their own journal?

Seems a neat little trick to run up an impact factor, doesn’t it? Given the JIT and publication rate of real articles in many journals, a couple of hundred extra cites in the sampling interval can have an effect on the JIT.

I don’t know about you but as we near the end of the Fiscal Year, I like to start looking at RePORTER and SILK to keep an eye on what is getting picked up for NIH funding. This is when the ICs have to allocate their total FY outlay so any conservativeness from the prior three rounds of regular funding policy gets adjusted with the leavings.

Look for big mega-mechs being picked up, Rs that clearly didn’t make the regular paylines and most fascinatingly of all, the R56 handouts.

Happy searching.