whatever that means. NOT-OD-14-002 was published today.

NIH is working to reestablish dates for grant and contract submissions, determine how to handle missed review meetings, and reschedule dates for training and other activities that were scheduled to occur during and immediately following the period of the government shutdown.

As of today, we can confirm that we will be rescheduling all October grant application submission deadlines to the November timeframe (specific dates to be announced in a future Notice). By delaying due dates that occurred both during the lapse in funding and in the week following, applicants will have access to NIH staff and the help desks as they develop their applications.

Peer review meetings that were due to be held between October 1 and October 17 have been cancelled and are being rescheduled.

We expect the eRA Commons will be available for public access on Monday, October 21.

NIH will provide additional information, including a Notice on NIH operations during a continuing resolution, as soon as it is available.

I miss my sisters

October 15, 2013

This will be slightly atypical – so those that feel I should blog only about what they are interested in can step off. Meet the rest of you after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

This had better be either a joke or some sort of sociology / economics study on the business of science.

Unpaid Volunteer in a Basic Science Research Laboratory

Currently looking for a part-time (15-30 hours a week) Biological Sciences un-paid volunteer researcher for an Academic Immunology, Inflammation, and Microbiology lab in La Jolla. Particularly interested in individuals who are highly motivated, function independently and efficiently, are already trained in microbiology and immunology, who have an excellent academic record, and who already have a graduate degree (PhD).

Skills Required:
• Isolate DNA, run PCR reactions (singleplex and multiplex), and analyze via agarose gels.
• Microbiologic techniques: bacterial culture, minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) assays, agar microdilution, broth microdilution, colony counting
• Identification of bacterial virulence factors
• Experience works with methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the lab setting.
• Protein extraction and purification, quantification, SDS page gel electrophoresis, staining
• Carefully record all experimental details and results.
• Analysis of data utilizing GraphPad Prism and Microsoft Excel
• Writing manuscripts about data produced, and submission to journals
• Present data at conferences

Qualifications:
• PhD
• 2-3 years of experience in a research lab beyond PhD degree (postdoc or otherwise)
• Able to rapidly learn new techniques and multi-task. Good organizational skills.
• Hard working, highly motivated and reliable.
• Personable, plays well with others.

About the Research:
The research goals of the laboratory are to elucidate the effects of cigarette smoke on bacterial virulence and myeloid cell function. The focus is on in vitro cellular human and mouse assays and bacterial function assays.

Please submit a cover letter (brief statement about yourself and your goals), and attach a current resume or CV.

Location: La Jolla
Compensation: none
This is a non-profit organization>

Because if this is for real……

A twitter observation from @tressiemcphd [her blog]

reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago that encapsulates my position on underrepresentation in science, affirmative action strategies, etc. It is informed by my participation on diversity-in-academia committees at every level so far from undergraduate, to graduate student and as a faculty member. It is also informed by seeing the nitty-gritty of affirmative action decision making when it comes to the hiring of faculty (the “Dean’s Hire“, etc), the treatment of said faculty once hired and the outcome (tenure/denied) of such faculty.

It is also a position that I take in reaction to anyone who goes on about how skin-reflectance based affirmative action policies are bad because it may select individuals for whom this is their only apparent handicap in academia. Thereby overlooking people who don’t share that particular handicap but otherwise beat out this person in the Oppression Olympics. Also my response to people who think that socio-economic lack of privilege is the only justifiable motivation for affirmative action policies.

This originally went up Aug 29, 2008.


Watching Michelle Obama speak at the Democratic Convention this week was awe inspiring and hope uplifting for many Americans and others worldwide. I was feelin’ it myself. But what really hammered home the real message here, for me, was listening to various media interviews with African-American women. They explained in both humble and soaring terms how important it was for their dreams, aspirations and parental hopes that Michelle stood up there, brilliant, black, beautiful, charismatic and, let’s face it, just plain fabulous. Her strength and will as an advocate for the downtrodden, her country and her family alike was a big hit for women everywhere who finally, finally see families that are just like theirs making a serious run at the US Presidency.

This reminds me of a phenomenon experienced by a scientist with whom I am familiar.
“The conversation usually ends with ‘Thanks Doc, it means a lot’.”

It is no news that US research science looks like a little bit of apartheid. White folks are overrepresented in the faculty ranks and overrepresented in the trainee ranks down to the undergraduate level, relative to the general US population. Frequently enough relative to local city or state populations as well. African-Americans and Latino-Americans are considerably underrepresented. [Don’t yeah-but me with your favorite allegedly overrepresented group in the comments, it is irrelevant to today’s discussion.]

In the service ranks, this is a different story. Visit a few Universities around the country, attend scientific meetings in the usual hotspots of Washington DC, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago and unless you are in complete denial or completely oblivious you notice something. African-Americans and Latino-Americans (and some additional nonwhite ethnic groups) are considerably overrepresented in the service ranks. Administrative assistants, janitors, animal care techs, facilities staff, hotel and convention staff..you name it. These national realities are not just anecdotes, of course. Every time we talk about affirmative action issues in the Academy on a national level, the dismal stats are related.

I make my views on casting a wide net and dismantling artificial barriers to success in science pretty clear in my blogging. I argue this both from the perspective of an advocate for my scientific domain who wants progress made and as an advocate for the individual scientist and his/her career.
Michelle Obama and the scientist who receives the “Thanks Doc” conversations remind me of another important, perhaps more important, reason for dismantling artificial barriers to science career success.

It matters that “people who look like me, are like me, have families like me” are a highly visible part of the landscape. It matters a lot. And this is why I will smack down knuckleheads who bleat on about quotas and “taking slots from the more deserving” and crap like that. First, of course, because those types (almost hysterically, unbelievably, overrepresented in the fizzycyst population) display a fundamental intuitive misunderstanding of populations, central tendencies, variance in the distribution and the rarity of extreme talents. Second, because they disingenuously ignore the warm fuzzies, opportunities and biases associated with the vast majority of the Academy looking just like them. Third because these morally shriveled little wankers are just plain fun to tweak and can be tangled up in their inconsistencies and hypocrisy with little effort. But I digress.

Unsurprisingly, the scientist to whom I am referring looks somewhat other than the vast majority of independent scientists at the University in question. Actually, I think people have a fairly difficult time discerning just what ethnic association fits but lets just say “nonwhite”, pointedly underrepresented in science. Of a variety with which many people who work in support roles at the University in question identify. Ethnicity pegging is not helped in that this person does not speak, act, associate, recreate, hobby-ate, idea-ate, iPod-ate, etc in any particularly ethnically-specific or stereotypic ways that I can detect. This observation is quite important. Unlike Michelle Obama, for whom many aspects of the identity package are consistent with the women being interviewed on the radio this week, this scientist basically only looks “like them”.
My subject scientist relates numerous conversations which follow a common thread. Some staff person will drop by the office to say “Thanks Doc. It’s really important to see one of us in this office doing this job.”

That is the crux of the issue. Image is important. Identity is important. It matters to the larger issues of diversity that we have readily apparent, quotidian, barebones diversity. It matters to our social fabric of opportunity and fairness. It matters to the fundamental principles of what it means to be an American citizen when we are talking politics. It matters to the fundamental principles of the Academy as well.

__
Additional Reading:

A post on why NOT to make too much of visible diversity.

Quotas/no quotas

Underrepresented Imposter Syndrome (no, something slightly different).

Major, Jack, Willie and Warren

Take the Money and Run

Three Techs

Thought of the Day

October 13, 2013

Brunch is not a definitional adult behavior.

Brunch may possibly be a transitional step towards maturity. I suppose when you stop being out so late and/or so drunk on Saturday night that you arise when it is still morning this seems like maturity.

True adulthood involves not really having time for “brunch” when you’ve been up since six like other adults.

Some low normal trying to get some free content written for his science-blog type of site seems to miss this point.

Here is a kindly reminder from @DNLee5 of The Urban Scientist blog.

Hmmm, can’t find Danielle Lee’s original post anymore so go over to dristorm’s pad and read the text of Danielle’s response too.

The news is chattering over a new paper by Smet and Byrne entitled “African Elephants Can Use Human Pointing Cues to Find Hidden Food” [link]. The lede is frequently the typical one for comparative cognition studies. Take this example from VOA:

Elephants are able to recognize human gestures without any sort of training, new research shows. Scientists believe the finding indicates that elephants are able to understand humans in a way most other animals do not.

They might be excused for this since the authors themselves write, in the Results and Discussion section “Here we found elephants capable of responding spontaneously to pointing gestures that require attention to subtle differences in the position of the forearm and hand.“. This is, however, a tired and old problem with this type of study.

Even Carl Zimmer, writing in the NYT, makes most of his post about this wonderous “spontaneous” property of all elephants. Still, to his credit he does include the critical caveat.

Diana Reiss, an expert on elephant cognition at Hunter College, wondered if the elephants had already learned about pointing by observing their handlers pointing to each other.
“In these elephant camps such opportunities can easily go unnoticed by their human caretakers,” said Dr. Reiss.

The authors themselves point this out, although they try to handwave it away:

All of these elephants have lived in captivity since infancy: they have had the opportunity to witness pointing used between humans. However, observation of human interactions does not automatically translate into aptitude at interpretation of these interactions.

Whoa dude. Whoa. Hold up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Except, apparently, in comparative cognition when we are just sooooo keen to believe findings that show species X is “just like humans” in some cognitive or behavioral property.

I have at least one observation in the archive that points out where not thinking hard about the study design can lead to unsupported conclusions being widely disseminated. This post was originally published Feb 25, 2008.


In the midst of World War I, Wolfgang Köhler conducted a famous series of experiments to investigate problem solving ability in chimpanzees. The lasting impression of these experiments, reinforced by just about every introductory Psychology text, was Köhler’s assertion that the chimps demonstrated “insightful” learning.
Did they now?

Read the rest of this entry »

I hope this commenter was being facetious.

With paylines around 5-percentile, the only way to have a shot at having a proposal approved is to quite simply fake data.

and I hope this other commenter was just wising off in frustration.

Certainly in my field the proportion of cheaters at the top venues seems to have increased the harder it is to get in. In fact, in one specific venue that shall remain nameless in my estimation over half of the papers contain some fake data.

Don’t get me wrong. I am concerned about cheating in science. I am convinced that the contingencies that affect the careers of individuals scientists is a significant motivating factor in data fraud. I am not naive.

but for today, I wish to object to this normalization behavior. It is not normal to cheat in science. Data faking is NOT standard old stuff that everybody is doing.

“Everybody does it.”

This is one of the standard defenses of the cheater pants. It is the easy justification we have seen time and time again in the revelations of performance-enhancing drug use in professional sports. It is the excuse of the data faker as well.

Consequently it is imperative that we do not leave the impression of normalcy unchallenged.

It is not the norm. Faking is not endemic to science. It may be more common than we would like. It may be more common than we estimate. But it is not normal.

Despite claims, it is not necessary. I have more than one grant score that was better than the 5th percentile and I didn’t have to fake any data to get those. So that first claim is wrong for sure. It is not required to fake data.

As you all know, the annual meetings of the academic scientific societies are a great place to interact with the Program Staff of your most relevant NIH Institutes and Centers. The past few years of budget flatlines, some concern over junketeering in other Government agencies and most painfully the sequester has already had an impact.

It isn’t only the Program Staff either. Many of you will have colleagues, as I do, that work at various federal research installations including the NIH Intramural Research programs of each IC. Their travel has been restricted as well.

The government shutdown comes at a bad time for the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience which is scheduled for November 9-13, 2013.

@inbabyattachmode just alerted me to the first sign of doom.

A satellite meeting hosted by NIDA has been cancelled.

NIDA SfN Mini-Convention
Friday, November 8, 2013
CANCELED

Belt up, scientists. This ride is getting bumpy.

I’ve noticed something. It is now a standard comment from any BSD getting an award. It runs something like this.

“The NIH rejected one of my proposals once so it is all flawed and fucked!”

Try to have some class, people.

Haunting, Ethereal Friday

October 4, 2013

Yeah.

The pipes on this woman!!!

Oh, and Sinead still kicks all kinds of ass*.

“Who the f–k is advising you? Because taking me on is even more f–kin’ stupid than behaving like a prostitute and calling it feminism. You have posted today tweets of mine which are two years old, which were posted by me when I was unwell and seeking help so as to make them look like they are recent. In doing so you mock myself and Amanda Bynes for having suffered with mental health issues and for having sought help.”

“It is most unbecoming of you to respond in such a fashion to someone who expressed care for you. And worse that you are such an anti-female tool of the anti-female music industry.”

__
*even the flat kind

On Compromising

October 3, 2013

I thought a little graphic representation of the current Republican Congressional demands for Obama to “compromise” on his Affordable Care Act was in order.

compromising

[click to enlarge]

In 1993 the Clinton Administration tried mightily to provide universal health care coverage for all Americans. According to Wikipedia it:

required each US citizen and permanent resident alien to become enrolled in a qualified health plan and forbade their disenrollment until covered by another plan. It listed minimum coverages and maximum annual out-of-pocket expenses for each plan. It proposed the establishment of corporate “regional alliances” of health providers to be subject to a fee-for-service schedule. People below a certain set income level were to pay nothing. The act listed funding to be sent to the states for the administration of this plan, beginning at $13.5 billion in 1993 and reaching $38.3 billion in 2003.

The plan was not entirely lefty-liberal because it kept HMOs in business and in fact mandated employers to spend more money on them. Nevertheless, the plan failed and mightily.

The lefty-liberal position would be more akin to mandating everyone be covered but doing it through the single payer of the Federal government. Preferably with a lot of measures to cut out the profit margin and mandate a lot more efficiency. Remember that now. THAT is the starting point for the leftward position.

The right wing, you will recall, fought Medicare and Medicaid tooth and nail. The true right wing starting point* is that the Federal government should have no role in the health care of citizens whatever.

So even the Clinton attempt was a considerable compromise.

Along came Obama in 2008-2009 and he decided to take another run. Obviously, in the post-Clinton era, the landscape for what was possible to pass and how to pass it was not completely open. Since Obama came on board determined to change the politics of Washington and to seek consensus and compromise….his first offer was already compromised far to the rightward position.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act was introduced in Congress in October of 2009. It took until March 2010 for Obama to be able to sign the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) into law. In the mean time there was much jockeying, arguing and compromising in an attempt to get the right wing on board. It ended up with so many protections for the profit-based health care industry and so many potential uncrossable fee gaps for poor people that it is most assuredly a right-leaning compromise past the true middle of the full spectrum of the debate.

Now we come to the fall of 2013 and the Congressional Republicans temper tantrum over “compromise”. The anti-government party has refused to pass any appropriations for the new Fiscal Year, thereby shutting down the government. Their supposed reason has been (over the past several years there have been 40+ futile attempts in the House to repeal the ACA) that they wish to “fix” Obamacare. Now they are making it clear that they have no intention of fixing it, they simply want to dismantle it entirely.

Their current talking point is that Obama refuses to “compromise”.

Is it any wonder? They are not interested in “compromise” since we are already far past the middle point on this particular issue. The ACA is a step too far in their direction.

And now they have the chutzpah to demand further “compromise”.

Please.
__
*Yes, I realize the true right wing starting point is that health care should only be for the very wealthiest people, full stop. And that nobody is responsible for health care beyond the individual person and whatever rapacious corporate entity sees fit to provide them with it. Lets toss them a bone for this discussion.

Remember, o ye NIH grant seeking Readers, that your peers are supposed to be reviewing the grants you submitted in the June/July interval right about now. And thanks to the House of GOP shuttering the Federal government, the study sections are being cancelled.

Maybe.

You see, maybe a Continuing Resolution will be passed….tonight? or tomorrow morning? or Friday at 2?

And then the study section meetings for next week will be back on.

So the reviewers have to struggle along and finish up their jobs as best they can, not knowing if it will be for the meeting that is scheduled….or if it will be some sort of replacement meeting later in the month or year.

From what I am hearing, your friendly peers are stepping up to the damn plate and getting their grants reviewed.

Even without access to eRA Commons (where all the grants are stored, hardly anyone bothers to get a CD anymore). So the “read phase” that is supposed to take place the week before a study section meeting is going to be difficult. Hard to read the other reviewers’ comments on the grants you are assigned because you don’t know who they are! All that is supposed to be automatic on Commons you see. Well, from what I hear around the campfire, the sections are doing what they can, no doubt with heroic work from the Chairs and a little illegal subterranean rogue work from the government employee SROs.

I thank you all.

this comment is bylined from Francis Collins and Sally Rockey:

There have been concerns expressed that NIH is not doing anything to limit the number of Ph.D.s being produced. It’s important to remember that NIH does not control graduate enrollments. We are, however, firmly committed to the premise that bioscience Ph.D.s provide invaluable contributions to a whole variety of fields. Furthermore, there is no definitive evidence that Ph.D. production exceeds current employment opportunities.
Emphasis added.
This is why we can’t have nice things. Because the two most important administrative persons at the NIH are fully committed to pretending that they do not understand that their enterprise depends on the exploitation of doctoral “trainees”. They simply cannot acknowledge that a constantly turning-over stream of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows generates more work for less money and therefore is essential to the system as they know it.
Yes. It is true that PhD holding individuals have vanishingly low unemployment rates in these times of economic downturn. It is also true that even graduate students (under the NIH extramural umbrella*)  make far, far more than minimum wage.
But we need to have a discussion about timeline, the years spent in various uncertain “trainee” job descriptions, the hours of work and the carrots that are being extended, never to be eaten. We also have to have a discussion about what job people enter graduate school thinking they are in training for. And what their chances are of obtaining those jobs. And what balance of “cheap labor” versus “training” is really being accomplished under the broad auspices of the NIH extramural system of support for science.
We also need to have a discussion about motivations of individual behavior under the increasingly competitive system and whether it has reached a tipping point in which the labor exploitation is no longer worth it.
If competition leads to faking and fraud, this costs an awful lot of NIH money when other people have to unpack why their experiments based on a prior finding are not working. If the competition leads to secretive, noncollaborative, scoop-laden dicing for Glamour publications, at some point this is costing the NIH money and progress. Duplication of work, if motivated only by secrecy, costs the NIH money. It costs progress.
If people feel betrayed by the system, they may just…..slack. Phone it in. Spend all day playing Candy Crush instead of working because they have to just put in their 3-5 years of postdoctoral work before schlepping off to an industry job. Or trying to be a NIH SRO or Program Officer. Or Glamour Mag editor. Or whatever your “alt career” du jour happens to be.
Leadership is not just keeping the leaking ship on course, Drs Collins and Rockey.
Sometimes it requires patching some holes, painting the hull and tuning up a balky engine room.
Sometimes it requires thinking harder about the before-the-mast swabbies who are keeping your vessel afloat.
*most of the broadly-defined biomedical programs

Every good grant application boils down to one or more of a couple of key statements.

  • “The field is totally doing it WRONG!”
  • “That which all those idiots think is true….ISN’T!”
  • “These people are totally missing the boat by working on that instead of working on THIS!”
  • “How can they possible have missed the implications of THIS amazing THING??!!??”

Good grant applications also have a single goal and conclusion.

  • “….and I am here to FIX EVERYTHING!”

 

The trouble is that you can’t say this in so many words. First, because you sound insane. Second, because some of those self-same people you are calling blind, stupid fools are the ones reviewing your grant. Third, because people reviewing your grant might have some respect for those other people you are calling fools. Fourth, because you may stray into calling your friendly Program Officers at the NIH fools for funding all that other stuff instead of you.

The most acceptable compromise seems to be to focus very heavily on the fact that you are here to “fix everything”. To focus especially on the “everything” and less on the “fix” if I am being totally honest. This puts the focus more on the potential amazing outcome of what you intend to do and much less emphasis on why you need to do it. It has a more positive feel and avoids insulting too many of your reviewers. And avoids telling your PO that they are doing everything wrong themselves.

So I tend to do this in my grant applications.

This occasionally feels like I am battling with one hand tied behind my back since I  am pulling my punches about how ridiculous it is to fund anything other than my current proposal. You can talk about gaps in the literature. You can go on about synthesis of approaches and your amazing discoveries ahead. And you should do so.

 

But ultimately there are an awful lot of scientists with big promises. And even more with highly refined skills and effective laboratory operations. And to my eye it is less effective to argue that my own proposals are just more-good-than-thou. It is essential to argue why I am proposing work that is much better. And for something to be substantially better, well, that sort of implies that the status quo is lacking in a significant way.

I hate having to make those arguments. I mean, don’t get me wrong….it IS my native behavior. Which I am sure is no surprise to my readers.

 

It is just that I’ve worked hard to stamp that out of my grant writing due to my considered view that FWDAOSS is not a really useful strategy.

 

And now I have to reconsider the wisdom of this approach.

 

Better to burn out than to fade away?