Jeremy Berg made a comment

If you look at the data in the Ginther report, the biggest difference for African-American applicants is the percentage of “not discussed” applications. For African-Americans, 691/1149 =60.0% of the applications were not discussed whereas for Whites, 23,437/58,124 =40% were not discussed (see supplementary material to the paper). The actual funding curves (funding probability as a function of priority score) are quite similar (Supplementary Figure S1). If applications are not discussed, program has very little ability to make a case for funding, even if this were to be deemed good policy.

that irritated me because it sounds like yet another version of the feigned-helpless response of the NIH on this topic. It also made me take a look at some numbers and bench race my proposal that the NIH should, right away, simply pick up enough applications from African American PIs to equalize success rates. Just as they have so clearly done, historically, for Early Stage Investigators and very likely done for woman PIs.

Here’s the S1 figure from Ginther et al, 2011:

[In the below analysis I am eyeballing the probabilities for illustration’s sake. If I’m off by a point or two this is immaterial to the the overall thrust of the argument.]

My knee jerk response to Berg’s comment is that there are plenty of African-American PI’s applications available for pickup. As in, far more than would be required to make up the aggregate success rate discrepancy (which was about 10% in award probability). So talking about the triage rate is a distraction (but see below for more on that).

There is a risk here of falling into the Privilege-Thinking, i.e. that we cannot possible countenance any redress of discrimination that, gasp, puts the previously underrepresented group above the well represented groups even by the smallest smidge. But looking at Supplementary Fig1 from Gither, and keeping in mind that the African American PI application number is only 2% of the White applications, we can figure out that a substantial effect on African American PI’s award probability would cause only an imperceptible change in that for White PI applications. And there’s an amazing sweetener….merit.

Looking at the award probability graph from S1 of Ginther, we note that there are some 15% of the African-American PI’s grants scoring in the 175 bin (old scoring method, youngsters) that were not funded. About 55-56% of all ethnic/racial category grants in the next higher (worse) scoring bin were funded. So if Program picks up more of the better scoring applications from African American PIs (175 bin) at the expense of the worse scoring applications of White PIs (200 bin), we have actually ENHANCED MERIT of the total population of funded grants. Right? Win/Win.

So if we were to follow my suggestion, what would be the relative impact? Well thanks to the 2% ratio of African-American to White PI apps, it works like this:

Take the 175 scoring bin in which about 88% of white PIs and 85% of AA PIs were successful. Take a round number of 1,000 apps in that scoring bin (for didactic purposes, also ignoring the other ethnicities) and you get a 980/20 White/African-AmericanPI ratio of apps. In that 175 bin we’d need 3 more African-American PI apps funded to get to 100%. In the next higher (worse) scoring bin (200 score), about 56% of White PI apps were funded. Taking three from this bin and awarding three more AA PI awards in the next better scoring bin would plunge the White PI award probability from 56% to 55.7%. Whoa, belt up cowboy.

Moving down the curve with the same logic, we find in the 200 score bin that there are about 9 AA PI applications needed to put the 200 score bin to 100%. Looking down to the next worse scoring bin (225) and pulling these 9 apps from white PIs we end up changing the award probability for these apps from 22% to ..wait for it….. 20.8%.

And so on.

(And actually, the percentage changes would be smaller in reality because there is typically not a flat distribution across these bins and there are very likely more applications in each worse-scoring bin compared to the next better-scoring bin. I assumed 1,000 in each bin for my example.)

Another way to look at this issue is to take Berg’s triage numbers from above. To move to 40% triage rate for the African-AmericanPI applications, we need to shift 20% (230 applications) into the discussed pile. This represents a whopping 0.4% of the White PI apps being shifted onto the triage pile to keep the numbers discussed the same.

These are entirely trivial numbers in terms of the “hit” to the chances of White PIs and yet you could easily equalize the success rate or award probability for African-American PIs.

It is even more astounding that this could be done by picking up African-American PI applications that scored better than the White PI applications that would go unfunded to make up the difference.

Tell me how this is not a no-brainer for the NIH?

An email from current president of the Society for Neuroscience announced the intent of the society to launch a new Open Access journal. They are seeking an Editor in Chief, so if you know any likely candidates nominate them.

The Society for Neuroscience Council has appointed a Search Committee to recommend candidates to serve as editors-in-chief for two Society-published journals:

The Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Neuroscience, to be appointed for a 5-year term beginning Jan. 1, 2015, after a period of transition with the current editor; and
The first Editor-in-Chief of a new online, open access neuroscience journal, expected to launch in late 2014, and temporarily referred to herein as “New Journal.” Please see the announcement here for more information about New Journal. This 5-year appointment will commence in the spring of 2014, to allow the new editor to be involved in decisions connected with the start-up of New Journal and the organizing of an initial editorial board.

The members of the Search Committee are: Moses Chao, Chair; Holly Cline; Barry Everitt; David Fitzpatrick; and Eve Marder.

The list of evaluation criteria may help you to think about who you should nominate.

In evaluating candidates for the editor-in-chief positions, the Search Committee will consider the following criteria:

  • previous editorial experience

  • adequate time flexibility to take on the responsibilities of editor-in-chief

  • a distinguished record of research in neuroscience

  • familiarity with online submission, peer review and manuscript tracking systems

  • ideas about novel approaches and receptivity to innovation during a time of great change in the scientific publishing field

  • service to and leadership in the neuroscience community (e.g., SfN committees)

  • evidence of good management skills and the ability to lead colleagues on an editorial board

  • for New Journal: the capacity to proactively engage on a start-up venture, and to innovate and lead in the creation of a high quality open access neuroscience journal, and guide it on a path to success

  • for The Journal of Neuroscience: the capacity to build on an established record of success, while continuing to evolve a leading journal in the field and take it to the next level

Interesting next step for the SfN. Obviously reflects some thinking that they may be left behind (even further, see diminishing reputation after the launch of Nature Neuroscience and Neuron) in the glorious New World Order of Open Access publication. Might just be a recognition that Open Access fees for a new journal when all the infrastructure is already there is going to be a cash cow for the Society from the beginning.

What I will be fascinated to see is where they pitch the New Journal* in terms of impact. Are they just trying to match JNeuro? Will they deliberately go a little lower down the feeding chain to avoid undercutting the flagship journal?

*my suggestion of Penfield must have been too esoteric a reference…..

I think @mbeisen Twitted one of the first #MontyPythonScience I saw. There’s lots of hilarity. But this one just floored me.

” ’tis but a scratch”
“A scratch? Half your funding’s been cut”
“I’ve had worse”

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