I just don't understand these "basic science eleventy" NIH funded people

February 10, 2014

I don’t. I just don’t. I cannot in anyway understand scientists who are offended that they have to some up with some thin veneer of health-relevance to justify the grant award they are seeking. The H in NIH stands for “Health”. The mission statement reads:

NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

Yeah, sure, if you end at the seventh word, you can convince yourself that the NIH is about basic research. Maybe you get to continue on to the fifteenth. But this is a highly selective reading. I just don’t see where it is a burden to think for a minute or two about whether you are doing anything to address the second half of the statement.

After all, you are asking the taxpayers of the US to front you some serious cash. Millions of dollars for many of the PIs who are complaining about how hard it is to get basic research grants funded (BRAINI proponents, I’m looking at you). It really isn’t that much of an insult to ask you to pay something back on the matter of public health.

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46 Responses to “I just don't understand these "basic science eleventy" NIH funded people”

  1. odyssey Says:

    Dude, no one reads mission statements…

    Like

  2. meshugena313 Says:

    I totally agree DM except that for much basic research the health payoff is hard, or even impossible, to predict. So trying to stake a claim for the sake of a grant application feels like BS. That said I have no problem doing it and even enjoy trying to imagine tangible benefits.

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  3. You’re the one that is selective reading (and bolding, for fucke’s sake), fuckewitte. Didn’t you ever learn to diagram sentences in fucken elementary school? If you did, you would know that, grammatically, the noun phrases “the nature and behavior of living systems” and “the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability” are completely equivalent. It is only in your own mind that the former is subordinate to the latter.

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  4. meshugena313 Says:

    CPP FTW…?

    Like

  5. Dr Becca Says:

    The attitude is just another facet of special snowflake syndrome. “My work is interesting and important and exciting, therefore the country’s largest funding institution should fund it.” Never mind that the research does not fall under the umbrella of what the NIH is interested in funding – The Science Speaks For Itself™!!!

    If you’re not interested in solving problems that are even the tiniest bit health-related, don’t send your grants to NIH. Why is this a hard thing to process?

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  6. miko Says:

    I get that making these justifications can feel disingenuous. But is it really that big a deal? Honestly, I have never heard anyone “offended” that they have to gild the lily on their grants. Annoyed because it can be sucky to write? Sure.

    Also, basic researchers are 1/2 the people on study sections and 1/2 the freakin advisory council, so I don’t think anyone is really confused about the game that’s being played here.

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  7. drugmonkey Says:

    Typical debate champeen “logic” to defend basic research that nobody gives a crap about, and will never have any application to health, CPP. Diagramming sentences? I mean FFS, listen to yourself, man!

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  8. old grantee Says:

    Wow!. I thought that DM and CPP were cobloggers and collaborators!.

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  9. drugmonkey Says:

    CPP is an established dumasse.

    Like

  10. BioDataSci Says:

    Personally, I wouldn’t be as excited to get up in the morning and slog through the research experience without having an overarching purpose to improve people’s lives. That doesn’t mean I’ll actually make a difference in real people’s lives. But I am going to try. And I’m going to try to convince the NIH that my grant should be funded over someone else who cares only about studying something for her own personal satisfaction.

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  11. qaz Says:

    Dude, are you serious? Or is this just clickbait?

    Anyone who has seriously looked at scientific progress knows that there is a 30 year gap between basic science breakthroughs and actual successful translation. (This is remarkably consistent across the sciences and the decades.). When those breakthroughs were made, no one could predict what translational outcomes would come from them. The WHOLE point of NIH is to fund that 30 year cycle (from basic science to translation). Funding translation only is purely stupid. You’ve got to keep the whole pipeline going.

    This is why the government pays for it. Because it’s too long a timeline for business.

    IBM rejected the xerox machine because it would interfere with their typewriter business. Xerox spent a billion dollars (in the 1970s!) developing the personal computer, the ethernet, laser printers, the mouse, and object oriented programming, and made $0 from it. My favorite study of this is James Kakalios’s study of what people thought they were looking for in the 1930s when they were developing the quantum processes that form the basis for our current life.. Everyone thought it was going to be about free energy (jetpacks, flying cars), but it turned out to be all about information.

    Stop funding basic science and the pipeline will be empty in another decade. You’ve got to have something to translate from!

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  12. GM Says:

    Dr Becca February 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    If you’re not interested in solving problems that are even the tiniest bit health-related, don’t send your grants to NIH. Why is this a hard thing to process?

    The NSF budget is 1/5 that of the NIH and it has to support not just research in “non-health related” biological sciences but also in all other sciences.You can get money from other places too, but the pot is still nowhere near as big.

    This is not so much a complaint about NIH funding but funding in general – if there was another $30-billion pool of money to support basic research separate from NIH, the people complaining about basic research would have been perfectly happy to leave NIH to those interested in applied and translational studies. But this is not the case.

    drugmonkey February 10, 2014 at 2:12 pm
    Typical debate champeen “logic” to defend basic research that nobody gives a crap about, and will never have any application to health, CPP. Diagramming sentences? I mean FFS, listen to yourself, man!

    Yet the fact remains that most of today’s molecular biology and biotechnology exists because people studied things with no obvious health relation – from restriction enzymes through PCR to CRISPRs, and many others. And I am making this argument while absolutely hating to do it on principle – knowledge is always good for knowledge’s sake and should be valued accordingly.

    After all, you are asking the taxpayers of the US to front you some serious cash. Millions of dollars for many of the PIs who are complaining about how hard it is to get basic research grants funded (BRAINI proponents, I’m looking at you). It really isn’t that much of an insult to ask you to pay something back on the matter of public health.

    I don’t think taxpayers’ opinion should matter much in this case – we’re talking about an overwhelmingly scientifically illiterate and ignorant population, a large fraction of which harbors some seriously anti-scientific sentiments, and which has repeatedly shown an amazing propensity to vote against its own self-interest and without any regard for the long-term future. The public is simply not qualified to make decisions on what science should be funded.

    Something on which we already agree on on many subjects. For example, I doubt you would agree with the right of a significant fraction of people to not have their children vaccinated, because this has negative long-term consequences for everyone. It is the same with funding basic science – many people may not like but their opinion has to be overriding, for the common good.

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  13. drugmonkey Says:

    Stop funding basic science and the pipeline will be empty in another decade. You’ve got to have something to translate from!

    Now when did I say to stop funding basic science?

    I find people who get all insulted and feel oppressed that they are expected to make the barest, minimal possible stab at health relevance in their proposals ridiculous. Sniffing around about how superior they are because they would never dirty themselves thinking about any actual relevance. Whinging about how a grant reviewer knocked them down a point for not mentioning *anything* about health in an entire NIH grant. etc. idiots.

    That’s what is so mind bogglingly ridiculous about people like you, CPP and this guy who is quitting science to great Fb fanfare. It takes only an absurdly small nod to Health to pass muster. Anyone who can’t manage that low standard frankly doesn’t deserve a NIH grant.

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  14. drugmonkey Says:

    I don’t think taxpayers’ opinion should matter much in this case – we’re talking about an overwhelmingly scientifically illiterate and ignorant population, a large fraction of which harbors some seriously anti-scientific sentiments, and which has repeatedly shown an amazing propensity to vote against its own self-interest and without any regard for the long-term future. The public is simply not qualified to make decisions on what science should be funded.

    Ummm…. You DO understand that the majority input to which grants get funded at a tactical level is by peer scientists, right? That these whiners complaining about “the NIH won’t fund basic research anymore” are referring to their peers who review those grants, yes? When those peer scientists agree that an essentially basic research grant has sufficient veneer of health-relevance then they give it a good score. Many of these scientists are big fans of basic research which is why it only takes a bare nod to health to get over the threshold.

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  15. qaz Says:

    “Sniffing around about how superior they are because they would never dirty themselves thinking about any actual relevance.” Now who’s putting words in the other person’s mouth? First, I never said basic science was superior. I said we need the whole pipeline, including basic science. (But I notice that the translation scientists always say “translation is more important” – as evidenced by the statement that basic science has to justify itself by including some translation language.) Second, I never said that I didn’t do translation. In fact, I have several major projects translating our basic science into clinical practice (in a field I never expected to get into, and which I never would have imagined suggesting as a reason to do the basic science I was doing, but on which my basic science seems to be having a translatable impact).

    The real problem is that selling NIH research as a way to cure disease because the “taxpayers are fronting you some cash” is asking for trouble, because the taxpayers don’t understand how scientific progress works. We need to be selling NIH as the pipeline, including both basic science (without health justification beyond “it’s related”) and translation (from basic science to practical outcomes).

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  16. drugmonkey Says:

    maybe you should try to explain it to the public instead of assuming they can’t understand?

    and yes, the translation of science into health benefits is most important.

    Like

  17. The Other Dave Says:

    I cannot in anyway understand scientists who are offended that they have to some up with some thin veneer of health-relevance to justify the grant award they are seeking.

    I cannot in any way understand people who fail to grasp the importance of basic science.

    It really isn’t that much of an insult to ask you to pay something back on the matter of public health.

    It really isn’t that much of an insult to ask that all the people using the cell lines and models and reagents and drug targets developed by basic scientists acknowledge that they are derivative fuckwits whose ‘translational’ research is actually unlikely to advance knowledge one iota, much less cure anything.

    Like

  18. miko Says:

    Honestly, I don’t think there is any disagreement here, and this imaginary basic research wackaloon who flies off in a fit of pique when they have to write a winking paragraph about how understanding toodlefish gonads is important for treating Rare Late Onset Acute Buffington Disorder is a total straw man. Doesn’t exist…at least not enough to be worth discussion.

    Like

  19. GM Says:

    miko February 10, 2014 at 5:23 pm
    Honestly, I don’t think there is any disagreement here, and this imaginary basic research wackaloon who flies off in a fit of pique when they have to write a winking paragraph about how understanding toodlefish gonads is important for treating Rare Late Onset Acute Buffington Disorder is a total straw man. Doesn’t exist…at least not enough to be worth discussion.

    I am not so sure there is no problem – I can think of plenty of research that simply could not be funded at present because of how disconnected from anything economically or health-relevant it is, yet would tremendously advance our knowledge about basic biology. I am talking whole fields. And they could be funded at a fraction of the cost for the research and testing of a single cancer drug that ends up prolonging patient lives by a few weeks. But the money simply does not exist.

    When people complain about basic research funding, they do have a point.

    Like

  20. qaz Says:

    “maybe you should try to explain it to the public instead of assuming they can’t understand?” um… I think that’s what I said.

    As compared to what Zerhouni, Collins, and the rest of the NIH leaders have been selling to congress. But also as compared to insisting that all research have the veneer of translation, which is just another way of saying “give us money so we can cure diseases”. You have said that the only reason to fund basic science is if it can justify itself in terms of some medical progress. I don’t see why basic science moving our understanding of biology forward isn’t NIH’able by definition, no matter what Rare Late Onset Buffington’s Disorder that affects a half dozen people in the US it is related to. Sorry, Rare Late Onset Acute Buffington’s Disorder.

    Like

  21. Grumble Says:

    CPP, dumasse that he is, is actually quite correct. Only half of the NIH’s mission is to cure disease. I assume that is why study sections, program officers and institutes have all been perfectly happy with my two line throw-away suggestion, appearing in all of my grants, that somehow in the future more knowledge will lead to better treatment. I’ve failed to get many grants I’ve applied for, but “insufficient health relevance” has never, ever been cited as a reason.

    Maybe I’ve been lucky, but the bar, as I see it, is very low. In fact, over at NSF, it’s quite a bit higher: you have to make an explicit plan to make sure your research has “broader impacts” beyond the narrow world of your subfield. That is anti-science, make-work bullshit, if you ask me.

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  22. You are seeing this in part because the amount of funding for basic biology at the NSF is so low that basic scientists end up looking for funding at the NIH. I’m a microbial ecologist. I study communities of microbes and how they interact with each other and the environment. Obviously that’s mostly an NSF issue. But lately with the interest in the human microbiome, microbial ecologists have realized that you can make a good argument that the study of the microbiome is basically microbial ecology. But if you don’t at least make the effort to tie the ecology to something (celiac disease, irritable bowel or something) it probably won’t get funded.

    Like

  23. halcyon Says:

    IME – All granting agencies and foundations have ulterior criteria beyond the quality of the basic science in deciding their funding priorities. I have to gild my NSF applications just as much as the NIH ones. Yes, its part of the game, which can be frustrating. However, it can be a chance to stretch one’s mind muscles – this is why I’m a physical chemist now collaborating with food scientists and immunologists – the NIH and NSF made me do it.

    One interesting exception is the military. Most ARL, AFRO and NRL initiatives I’ve come across discourage focusing on application and really want to highlight the basic science. I admit after years of pushing the applied, this has taken some getting used to.

    I’m sure there are those who may feel otherwise, but I find that most of our laboratory’s discoveries have a huge element of serendipity in them. That makes me think that we are just as likely to make fundamental contributions to science while pursuing a translational project as a basic science one.

    Like

  24. SidVic Says:

    I don’t see the veneer of the mission statement as a problem. Go to reporter and search “smith” or some other non-discriminating criteria. About half the projects are in no way basic; drug kinetics, clinical studies, binge drinking among college age … et. The clinical studies, in particular, eat a lot of the finite NIH pie. The underlying issue is that the Government is poor at funding anything. The free market is much more efficient, so let the companies do the translational stuff (maybe give tax breaks or something). With basic research, the argument made above by Qaz; that basic science is different is persuasive.

    Like

  25. miko Says:

    Jonathan Badger’s case is, I think, a perfect example of the kind of basic research with very obvious relevance to health you should be able to get fund through NIH. Microbial/molecular ecology, evolutionary biology, etc, to me have very obvious health relevance. If I was a population geneticists, I would be hitting up the shit out of NIH with a personalized medicine angle. Just cause Perlstein can’t sell it doesn’t mean someone can’t.

    NSF should be funding the really useless stuff, like physics and dinosaurs.

    And of course, if NIH’s main concern was really long term public HEALTH, and not medical treatments for prolonging life irrespective of quality and expensively treating preventable disease, they’d be spending the vast majority of their budget on social policy and climate change. But turn the ship around when we’re >THIS< close making autistic mice or curing mouse cancer?

    Like

  26. Joe Says:

    Miko – I’m still hoping for some applied stuff from the NSF’s funding of dinosaurs and physics, and dinosaur physics.

    Basic science types – Please include in your proposal experiments that are a little closer to humans and disease. I have seen pretty good proposals go down in flames because the PI insisted that he didn’t need to use a pathogen, he could learn everything we need to know from E. coli K-12, or that HeLa’s were a perfect model for a particular disease. Basic science is absolutely essential and models are great, but often it does take much more effort to also study your favorite thing in the pathogen or in primary cells, and you will discover useful things you wouldn’t have otherwise.

    Like

  27. Busy Says:

    I thought that DM and CPP were cobloggers and collaborators!.

    I’ve always assumed they are married. I’ve never seen anyone speak to each other like they do and not walk away, except for a husband and wife.

    Like

  28. Ola Says:

    As a basic scientist I get what you’re saying, but I’ll counter with an admittedly whiny-sounding “it’s damned hard to do this translational shit”. Specifically, getting stuff from in-vivo mouse all they way up to human (via pig/dog/sheep/monkey) is a humongous obstacle for us BSers**

    I can give you eleventy new drugs a year that will stop mice from dying of disease X. The problem is, someone (not me) has to take that knowledge and put it in a large animal model. If I were to write an R01 proposing to move my stuff into big mammals I’d be laughed out of the room! There are maybe 4 labs nationwide who do this stuff well, and they’re all tough to deal with (BSDs with a monopoly who cherry-pick their collaborators). A lowly biochemist with a moderate understanding of physiology doesn’t stand a chance. So, I write my grants about what I do best, but I hit a glass ceiling when it comes to the true meaning of translation. I like to think I’m more translational than the next person because I’m doing stuff in-vivo or in-organo, or primary cells. I also have a couple of patents on some small molecules. But, the reality is I will probably never be the person to actually translate the outcomes of my work into humans. It means I have to be a good salesman to convince someone further up the chain to to pick up and run with it.

    So yeah, “translation” is a sliding scale. Fund my work, meeeeeee! Don’t cut me, cut that person further down the complexity ladder whose work is not quite as translational as mine! Fund meeeeeee!

    **Basic Scientists

    Like

  29. drugmonkey Says:

    Miko- see previous post.

    Like

  30. drugmonkey Says:

    Look geniuses, the point here is this: the health-relevance bar is REALLY low. Complaining that “the NIH isn’t funding basic” is FALSE. It takes some doing to get a grant review busting on you for zero relevance to health. If you are getting this then you seriously lack imagination or have your head so far up your “purity of science” ass that you don’t deserve funding. At all.

    Like

  31. drugmonkey Says:

    Ola wins the prize for “BSers”.

    Like

  32. Bill Skaggs Says:

    The thing is, for Americans there is no large-scale source of funding for basic research in neuroscience (my discipline) other than NIH. It would be great if a large fraction of neuroscience funding came from NSF or some other agency, whose mandate is to fund basic science. As it is, we have no real choices other than (a) hypocrisy about clinical relevance, or (b) lack of funding.

    Like

  33. drugmonkey Says:

    It is interesting that instead of choosing (b) the BSers whine about how the NIH shouldn’t be the NIH.

    This relates to Prof-like Substance’s comment that Like it or not, you’re in sales.

    You have to convince the taxpayers, via the system, that your work is worth funding. Too many BSers act like it is obvious that taxpayers should just hand them millions of dollars and any minor hurdles to that process are a personal insult of the highest order.

    Like

  34. poke Says:

    Too many BSers act like it is obvious that taxpayers should just hand them millions of dollars and any minor hurdles to that process are a personal insult of the highest order.

    Sorry, but the straw in here is getting so thick that I can’t even see what this debate is about. Is anyone disagreeing?

    No one doubts that the hypothetical “BSer” typified by the quote above is completely out of touch with reality. Fortunately, there’s no evidence that such a person exists…

    Like

  35. drugmonkey Says:

    Also see Comradde PhysioProffe and Namnezia. Both act all butthurt about the slightest suggestion that basic research might have to write a sentence or two in defense of the health-relevance.

    Like

  36. GM Says:

    drugmonkey February 10, 2014 at 5:16 pm
    maybe you should try to explain it to the public instead of assuming they can’t understand?

    That ship has sailed a long time ago, somewhere in high school.

    The simple reality is that the vast majority of the public has no idea even what exactly DNA and proteins are. How exactly are you going to explain your research to such people? And we in biology actually have it relatively easy because we’re dealing with visible tangible things that do not require some deep level of abstraction to understand – think about the poor theoretical physicists who do things that you can only even begin to understand what the problems are after many years of sitting through some really hardcore mathematics. That’s the most fundamental research into the fabric of the universe but it is completely impossible to explain it to someone who barely squeezed through his high school science classes without learning even the most basic things they thought him there. Are you suggesting that because the public does not understand those things or why they are important, and as a consequence is unlikely to support spending money on them as they have no immediate economic or practical benefits, those areas of science should not receive stable funding from the government? That seems to be your logic.

    How about instead of beating scientists on their heads all the time with the “You should do a better job at explaining your research to the public” stick, we require a bit more intellectual effort from the public? After all we have prerequisite classes in college for a reason – you need to have mastered certain things first before you can understand more advanced material.

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  37. drugmonkey Says:

    How exactly are you going to explain your research to such people?

    blog. talk to your neighbors, family, friends. parents of your kids’ friends and teachers. basically anyone when you have a chance. This is what I do anyway.

    That’s the most fundamental research into the fabric of the universe but it is completely impossible to explain it to someone who barely squeezed through his high school science classes without learning even the most basic things they thought him there

    there are several quite popular blogs that cover fairly esoteric stuff in a very approachable manner. I mean shit, MarkCC makes programming and math stuff understandable! And UncertainChad explains physics to his damn dog. It can be done.

    “You should do a better job at explaining your research to the public” stick,

    This blog post refers to grant review in which the audience are peer scientists in closely related fields of expertise.

    Like


  38. Also see Comradde PhysioProffe and Namnezia. Both act all butthurt about the slightest suggestion that basic research might have to write a sentence or two in defense of the health-relevance.

    Dude, lay offe the government ditchweed. I am not butthurt about any of this shitte, and my grants are lovingly festooned with detailed justifications of health relevance. My only issue with your post is that you either don’t know how to fucken read a sentence (or you are lying) and you are making up fake rules of English grammar to prove your point.

    I actually agree with you that it is a good idea for people who want their grants funded to include the relationship between the proposed studies and potential future influence on human health. But I disagree with your tactic of pulling false interpretations of a straightforward sentence of the English language out of your ass to make the bogus point that it is required by the mission statement of the NIH.

    Dumshitte.

    Like

  39. rs Says:

    http://library.ias.edu/files/UsefulnessHarpers.pdf

    There are many other examples after this article was written how technological advancement came from completely unrelated scientific pursuit.

    Forcing everyone to find a health relevance in their curiosity driven research is short sighted. ‘Health’ doesn’t mean ‘disease’, and NIH should not be only funding biomedical clinical operation if it is serious about public health.

    Like

  40. GM Says:

    drugmonkey February 11, 2014 at 10:29 am
    there are several quite popular blogs that cover fairly esoteric stuff in a very approachable manner. I mean shit, MarkCC makes programming and math stuff understandable! And UncertainChad explains physics to his damn dog. It can be done.

    Understandable to you. You are in the highly educated 1% of the population. That’s not who I was talking about.

    rs February 11, 2014 at 11:23 am
    Forcing everyone to find a health relevance in their curiosity driven research is short sighted. ‘Health’ doesn’t mean ‘disease’, and NIH should not be only funding biomedical clinical operation if it is serious about public health.

    Of course there is also the elephant in the room which is that in the US, lifestyle and diet (which are admittedly, due to disastrous urban planning practices and an equally bad corporatized food production and delivery system, beyond the control of many ordinary people) are cutting life expectancy and quality of life by more than even increasing the NIH bunget 10-fold and spending it all on translational research can compensate for.

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  41. jipkin Says:

    are there really a ton of people “offended”, “insulted”, or “feeling oppressed” by this? All I see is one dude’s fb post and all I hear talking with others are eyerolls, minor annoyance at having to lie, and jokes about the health relevance thing.

    I’m with miko on this one.

    Like

  42. Grumble Says:

    The Harpers article is a fascinating read, rs. I like this:

    “All the waste that could be summed up in developing the science of bacteriology is as
    nothing compared to the advantages which have accrued from the discoveries of Pasteur, Koch, Ehrlich, Theobald Smith, and scores of others – advantages that could never have accrued if the idea of possible use had permeated their minds.”

    So, for instance, Pasteur, fooling around with apple juice or something, discovered that fermentation is due to bacteria. If he had been forced to justify his research by citing health relevance, he would have been unable to do so. And who knows how many years would have had to pass (and lives lost) before lesser scientists more talented in the art of bullshitting about health relevance finally discovered pasteurization and immunization.

    Like

  43. becca Says:

    Hahahaha Pasteur was funded by the wine industry. He was a master at selling application.
    On the other hand, I think the current whining from basic scientists could be summarized as: “sure, you *can* fund a fucktonne of physiologists on how to treat diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and everything else linked to metabolic syndrome, and you will spend a fucktonne of money breeding those transgenic mice and even pricier large animals for all those labs who insist on pretending they are special. Or you could fund me and my worms, and I’ll figure out why people are greedy fuckes who can’t stop eating themselves to death”. Which would be rather logical. But then I was into CRISPR before it was for eukaryotes/hipster microbiologist

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  44. drugmonkey Says:

    t in the US, lifestyle and diet (which are admittedly, due to disastrous urban planning practices and an equally bad corporatized food production and delivery system, beyond the control of many ordinary people) are cutting life expectancy and quality of life by more than even increasing the NIH bunget 10-fold and spending it all on translational research can compensate for.

    Would it surprise you that the NIH funds research into behavioral regulation? Including basic, clinical and indeed “translational” approaches? It isn’t sexy stuff, doesn’t lead to high JIF publications and probably isn’t all that respected. And I am certain sure that the people who do such research complain up a storm about how “the NIH no longer funds our work”. Certainly we saw the long, halting, sordid interval when Insel booted a lot of basic behavior/experimental psychology work out of NIMH. (He was upfront about it from the start, just took him quite a while to accomplish the purge.)

    But the pendulum swings…. there are a couple of FOAs I was just reading that are basically about techniques to support lasting behavioral change in real world humans.

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  45. HTW Says:

    There has been little mention of the corrupting effect of federal grant money on universities. These institutions are the traditional loci of basic research. The growth of federal funding over the past 60+ years has turned them into ‘welfare moms’ who regard their ‘children’ (i.e. their researchers, faculty, etc.) as sources of revenue from exiguous sources through the grant process. Few of us at universities have not gazed with slack-jawed wonder at the metastasis of phony academic programs and the army of administrators (with impressive wardrobes) that now constitute much of a university’s substance. The physical monuments to basketball and football and the ludicrous and superfluous amenities provided to students have been paid for by soaring tuition costs and, because money is fungible, through indirect costs from granting agencies, almost entirely the federal ones. Universities could support a good part of their research enterprises if they would return to their original missions of the discovery and transmission of knowledge, and re-direct their monies from entertainment to legitimate activities that support those missions. A good test of intentions would be for the NIH to drop its indirect cost rate, preferably to zero. Watch how many universities would get out of the research and knowledge business.

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