Wait…the new Biosketch is supposed to be an antiGlamour measure? HAHAHHAHHA!!!!!

December 5, 2014

A tweet from @babs_mph sent me back to an older thread where Rockey introduced the new Biosketch concept. One “Senior investigator” commented:

For those who wonder where this idea came from, please see the commentary by Deputy Director Tabak and Director Collins (Nature 505, 612–613, January 2014) on the issue of the reproducibility of results. One part of the commentary suggests that scientists may be tempted to overstate conclusions in order to get papers published in high profile journals. The commentary adds “NIH is contemplating modifying the format of its ‘biographical sketch’ form, which grant applicants are required to complete, to emphasize the significance of advances resulting from work in which the applicant participated, and to delineate the part played by the applicant. Other organizations such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have used this format and found it more revealing of actual contributions to science than the traditional list of unannotated publications.”

Here’s Collins and Tabak, 2014 in freely available PMC format. The lead in to the above referenced passage is:

Perhaps the most vexed issue is the academic incentive system. It currently overemphasizes publishing in high-profile journals. No doubt worsened by current budgetary woes, this encourages rapid submission of research findings to the detriment of careful replication. To address this, the NIH is contemplating…

Hmmm. So by changing this, the ability on grant applications to say something like:

“Yeah, we got totally scooped out of a Nature paper because we didn’t rush some data out before it was ready but look, our much better paper that came out in our society journal 18 mo later was really the seminal discovery, we swear. So even though the entire world gives primary credit to our scoopers, you should give us this grant now.”

is supposed to totally alter the dynamics of the “vexed issue” of the academic incentive system.

Right guys. Right.

14 Responses to “Wait…the new Biosketch is supposed to be an antiGlamour measure? HAHAHHAHHA!!!!!”

  1. odyssey Says:



  2. Dave Says:

    It always comes back to Collins.


  3. Lady Scientist Says:

    Dear NIH,
    Please bring back the old Biosketch format, because I don’t want to waste what little time I have left anymore on the new format.


  4. Lady Scientist Says:

    Seriously – figures? Figures? Pretty soon they’ll be asking you to provide links to YouTube presentations of your work.


  5. eeke Says:

    If they are so hell-bent on anti-glamourness, just get rid of the biosketch section altogether. fuck it.


  6. LincolnX Says:

    Someone should email Sally Rockey and ask her to read the comments on her own blog.


  7. anonymous postdoc (shrewshrew) Says:

    I got an email a few days ago from a firm which specializes in making cutesy “white board drawn” videos summarizing one’s academic research, soliciting me to see if I was interested. At the time I found it intriguing but probably expensive (cost was never mentioned in the email or the website, and if you have to ask, you can’t afford it) and ultimately not worth pursuing with my limited free time.

    I now see that the request was prescient. We are all PR flacks now.

    I have been trying to develop some sort of understanding over why this change to the biosketch was so important to OER, or at least why they are so willing to push it through when the survey data is tepid (at best) and the online comments are so vigorously against it.

    I don’t know the answer to the first question. Maybe they truly believe that this will cure some bias against those who don’t get Glam papers, but I would wager that the only people who are going to be able to write convincing versions of the new biosketch are the people who are already well-versed in the subtle art of the oversell necessary to get a Glam paper in the first place.

    However, the answer to the second question – why are they ignoring all this negative feedback – is abundantly clear. People are screaming at the NIH to change policies to stem the negative impacts of not having enough money for science. NIH changes some policy on the advice of BSDs. #Riffraff on the internet then scream at the NIH for making a terrible and unnecessary change that is going to further disadvantage the young and vulnerable

    I am sure from Rockey’s point of view scientists have been crying wolf over policy changes for so long (I recall the furor over the shortening of research strategy page limits during my graduate training) that it is not worth ever taking these comments seriously, even when the policy change is truly disastrous. I’m sure any negative comments on the Rock Talk blog are as impactful to OER policy as the buzzing of a mosquito. #Riffraff will get used to it, just like they got used to the page limit changes, the loss of the A2, and the shift to continuous A0s…to borrow a different line from 1984, we have always been at war with Eastasia.

    This policy will only change if it somehow makes it harder for BSDs to get grants, which means it won’t change, because the only problem BSDs will have is limiting themselves to a mere 5 accomplishments.


  8. Established PI Says:

    Could someone please explain what a BSD is? I have some guesses, but I get some pretty weird hits when I google the term.


  9. Established PI Says:

    It is pretty clear that, while the new format gives junior PIs an opportunity to describe their accomplishments, this gives senior PIs that much better a forum to blow their own horns. On balance I think it will favor senior people more than junior investigators, and senior investigators with glamour pubs over senior PIs with good but not off-scale records. Perhaps this is a sign that the NIH is planning to lean more towards funding people rather than projects, as this new format is clearly designed to help reviewers evaluate the PIs overall track record, not their specific accomplishments that relate to the proposal.


  10. Erp Says:

    I believe BSD means Big Swinging D**K. The first reference I saw to it was in the book liar’s poker by Micahel Lewis where the term refers to (taken from wikipedia): A big-time trader or salesman. (“If he could make millions of dollars come out of those phones, he became that most revered of all species: a Big Swinging D**k.” p. 56.) . Scientists appear to use it in the same way to refer to influential scientists, it has alusions to someone being the alpha male of the group (someone who is so powerful they cannot be challenged)


  11. Established PI Says:

    Well, well, I hadn’t quite thought of that one. At least, not quite that image. Thanks for clarifying.


  12. jmz4 Says:

    “Yeah, we got totally scooped out of a Nature paper because we didn’t rush some data out before it was ready but look, our much better paper that came out in our society journal 18 mo later was really the seminal discovery, we swear. So even though the entire world gives primary credit to our scoopers, you should give us this grant now.”

    -That would actually be pretty refreshing to read. However, the you could just as easily write.

    “Scoopartist et al. were truly prescient in their initial characterization of X (NCS 2014), correctly anticipating many of the novel and surprising discoveries made in our comprehensive investigation of the subject (Soc. Journal, 2015).”

    -To a seasoned scientist, the intent comes through clear as day (you’re crapping on the glamour pub), but its dressed up enough to be okay in a biosketch, and may even get you a chuckle or two.

    In general, I really hate the contrived formats and styles of scientific writing today. I like the older publications, when you could read the paper and get a sense of the author’s voice and personality.


  13. Chanakya Says:

    This new format reminds of the letter that I prepared for my Green Card application. One of the categories for EB1A green card is titled as “Significant contribution to the field of expertise” and you have to provide enough evidence to convince someone at USCIS that you are the most accomplished scientist who is going to be awarded the Noble prize any day.


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