A flurry of Twitts from Doctor Zen last week drew my attention, eventually, to a report from The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford. The direct link to the report is here [PDF] and an executive summary style Dual Career Toolkit is provided as a PPT file.

There is all kinds of interesting stuff in here, including basic demographics on prevalence (36% of the American professoriate), career attitudes (50% of men say their career is primary, only 20% of women do) and impact of dual hires (performance measures of trailing-spouse do not differ from single hire peers). With respect to the last, the authors conclude:

Thus, our data suggest that productivity levels among second hires are not significantly different from those among their peers after data are disaggregated by field, and gender and rank are accounted for. (p72)

The Executive Summary of the full report emphasizes that dual-hires are seen as both a growing reality and a thorny problem for Universities. It takes no great leap for those of us familiar with such cases to grasp that one of the biggest reasons for pushback and objections is the assertion or supposition that the trailing spouse would not deserve a hire in his or her own right. Analyses such as the above seem to be critical to this issue in my view.

I’ve written on this topic before

Spousal Hiring is Unethical? Puhleeze.

It was one of my more extensively commented posts (107) so I entirely endorse the idea that this is one of the thornier questions of academics at the moment.

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By way of a disclaimer, I am in a dual-academic-career relationship. We have not yet had opportunity or need to press dual-hire issues, but this is always possible in the future.

Congress is losing it.

February 27, 2014

Just after we noticed that Congress has seen fit to add a special prohibition on anything done with Federal grant funds that might suggest gun control is in order, there’s another late breaking Congressional mandate notice.

NOT-OD-14-062:

FY 2014 New Legislative Mandate

Restriction of Pornography on Computer Networks (Section 528)
“(a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to maintain or establish a computer network unless such network blocks the viewing, downloading, and exchanging of pornography.

(b) Nothing in subsection (a) shall limit the use of funds necessary for any Federal, State, tribal, or local law enforcement agency or any other entity carrying out criminal investigations, prosecution, or adjudication activities.”

Really guys? That was a top priority item?

Interesting though, isn’t it? Including indirect cost expenditures this would seem to apply to a very large number of Universities in the US. And now Congress has demanded they adopt nanny pR0n filters.

I don’t see any exceptions for classwork here, either.

The latest round of waccaloonery is the new PLoS policy on Data Access.

I’m also dismayed by two other things of which I’ve heard credible accounts in recent months. First, the head office has started to question authors over their animal use assurance statements. To fail to take the statement of local IACUC oversight as valid because of the research methods and outcomes. On the face of it, this isn’t terrible to be robustly concerned about animal use. However, in the case I am familiar with, they got it embarrassingly wrong. Wrong because any slight familiarity with the published literature would show that the “concern” was misplaced. Wrong because if they are going to try to sidestep the local IACUC and AAALAC and OLAW (and their worldwide equivalents) processes then they are headed down a serious rabbithole of expensive investigation and verification. At the moment this cannot help but be biased- and accusations are going to rain down on the non-English-speaking and non-Western country investigators I can assure you.

The second incident has to do with accusations of self-plagiarism based on the sorts of default Methods statements or Introduction and/or Discussion points that get repeated. Look there are only so many ways to say “and thus we prove a new facet of how the PhysioWhimple nucleus controls Bunny Hopping”. Only so many ways to say “The reason BunnyHopping is important is because…”. Only so many ways to say “We used optogenetic techniques to activate the gertzin neurons in the PhysioWhimple nucleus by….”. This one is particularly salient because it works against the current buzz about replication and reproducibility in science. Right? What is a “replication” if not plagiarism? And in this case, not just the way the Methods are described, the reason for doing the study and the interpretation. No, in this case it is plagiarism of the important part. The science. This is why concepts of what is “plagiarism” in science cannot be aligned with concepts of plagiarism in a bit of humanities text.

These two issues highlight, once again, why it is TERRIBLE for us scientists to let the humanities trained and humanities-blinkered wordsmiths running journals dictate how publication is supposed to work.

Data depository obsession gets us a little closer to home because the psychotics are the Open Access Eleventy waccaloons who, presumably, started out as nice, normal, reasonable scientists.

Unfortunately PLoS has decided to listen to the wild-eyed fanatics and to play in their fantasy realm of paranoid ravings.

This is a shame and will further isolate PLoS’ reputation. It will short circuit the gradual progress they have made in persuading regular, non-waccaloon science folks of the PLoS ONE mission. It will seriously cut down submissions…which is probably a good thing since PLoS ONE continues to suffer from growing pains.

But I think it a horrible loss that their current theological orthodoxy is going to blunt the central good of PLoS ONE, i.e., the assertion that predicting “impact” and “importance” before a manuscript is published is a fool’s errand and inconsistent with the best advance of science.

The first problem with this new policy is that it suggests that everyone should radically change the way they do science, at great cost of personnel time, to address the legitimate sins of the few. The scope of the problem hasn’t even been proven to be significant and we are ALL supposed to devote a lot more of our precious personnel time to data curation. Need I mention that research funds are tight and that personnel time is the most significant cost?

This brings us to the second problem. This Data Access policy requires much additional data curation which will take time. We all handle data in the way that has proved most effective for us in our operations. Other labs have, no doubt, done the same. Our solutions are not the same as people doing very closely the same work. Why? Because the PI thinks differently. The postdocs and techs have different skill sets. Maybe we are interested in sub-analysis of a data set that nobody else worries about. Maybe the proprietary software we use differs and the smoothest way to manipulate data is different. We use different statistical and graphing programs. Software versions change. Some people’s datasets are so large as to challenge the capability of regular-old, desktop computer and storage hardware. Etc, etc, etc ad nauseum.

Third problem- This diversity in data handling results, inevitably, in attempts for data orthodoxy. So we burn a lot of time and effort fighting over that. Who wins? Do we force other labs to look at the damn cumulative records for drug self-administration sessions because some old school behaviorists still exist in our field? Do we insist on individual subjects’ presentations for everything? How do we time bin a behavioral session? Are the standards for dropping subjects the same in every possible experiments. (answer: no) Who annotates the files so that any idiot humanities-major on the editorial staff of PLoS can understand that it is complete?

Fourth problem- I grasp that actual fraud and misleading presentation of data happens. But I also recognize, as the waccaloons do not, that there is a LOT of legitimate difference of opinion on data handling, even within a very old and well established methodological tradition. I also see a lot of will on the part of science denialists to pretend that science is something it cannot be in their nitpicking of the data. There will be efforts to say that the way lab X deals with their, e.g., fear conditioning trials, is not acceptable and they MUST do it the way lab Y does it. Keep in mind that this is never going to be single labs but rather clusters of lab methods traditions. So we’ll have PLoS inserting itself in the role of how experiments are to be conducted and interpreted! That’s fine for post-publication review but to use that as a gatekeeper before publication? Really PLoS ONE? Do you see how this is exactly like preventing publication because two of your three reviewers argue that it is not impactful enough?

This is the reality. Pushes for Data Access will inevitably, in real practice, result in constraints on the very diversity of science that makes it so productive. It will burn a lot of time and effort that could be more profitably applied to conducting and publishing more studies. It addresses a problem that is not clearly established as significant.

An RT Tweet from @betenoire1 was making the rounds of my Twitter feed today. It points to a Facebook polemic from a Leon Avery, Phd. (CV; RePORTER). He says that he is Leaving Science.

I have decided, after 40 years as a lab scientist and 24 years running my own lab, to shut it down and leave. I write this to explain why, for those of my friends and colleagues who’d like to know. The short answer is that I’m tired of being a professor.

Okay, no problem. No problem whatsoever. Dude was appointed in 1990 and has been working his tail off for 24 years at the NIH funded extramural grant game. He’s burned out. I get this.

I have never liked being a boss. My happiest years as a scientist were when I was a student and then a postdoc. I knew I wouldn’t like running a lab, and I didn’t like it. This has always been true.

My immediate plans are to go back to school and get a degree in Mathematics. This too has been a passion of mine ever since high-school sophomore Geometry, when I first learned what math is really about. And my love of it has increased in recent years as I have learned more. It will be tremendous fun to go back and learn those things that I didn’t have the time or the money to study as an undergrad.

GREAT! This is awesome. You do one thing until you tire of it and then, apparently, you have the ability to retire into a life of the mind. This is FANTASTIC!

So what’s the problem? Well, he can’t resist taking a few swipes at NIH funded extramural science, even as he admits he was never cut out for this PI stuff from the beginning. And after a long and easy gig (more on that below) he is distressed by the NIH funding situation. And feels like his way of doing science is under specific attack.

For many years NIH was interested in funding basic research as well as research aimed directly at curing diseases. With the tightening funding has come a focus on so-called “translational research”. Now when we apply for funding we have to explain what diseases our work is going to cure.

Ok, actually, this is the “truthy” part that is launching a thousand discussions of the “real problem” at NIH. So I’m going to address this part to make it very clear to his fans and back thumpers what we are talking about. On RePORTER (link above) we find that Dr Avery had one grant for 22 years. Awarded in April of 1991 and his CV lists 1990 as his first appointment. So within 15 mo (but likely 9 mo given typical academic start dates from about July through Sept) he had R01 support that he maintained through his career. In the final 5 years, he was awarded the R37 which means he has ten years of non-competing renewal. I see another R21 and one more R01. This latter was awarded on the A1. So as far as we can tell, Professor Avery never had to work too hard for his NIH grant funding. I mean sure, maybe he was putting in three grants a round for 20 years and never managed to land anything more than what I have reviewed. Somehow I doubt this. I bet his difficulties getting the necessary grant funding to run his laboratory were not all that steep compared to most of the rest of us plebes.

And actually, his Facebook post backs it up a tiny bit.

And I’ve been lucky that the world was willing to pay me to do it. Now it is hard for me to explain the diseases my work will cure. It feels like selling snake oil. I don’t want to do it any more.

I think the people enthusiastically passing along this Fb post of his maybe should focus on the key bits about his personal desires and tolerance for the job. Instead of turning this into yet another round of: “successful scientist bashes the NIH system now that finally, after all this time of a sweet, sweet ride s/he experiences a bare minimal taster of what the rest of us have faced our entire careers”.

Final note on the title: Dude, by all means. Anyone who has had a nice little run with NIH funding and is no longer entused….LEAVE. We’ll keep citing you, don’t worry. Leave the grants to those of us who still give a crap, though, eh?

UPDATE (comment from @boehninglab):

I am amused today by two individuals who simply cannot wrap their heads around the idea that one’s authority and influence in a given area is not uniquely and solely tied to ones accomplishments in traditional academic professional pursuits. One such individual is over at Isis’ place:

And it’s also telling that, now that I know your identity, I find myself actually more educated and qualified than you, but I wouldn’t speak on half the topics you did. Makes me wonder if anonymity didn’t make you feel more important than you actually were.

I really look forward to seeing what possibly makes someone more qualified than Isis to address the topics she blogs on. Really, I do. A Ph.D. in DomesticandLaboratoryGoddessology perhaps?

The other credential humper is over at Mike Eisen’s blog:

You don’t know who I am, what my qualifications are, where I studied, where I am from, or what my research is about. But why should I be granted a soapbox to stand on and criticize you when you can’t necessarily respond. How am I qualified in saying anything without my credentials to back it up?

Well, try saying something. If it makes any sense, people will tend to grant you a soapbox. This is called “blog traffic”. If you are not saying anything useful, you will enjoy the sound of crickets. Putting your “credentials” on the masthead will only take you so far in this, trust me.

Oh, glory, this one doubled down.

she used Dr. Isis to put herself above those 7 billion people without the credentials to back it up no? In the end, Dr.Gee showed that she was insignificant in the community. I don’t want to mention her identity here but her actual education and credentials have very little to do with half the stuff she’s commented on and used her anonymity to be an authority on things she really wasn’t. Because anonymously I can be Stephen Hawking,

No, actually you can’t. Christ I weep for the Academy (and public life) if people really think that credibility and influence only comes from a certain set of professional/academic credentials.

Anyway, I think it worthwhile reposting the following. Pay special attention to the occupational hazards of being an academic.


The great sociological philosopher Eric Cartman provided a bit of gentle guidance on acceding to the wisdom of authority in one of his more famous works. A somewhat lesser philosophical talent offers similar advice in a comment posted to a recent discussion on pseudonymous/anonymous blogging at bablab. The commenter suggested that:
South_Park_BlogAvatar1.jpg

… there are a lot of areas, even in science, where experience (from which real authority derives) matters. An undergraduate who has never been to the field and an experienced geologist can go up to the same geological formation and have the same tools and the same list of tests and procedures. They can both do similar things to the sediments, and they can end up with totally different conclusions as to what they are looking at.
They both have the same argument, structurally, logically, but with different conclusions. The experienced geologist, however, is much more likely to be correct.

An excellent rationale for prioritizing scientific contributions on the basis of the contributor’s credentials, is it not?

Read the rest of this entry »

In a conversation on the twitts:

@drugmonkeyblog @RockTalking I’m an out gay grad student and I have never, to my knowledge, met an LGBT PI. is it the numbers or visibility?

Yeah, that sucks.

Namnezia has initiated an interesting conversation on the criteria for awarding a PhD in the sciences. A commenter over there alleged a set of rules that is nearly impossible for me to believe is true. RX claims:

No official requirements for my PhD program, it’s up to the PI.
My lab is crazy. Here’s the requirement: total first author impact factor: 30, total pages of paper: 20. The first graduate of my lab got 1 Neuron and 1 Nature Neuroscience paper. All the rest graduates tend to follow this pattern.

This is one reason it shouldn’t be left up to the PI, there is a reason doctoral committees and doctoral program rules exist.

Go Play at the Take it to the Bridge blog.

Bashir has an interesting anecdote about a faculty hire he is familiar with.


…he actually had 0 publications. Zero. But his graduate advisor knew that he was a very smart man who deserved a job at a university. So his advisor called up people he knew at other universities and made it so. Prof Ted got the job he now holds, at a pretty nice university with zero publications to his name, but one phone call.

in answer to my question Bashir indicated that the guy had performed fine as a faculty member.

Is there any problem with that?

Take your answers over to Bashir’s pad.

I had previously noted a situation in which an ad for a volunteer (i.e., unpaid) postdoc position requiring 2-3 years of prior experience was posted in the San Diego area.

A bit by David Wagner (@david_r_wagner) on the KPBS site specifies:

Well, it wasn’t a joke. But it wasn’t exactly straight-forward, either.

The job listing was vague from the get-go. Who exactly was hiring? The only details given were “lab in La Jolla.”

Well, there are lots of labs in La Jolla. So I had to do some digging to find out which one posted this, and I found out that the listing was posted by a researcher named Laura Crotty Alexander. She’s a physician at the VA San Diego Healthcare System who doubles as a UCSD faculty member. I couldn’t reach her for comment.

If Alexander’s listing looked like a terrible opportunity, that’s by design, according to VA chief of staff Robert Smith.

“Frankly, what she was trying to do was make it look unappealing,” Smith said. “Because she was trying to create an advertisement that nobody would apply to.”

You see, the VA lab already had someone in mind for the position: a postdoc from Egypt who actually volunteered to work for free.

The reporter further specified:

which in my view is a far from uncommon situation. I’ve received inquiries about working in my lab under similar circumstances.

This is wrong.

You know how I feel about unpaid internships.
Unpaid internships are a systemic labor exploitation scam- yes, in science labs too.

That was written in the context of undergraduate “interns”. Imagine the magnitude of my distaste for exploiting a PhD with 2-3 years of postdoctoral experience. It is wrong.

1) It is wrong because it is labor exploitation. We dealt with that over 100 years ago in the US. Yes, exploitation always continues and is resisted in fits and starts by unions, regulation and competitive pressures. But the arguments remain the same, the benefits of exploiting labor are tempting and the excuses are no better in the scientific context. I don’t care that the candidate “volunteers”. I don’t care that the candidate is getting authorship or keeping her hand in the game of science or whatever excuse you want to advance. This is the case for all postdocs. Should we refuse to pay all of them? Heck no. Just like we stopped letting companies demand their employees worked in the mines for 14 hr shifts, 7 days a week with no breaks. Just like we discouraged and restricted company-store, company-town scams which ended up reducing real wages. Just like we established a minimum wage. Etc. Just like modern jurisprudence is rejecting free intern scams.

2) It is wrong because it is an unfair competitive advantage for those who choose to exploit junior scientists in this way. I am a PI who is competing for precious research grant funds with other PIs. This competition is based in large part on the work product that comes out of our respective laboratories. Data generated and papers published. If some other person gets labor for free and I have to pay for it, then I am disadvantaged. Under our general labor laws, this is an unfair tilt to the table. Everyone should have to play by the same rules.

Please, people. Call your Congress Critter. Draw their attention to this news report. Use your knowledge of their political positions to trip their triggers. Maybe it is the visa-dodging aspect. Maybe it is the “taking the job from American postdocs” aspect. Maybe they are sensitive to labor exploitation arguments. Whichever works, use it.

h/t: @neuromusic

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Addditional:

PubMed Commons has finally incorporated a comment feature.

NCBI has released a pilot version of a new service in PubMed that allows researchers to post comments on individual PubMed abstracts. Called PubMed Commons, this service is an initiative of the NIH leadership in response to repeated requests by the scientific community for such a forum to be part of PubMed. We hope that PubMed Commons will leverage the social power of the internet to encourage constructive criticism and high quality discussions of scientific issues that will both enhance understanding and provide new avenues of collaboration within the community.

This is described as being in beta test version and for now is only open to authors of articles already listed in PubMed, so far as I can tell.

Perhaps not as Open as some would wish but it is a pretty good start.

I cannot WAIT to see how this shakes out.

The Open-Everything, RetractionWatch, ReplicationEleventy, PeerReviewFailz, etc acolytes of various strains would have us believe that this is the way to save all of science.

This step of PubMed brings the online commenting to the best place, i.e., where everyone searches out the papers, instead of the commercially beneficial place. It will link, I presume, the commentary to the openly-available PMC version once the 12 month embargo elapses for each paper. All in all, a good place for this to occur.

I will be eager to see if there is any adoption of commenting, to see the type of comments that are offered and to assess whether certain kinds of papers get more commentary than do others. All and all this is going to be a neat little experiment for the conduct-of-science geeks to observe.

I recommend you sign up as soon as possible. I’m sure the devout and TrueBelievers would beg you to make a comment on a paper yourself so, sure, go and comment on some paper.

You can search out commented papers with this string, apparently.
has_user_comments[sb]

In case you are interested in seeing what sorts of comments are being made.

Poster solitude

October 21, 2013

Next time you are at your favorite scientific meeting, take a look at the trainees that are standing forlornly, uncomfortably alone at their posters. Contrast them with the young trainees that have an audience stacked three deep in a semicircle.

Do you notice any differentials in male/female, attractive/unattractive, white/black/asian/latino/etc ?

I think I shall engage in this exercise at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November.

Thought of the day

October 21, 2013

For academics:

The greatest realization you can make is that success, no matter how modest, changes power dynamics. One of the reasons that people in academics get into trouble is that many never escape the mindset of graduate student trying to defend, postdoc trying to get a job and/or assistant professor trying to make tenure.

No matter how successful they become, many still see themselves as the powerless peon, just like anyone else.

They never notice that the other voices have stopped speaking.

h/t: scicurious

Bora Zivkovic has been a skeevy, predatory harasser of women. He was accused in online public and confessed. Subsequent revelations from other women who were similarly preyed upon follow a similar narrative. So even if Bora’s original confession admitted only to one incident, well, nobody believes that and nor should anyone.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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.