I saw the following comment on twitter the other day and I can’t get this out of my head.

It reads:

A prestigious institution (from #1) told me that I was actually tied in the vote with their top candidate [a white male], but they’d only be making an offer to him because it’d be unfair to consider my race and gender in whether to make me an offer.

and the tweet in the thread that is referenced here reads:

1. When I asked why I didn’t get a faculty job at a prestigious institution, three different professors there told me they weren’t sure if I did my own research (sure, because my theorist advisors are so great with observations…).

I simply cannot get past this rather explicit comment than when a person of color or of female* presentation is viewed as being equal to a white man in academia, the decision has to be that the POC or female person must surely be passed over because otherwise it would be an “unfair consideration of race and/or gender”.



This is a situation that apparently reflected a vote of individuals. But I want you to broaden this to any situation in which scientists’ respective accomplishments are being assessed, even within the head of a single person. I suspect this kind of situation is a lot more common than could be revealed by the explicit statement such as is the subject of the tweet thread.

First, the notion that one has to pick the majoritarian person to be “fair” in resolving a tie is in fact unfair. The only way to be strictly fair would be to toss a coin. The outcome for women or people of color in general would, of course, continue to be unfair if they are underrepresented in the pools of exact ties but as far as this head-to-head comparison goes, a coin flip or other random decision maker would be fair.

Second, it is pretty obvious given implicit and explicit biases against women and people of color that they only get up to so called “objective” equivalence by being one heck of a lot better than the majoritarian person. They have higher hurdles to surmount to get up to the level of being judged as good.

Or do they?

One of the reasons that this remains on my mind is that I am not infrequently made aware of related situations in scientific job searches. People have a tendency to make observations to me about how they are trying to make a difference in hiring in their departments and how that is being stymied by their colleagues. The issues of comparative judgment, being “fair” and “objective” about the talents of the majoritarian candidates, obliviousness or unjustified protestations of innocence vis a vis implicit bias….these issues are a common feature.

And lurking behind much of it is the sort of unjustified anti-affirmative action trope that holds that surely it is the women, and the people of color, that have had a sweet ride on Easy Street. It is the Others that have had all the benefits of doubt, un-earned legs-up, chances and opportunities, not the good old straight white man, you see. Academia is, according to this trope, entirely biased for POC and for women and has been for decades.

Thus if we have equal assessment it is somehow in reality the white man who is the poor struggler who deserves the special consideration.

To be fair.

I am sure there are many of you that do not have these types of experiences in your departmental job searches. I’m sure that many of you have seen successful and fair recruitments occur.

But we are still struggling to move the needle on many of the statistics when it comes to representation and diversity in academic scientific hiring. So on the balance, we are still looking for ways to improve.

Being aware of, and prepared to counter, these sorts of reverse-racism analyses may be helpful.

*Yes I am well aware that women of color suffer a double whammy in these situations. And that there are LBGTQ issues. The oppression olympics are not, however, the topic of the day. The issue is majoritarian vs the Other that is perceived to have some sort of advantage when the decision goes to them following otherwise “equal” assessment.

Several recent experiences have brought me to ponder a question this week. And in one of the several formulations in my mind it reads: Is it more effective to drive change of large systems from a position inside of the room or from a position outside of the room?

In one way of defining this, I am wondering if change happens with large institutions (the US government/polity, Universities, NIH extramural granting activities, you know, the usual targets) most rapidly and assuredly if it is driven by the barbarians at the gate or by the insiders.

To a first approximation this also means something about the tone and the approach to change. We are more likely to get inside the room if we align ourselves with the powers that be. We are more likely to get inside the room with an approach and a tone and a personality that is compatible with (read: similar to) the already-empowered folks.

I exist in what I think of as a duality that does a half-assed job of being inside the room and a half-assed job of being outside of the room. To a certain view, I’m a NIH extramural funding insider. I was trained in at least one stop around people who were very successful grant getting folks. I started my faculty position around folks that were not only good at getting grants but were themselves more than usually powerful. Leaders of societies, editors of journals, people that went on National Advisory Council of NIH ICs. People who were able to just phone up an IC director at will and have that person take their call. I have been awarded NIH grants as a PI on more than one occasion. I have served an appointed stint on study section and still get invited to review with enough regularity for me to maintain continual-submission privileges most of the time. My institutional affiliation commands respect in some quarters although of course that is down to all the other folks who do and have worked for it, not to me.

Particularly when it comes to NIH granting matters, I am often inside the room. Or, at least one of the anterooms. This gives me the opportunity to influence things. I have a direct role in review of proposals and in voting for scores of proposals. I can contribute to the discussion of grants, potentially affecting not just the outcome of that grant but the way other reviewers approach review*. My comments reach the ears of Program Officers, giving them (my words) the opportunity to effect change**.

The reach of these opportunities is limited in scope. I only reach so many folks.

I also have the opportunity to rant from outside the room in several ways, most pointedly through this blog and the online academic community. As you know, I do so. But in addition, in real life, there are many scenarios in which I am not in the room. As you ascend the ranks of the NIH ICs to where the RealPower lies, I’m definitely an outsider. I have maybe one Director that would take my call but it is not the the most useful IC for me, under most circumstances. My work is not good enough to command attention all the way to the top. I am not empowered within academic societies or journals. My institution has never really liked me much.

Many of us exist in these diverse roles with respect to the insider/outsider status. It is on a spectrum and it is highly fluid. And, as we know from broader discussions of privilege, it is nigh on impossible for real humans in academia to see their own insider-ness for what it is. And, more specifically, for how it appears to everyone who is just outside that particular door of power.

What is more effective? I don’t know. Take the example of careers that are shaped in large part by the success of the individual under the NIH grant scheme. If I’m on study section I can fight hard for good applications that are submitted by African-American PIs. I can even choose to review as much as I possibly can, such that my fighting has the chance to reach as many applications from black PIs as possible. That’s nice and sober insider guy behavior. I can, if I choose, make occasional oblique or pointed comments that refer to the Ginther report finding on discrimination and bias. Maybe it will counter an implicit bias here or there. Maybe a reviewer or a PO will start trying to counter such biases themselves. Slightly more shouty, but still insider-dude stuff.

Or I could rant and rave and bring Gither up at the slightest excuse. I don’t tend to do this inside the room. I think that would be less*** effective…but I really don’t know.

From outside the room in my social media life, as you know Dear Reader, I cast a few more stones and shout louder. I keep Ginther refreshed, seven years later, in the minds of my fellow travelers. (I have other issues as well). I hope my ranting reaches new audiences, since we have new people finding the online science community daily. I yell at the NIH Director’s twitter account but that’s mostly street theatre for the crowd, I know ol’ Francis Collins isn’t really paying any attention.

By this point you are getting the feeling that I think that the best thing to do is to pursue both avenues. And you would be right. I do think that the best and most assured way to effect maximal change of ponderous systems is to both gain insider power and to continue to shout and rave from outside the gates.

The example I used is one person on an agenda but most typically this involves different people pursing the same agenda.

I call it the Martin and Malcolm scenario, if you will permit. This requires a certain cartoonized view of the Civil Rights era in this country but I think it suffices even if it polarizes the two men (and their movements) in a way that is historically less than accurate. We lionize Martin Luther King, Jr. as the personification of the pacifist approach that worked within the system in sober and solid ways. His movement essentially shamed the powers that be into doing better. Or argued the powers that be into doing better. And this was much more effective than the aggressive, even violent, approach of Malcolm X and his movement.

Or so goes the tale of the insider crowd. The more educated ones even try to point out how Malcolm X moderated his position and became more conciliatory later on.

My view is that the Martin approach only gained traction as a more palatable alternative to the scenario raised by the Malcolm X type approach.

And I think you can see this interplay reflected in countless historical struggles in which political solutions to imbalances of power were reached. Quite often history credits progress to the sober efforts of working the levers of the insiders. It may be work done by actual insiders or by people patiently and quietly trying to move the insiders. It may be people working slowly to become insiders. But my reading of history says that structures of power only relent and start to negotiate with the sober, insider crowd because they are in existential fear of the barbarians at the gate.

This analysis, however, doesn’t answer the question in any sort of fine-grained manner. On any given issue, at any given time, are we more in need of anger? Or are we in need of a greater emphasis on sober, staid, insider-club efforts? When has the ground been sufficiently prepared to suggest now is the time for sowing and nurturing seedlings?

To this very month I struggle with how shouty versus sober I should be in trying to improve the way institutions behave. To return to the above example, anytime I am on a study section I have to moderate my behavior. When do I speak up and what do I say? When do I have an opportunity to help advance what I think is the best thing to do and when are my goals best served by shutting up? And given that DM is such a poorly kept secret at this point, to what extent do my opinions expressed on social media compromise my efforts inside the room?

And, to bring it to a fine point, I see my colleagues and friends out there who are trying to effect change in science, academics and professional life grappling with these issues daily.

It is not always comfortable. I’ve been trying to describe my own duality here, this is the easy version. I think I’m a pretty good dude and I respect what I’m trying to do. So shouty-me isn’t too mad when insider-club me misses a trick, soft-pedals when I might kick more tail, acts diplomatically and accepts slow and incremental over the dramatic. Insider-club me understand whole heartedly why shouty-me is angry and totally supports it. Insider-me might tell shouty-me to tone it down a bit and wring the hands a bit over efficacy (see above) but in general is on board. Outsider-me understands the while insider-me has a certain standing inside the club, this is tenuous and hard won and does not convey the power that it may appear to convey to other outsiders.

This isn’t so easy when the insider and the outsider are not the same person.

Outsiders are quick to view the insider who is putatively on their side as a quisling if they do not slay all the dragons right now with extreme prejudice.

Insiders are quick to castigate the outsider as a counter-productive, self-aggrandizing egotist who is hurting the shared cause more than helping it.

We see this in Democratic party politics. Bernie supporters versus Hillary supporters expressed some of this dynamic. We see this in intersectional feminism.

We also see this, I think, in solving the Real Problems of the NIH. And of Open / Paywall publishing. And of career trajectories of trainees.

And we see this in the fight to reduce sexual harassment, sexual assault and sex-based discrimination that occurs in and around academic science careers.

I think we need both voices. We need people inside the clubs. We need people who are really, really angry shouting loudly from outside of the room (and sometimes inside of the room). I do not support confidence that either position, quisling apologist versus enraged pure soul, is obviously correct, right or most productive. I don’t think that history supports such a conclusion on either side.

We need both.
*Just this month a friend was recollecting something I had said at a study section meeting when we first met, something over 10 years ago.
**Which may not be in the direction I would desire, of course.
***I’m already enough of “that guy” who people roll their eyes at. I don’t need more of that baggage, I suspect.

We have just learned that in addition to the bias against black PIs when they try to get research funding (Ginther et al., 2011), Asian-American and African-American K99 applicants are also at a disadvantage. These issues trigger my usual remarks about how NIH has handled observed disparities in the past. In the spirit of pictures being worth more than words we can look up the latest update on success rates for RPG (a laundry list of research grant support mechanisms) broken down by two key factors.
First up is the success rate by the gender of the PI. As you can see very clearly, something changed in 2003. All of a sudden a sustained advantage for men disappeared. Actually two things happened. This disparity was “fixed” and the year after success rates went in the tank for everyone. There are a couple of important observations. The NIH didn’t suddenly fix whatever was going on in study section, I guaranfrickentee it. I guarantee there were not also any magic changes in the pipeline or female PI pool or anything else. I guarantee you that the NIH decided to equalize success rates by heavy handed top-down affirmative action policies in the nature of “make it so” and “fix this”. I do not recall ever seeing anything formal so, hey, I could be way off base. If so, I look forward to any citation of information showing change in the way they do business that coincided directly with the grants submitted for the FY2003 rounds.
The second thing to notice here is that women’s success rates never exceeded that for men. Not for fifteen straight Fiscal Years. This further supports my hypothesis that the bias hasn’t been fixed in some fundamental way. If it had been fixed, this would be random from year to year, correct? Sometimes the women’s rates would sneak above the men’s rates. That never happens. Because of course when we redress a bias, it can only ever just barely reach statistically indistinguishable parity and if god forbid the previously privileged class suffers even the tiniest little bit of disadvantage it is an outrage.
Finally, the fact that success rates went in the tanker in 2004 should remind you that men enjoyed the advantage all during the great NIH doubling! The salad days. Lots of money available and STILL it was being disproportionately sucked up by the advantaged group. You might think that when there is an interval of largesse that systems would be more generous. Good time to slip a little extra to women, underrepresented individuals or the youth, right? Ha.

Which brings me to the fate of first-time investigators versus established investigators. Oh look, the never-funded were instantly brought up to parity in 2007. In this case a few years after the post-doubling success rates went in the toilet but more or less the same pattern. Including the failure of the statistically indistiguishable success rates for the first timers to ever, in 11 straight years of funding, to exceed the rates for established investigators. Because of affirmative action instead of fixing the bias. As you will recall, the head of the NIH at that time made it very clear that he was using “make it so” top-down heavy handed quota based affirmative action to accomplish this goal.

Zerhouni created special awards for young scientists but concluded that wasn’t enough. In 2007, he set a target of funding 1500 new-investigator R01s, based on the previous 5 years’ average.

Some program directors grumbled at first, NIH officials say, but came on board when NIH noticed a change in behavior by peer reviewers. Told about the quotas, study sections began “punishing the young investigators with bad scores,” says Zerhouni.


I do not recall much in the way of discussing the “pipelines” and how we couldn’t possible do anything to change the bias of study sections until a new, larger and/or better class of female or not-previously-funded investigators could be trained up. The NIH just fixed it. ish. permanently.

For FY2017 there were 16,954 applications with women PIs. 3,186 awards. If you take the ~3% gap from the interval prior to 2003, this means that the NIH is picking up some 508 research project grants from women PIs via their affirmative action process. Per year. If you apply the ~6% deficit enjoyed by first time investigators in the salad days you end up with 586 research project grants picked up by affirmative action. Now there will be some overlap of these populations. Women are PI of about 31% of applications in the data for the first graph and first timers are about 35% for the second. So very roughly women might be 181 of the affirmative action newbie apps and newbies might be 178 of the affirmative action women’s apps. The estimates are close. So let’s say something like 913 unique grants are picked up by the NIH just for these two overt affirmative action purposes. Each and every Fiscal Year.

Because of the fact that, for example, African-American PIs of research grants or K99 apps represent such tiny percentages of the total (2% in both cases), the number of pickups that would be necessary to equalize success rate disparities is tiny. In the K99 analysis, it was a mere 23 applications across a decade. Two per year. I don’t have research grant numbers handy but if we use the data underlying the first graph, this means there were about 1,080 applications with African-American PIs in FY2017. If they hit the 19% success rate this would be about 205 applications. Ginther reported about a 13% success rate deficit, working out to 55% of the success rate enjoyed by white applicants at the time. This would correspond to a 10.5% success rate for black applicants now, or about 113 application. So 92 would be needed to make up the difference for African-American PIs assuming the Ginther disparity still holds. This would be less than one percent of the awards made.

Less than one percent. And keep in mind these are not gifts. These are making up for a screwjob. These are making up for the bias. If any applicants from male, established or white populations go unfunded to redress the bias, they are only losing their unearned advantage. Not being disadvantaged.

As mentioned in Science, a new report from the US Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have deduced we have a problem with too many PhDs and not enough of the jobs that they want.

The report responds to many years of warning signs that the U.S. biomedical enterprise may be calcifying in ways that create barriers for the incoming generation of researchers. One of the biggest challenges is the gulf between the growing number of young scientists who are qualified for and interested in becoming academic researchers and the limited number of tenure-track research positions available. Many new Ph.D.s spend long periods in postdoctoral positions with low salaries, inadequate training, and little opportunity for independent research. Many postdocs pursue training experiences expecting that they will later secure an academic position, rather than pursuing a training experience that helps them compete for the range of independent careers available outside of academia, where the majority will be employed. As of 2016, for those researchers who do transition into independent research positions, the average age for securing their first major NIH independent grant is 43 years old, compared to 36 years old in 1980.

No mention (in the executive summary / PR blurb) that the age of first R01 has been essentially unchanged for a decade despite the NIH ESI policy and the invention of the K99 which is limited by years-since-PhD.

No mention of the reason that we have so many postdocs, which is the uncontrolled production of ever more PhDs.

On to the actionable bullet points that interest me.

Work with the National Institutes of Health to increase the number of individuals in staff scientist positions to provide more stable, non-faculty research opportunities for the next generation of researchers. Individuals on a staff scientist track should receive a salary and benefits commensurate with their experience and responsibilities.

This is a recommendation for research institutions but we all need to think about this. The NCI launched the R50 mechanism in 2016 and they have 49 of them on the books at the moment. I had some thoughts on why this is a good idea here and here. The question now, especially for those in the know with cancer research, is whether this R50 is being used to gain stability and independence for the needy awardee or whether it is just further larding up the labs of Very Important Cancer PIs.

Expand existing awards or create new competitive awards for postdoctoral researchers to advance their own independent research and support professional development toward an independent research career. By July 1, 2023, there should be a fivefold increase in the number of individual research fellowship awards and career development awards for postdoctoral researchers granted by NIH.

As we know the number of NIH fellowships has remained relatively fixed relative to the huge escalation of “postdocs” funded on research grant mechanisms. We really don’t know the degree to which independent fellowships simply annoint the chosen (population wise) versus aid the most worthy and deserving candidates to stand out. Will quintupling the F32s magically make more faculty slots available? I tend to think not.

As we know, if you really want to grease the skids to faculty appointment the route is the K99/R00 or basically anything that means the prospective hire ” comes with money”. Work on that, NIH. Quintuple the K99s, not the F32s. And hand out more R03 or R21 or invent up some other R-mechanism that prospective faculty can apply for in place of “mentored” K awards. I just had this brainstorm. R-mechs (any really) that get some cutesy acronym (like B-START) and can be applied for by basically any non-faculty person from anywhere. Catch is, it works like the R00 part of the K99/R00. Only awarded upon successful competition for a faculty job and the offer of a competitive startup.

Ensure that the duration of all R01 research grants supporting early-stage investigators is no less than five years to enable the establishment of resilient independent research programs.

Sure. And invent up some “next award” special treatment for current ESI. and then a third-award one. and so on.

Or, you know, fix the problem for everyone which is that too many mouths at the trough have ruined the cakewalk that experienced investigators had during the eighties.

Phase in a cap – three years suggested – on salary support for all postdoctoral researchers funded by NIH research project grants (RPGs). The phase-in should occur only after NIH undertakes a robust pilot study of sufficient size and duration to assess the feasibility of this policy and provide opportunities to revise it. The pilot study should be coupled to action on the previous recommendation for an increase in individual awards.

This one got the newbie faculty all het up on the twitters.


being examples if you are interested.

They are, of course, upset about two things.

First, “the person like me”. Which of course is what drives all of our anger about this whole garbage fire of a career situation that has developed. You can call it survivor guilt, self-love, arrogance, whatever. But it is perfectly reasonable that we don’t like the Man doing things that mean people just like us would have washed out. So people who were not super stars in 3 years of postdoc’ing are mad.

Second, there’s a hint of “don’t stop the gravy train just as I passed your damn insurmountable hurdle”. If you are newb faculty and read this and get all angree and start telling me how terrible I am…..you need to sit down an introspect a bit, friend. I can wait.

New faculty are almost universally against my suggestion that we all need to do our part and stop training graduate students. Less universally, but still frequently, against the idea that they should start structuring their career plans for a technician-heavy, trainee-light arrangement. With permanent career employees that do not get changed out for new ones every 3-5 years like leased Priuses either.

Our last little stupid poll confirmed that everyone things 3-5 concurrent postdocs is just peachy for even the newest lab and gee whillikers where are they to come from?

This new report will go nowhere, just like all the previous ones that reach essentially the same conclusion and make similar recommendations. Because it is all about the

1) Mouths at the trough.
2) Available slops.

We continue to breed more mouths PHDs.

And the American taxpayers, via their duly appointed representatives in Congress, show no interest in radically increasing the budget for slops science.

And even if Congress trebled or quintupled the NIH budget, all evidence suggests we’d just to the same thing all over again. Mint more PhDs like crazee and wonder in another 10-15 years why careers still suck.


January 31, 2017


Indecent people do not stop because they realize they are wrong or went too far.

They only stop when the decent people stop them.

First there was this lovely* gentleman from a Trump rally in Florida:

A rally which featured this equally delightful** example of RealAmericanism***

Then there was the guy (h/t @neuromusic) who you would think was just a garden variety dimwit who doesn’t understand the law and hates cyclists. Until he gets to the part where he threatens to “pull a Trump on you”. I don’t think he was talking about scamming this poor cyclist out of a real estate investment and filing Chapter 11 to walk off with the money either, but I’m sure our conservative commenter friends BV and N-c will be right along to explain how this was a joke. Or that it is a complete coincidence that out of control, raging violent homophobic road rage jerks reference Trump.

*for the Trump apologists, who seem to be perplexingly dimwitted on the topic lately, this is what sarcasm looks like.

**also sarcasm.

*** ____________ (fill in the blank exercise)

August 9, 2016 was the day.

I oppose H8

July 22, 2016

Sometimes just shaking your head isn’t enough.

One of the things that I’ve believed is the very essence of the American Dream is the aspiration to own your own little home, live in a nice neighborhood, raise your kids as best you can and live happily ever after with your spouse.

NBC Philadelphia reported on the American Dream of one couple as it is right now in 2016.

The couple said they bought the house in 2014 and moved there for a fresh start — a place where their boys, now ages 8 and 13, could play in the yard with the four family dogs and leave behind the hurt of their biological parents’ struggles with drugs and crime.

But, the pair said, they found only discrimination and hate. First, they said, in the form of the frivolous lawsuit, and later during a months-long campaign of repeated vandalism to their home that included someone using the cover of night to scrawl the slur onto their garage, breaking their security sensors on numerous occasions and twice taking a hacksaw to the white fence that supposedly sparked it all.

There’s a gofundme set up to pay this family’s legal bills.

I’m going to suggest that this is a great opportunity to give even as little as $5 just to register a vote of protest against hatred and in support of decency. Or as the lighting of a candle in the darkness.

Or maybe, as I do, you think that this could easily be you, your family or the family of people that are really close to you. The specifics may vary. Maybe it is not your sexual orientation but the color of your skin. Maybe it is your religion or the clothes you choose to wear. Maybe it is your chosen profession or perhaps a health or ability condition. Whatever it may be, you might be unlucky enough to end up in a neighborhood with people who hate you for what you are, not for who you are. And some of these sick individuals may be feel it is perfectly acceptable to persecute you because of their hatred.

And if so perhaps you hope, as I do, that if you had uncharitable neighbors like these poor people do, that the rest of the country would rise up and register a small vote of support for you.

Michael Balter wrote a piece about sexual harassment accusations against paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History that was published in Science magazine.

This story has been part of what I hope is a critical mass of stories publicizing sexual harassment in academia. Critical, that is, to stimulating real improvement in workplaces and a decrease in tolerance for sexual harassing behavior on the part of established scientists toward their underlings.

There have been a very disturbing series of tweets from Balter today.

Holy….surely it isn’t connected to….

Oh Christ, of course it is….

but they published it so…?

Well THAT should have a nicely suppressing effect on journalists who may think about writing up any future cases of sexual harassment in academia.

UPDATE: Blog entry from Balter.
ETA: I am particularly exercised about this after completing, just this week, a survey from AAAS about what the membership expects from them. The survey did not seem to have a check box item for “Fight against scientific and workplace misconduct”.

Read the rest of this entry »

But clearly the laboratory based male scientists would never harass their female subordinates.

Field science is bad.

Lab science is good.

This is what the head of the Office of Extramural Research at the NIH seems to think.

Read this.

The question is not about whether Maria Sharapova should have known meldonium was added to the banned list for 2016.

The question is why she has been taking this since the age of 16 for an “abnormal EKG” diagnosed by her personal physician.

MLB players have *astonishingly* high rates of adult ADHD which requires treatment with amphetamines.

Pro cyclists are cursed, apparently, with almost universal asthma, requiring bronchodilator use.

Medical exemptions and dubious diagnoses from personal physicians are severely abused ways to get around doping bans and Rx-only regulations.

It’s still cheating.

i.e., “I’m better than the riffraff and now that I feel a tiny tinge of their pain it proves the entire system is broken“.

Respected neuroscientist Leslie Vosshall has joined with Michael Eisen in the latest “science needs to be torn down and rebuilt” crusades.

This time it is over pre-print archives. These two think we all should submit manuscripts to some sort of public repository before submitting them to journals for publication.

Whee! Unicorns!

Someone kindly forwarded me a link to a puff-piece / character assassination on Professor Vosshall. I phrase it like that because, well, eye of the beholder, eh?

As a teenager in the early 1980s, Leslie Vosshall spent her summers in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “My uncle is a scientist and he’d rent a lab there,” she says. “He always needed someone to come and do the glassware. It was a plum job, generally handed out via the nepotistic network…

cue privilege…

“I was widely viewed as the most pathetic graduate student. I had no hint of any success for the first 6 years of my PhD….. Two years went by, then three, then four. The more vocal people in and around the lab told me I should just give up and go to law school.” ….“The litany of failures goes on and on…. “I can’t say I was the greatest experimentalist in the world. I made great cDNA libraries and I was really good at manual Sanger sequencing. But these techniques are now extinct. So it’s probably best I’m no longer at the bench.”

umm. okay. so how…?

Then her lab mates identified another mutation, in a gene called timeless, which also alters the flies’ circadian rhythms. Vosshall found that in timeless mutants,….Vosshall joined Richard Axel’s lab …Then the Drosophila genome was sequenced and we teamed up with some bioinformaticists, also at Columbia. They sifted through the genome looking for all membrane proteins—and that’s how we found them. It was an 11th-hour save. When we went back through our freezers, which were filled with the thousands of clones we’d made, it turns out we actually had two of the receptors in our collection……“There have been maybe three moments in my career when I knew that I personally solved something.

Wow. Like I said, quite the character assassination. From a certain point of view. I mean this paints a picture, true or not, of a person of immense privilege who admits to be a crap scientist who never figured out anything on her own, leveraged just-happened-to-be-there in high-flying and no doubt copiously resourced labs into a few nice papers and BAM, off to a career of Glamourousness. Pretty damning.

This is the relevant part though.

“When I started in this business in 2000, if you wrote a good grant you would be funded. This is not the case now. I deal with it by not writing grants. I know it’s stupid and a bit pouty, but I just can’t stand the rejection.” And she doesn’t care for the current climate of rationing. Vosshall, now an HHMI investigator, had an NSF grant turned down in 2006—despite receiving near-perfect scores. She was later told that grants with lower scores were given priority because she had other sources of funding, where the other labs did not. “That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Is that how we run professional sports? ‘Let’s let this guy pitch. He’s not as good, but he hasn’t had a chance recently.’ This may work well in elementary school. But it is not how it’s supposed to work in science.”

I was in this business in 2000. The part about writing a good grant and getting funded is, in a word, bullshit. It’s a lie and a No-True-Scotsman ploy.

We’ve been through this before. Her success and ease of launch was based on the Glam papers and the Glam pedigree, not her grant writing. Believe me*. All that changed is that finally, at some point, she started feeling the tiniest bit of reality that was faced by most** scientists.

Those other folks.

Over there.

Who must not write “good” grants and so therefore they deserve what they get. But not her, ooooh no. If she has to face a “rejection” she’s going to get all pouty. And instead of feeling grateful for a schweeeet HHMI dealio, complain about how she can’t get even MORE support from the NSF (which worries about such things even more than does NIGMS or NIH as a whole if I have it right) it is an outrage. The entitlement just bleeds off this page of The Scientist.

And now, Vosshall is joining up with Michael Eisen to push pre-prints because the process of pushing her work into Glamour journals (7 Cell; 8 Nature; 4 Science of 78 pubs) is just too much work. The rejection (10 Neuron; 2 Nat Neuro tch, tch) must be really annoying. How dare anyone hold her to any sort of account for her offerings?

Clearly science is entirely broken and needs to be revolutionized.

I’ve convinced myself. This WAS a hit job. Nobody could possibly be this much of an asshole about science careers and their unbelievable run of self-described unearned privilege, could they? Right?

well yeah but when you come from a lab that pumps out the Glam…


too good to Edit now? hmmm.

Now, I’m going to address myself to Professor Eisen, who I think mostly has his heart in the right place. He, Bernie-Sanders-like, wishes to start a popular revolutionary conflagration that will bring his fondest desires to pass. He knows, somewhere deep down, that he needs the masses on his side to make this happen. He walks quite a bit of his talk. Great. Love the apparent intention to make science go forward faster, better and more efficiently.

But dude. Mike. For realz here. You alienate the ever loving shit out of the masses of workaday scientists when you cozy up with privileged, selfish, Glam scientists of the realm who have no intention of making science better and are only after making it better for themselves. This hit job in The Scientist on Vosshall (surely it is, right?)….it describes precisely the kind of person you don’t want to hook up with. The image you don’t want to hook up with, regardless of the truth in the heart of any particular person (ahem). Because it guarantees you will fail.

Just like hooking up with Glam folks to gain immediate power seduced you into creating PLoS Glams instead of only PLoS ONE guaranteed that particular agenda would fail.

Turn to the Bernie side, Professor Eisen. Do what works for the masses and burn down the entire institution of Glamour science.

It’s the only way to achieve your goal.

*Trump voice.

**the riffraff


Once again, my friends, a professor of science has been found to be harassing women underlings.

Actually it was a bit more:

Lieb allegedly made unwelcome sexual advances to several female graduate students on an off-campus retreat in Galena, Ill., and engaged in sexual activity with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent,” according to documents acquired by the New York Times.

Yeah, that last part there pretty much makes Jason Lieb a rapist.

Then it turns out that the guy had left Princeton rather abruptly:

Yoav Gilad, a molecular biologist at Chicago who was on the committee that advocated hiring Dr. Lieb, said he and his fellow faculty members knew that in February 2014 Dr. Lieb had abruptly resigned from Princeton University, just seven months after having been recruited from the University of North Carolina to run a high-profile genomics institute.

then it gets very foggy:

molecular biologists on the University of Chicago faculty and at other academic institutions received emails from an anonymous address stating that Dr. Lieb had faced allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct at previous jobs at Princeton and the University of North Carolina.


But Dr. Gilad said that when it was contacted, Princeton said there had been no sexual harassment investigation of Dr. Lieb while he was there. He said efforts to find out more about what prompted Dr. Lieb’s departure proved fruitless. A Princeton spokeswoman said the university does not comment on personnel matters.

hmmm. smells a little bit, doesn’t it? But no PROOF. Because, no doubt, of the usual. Murky circumstances. Accusations that can’t be proved easily. Wagon circling from the institution and lingering doubt that the accuser is telling the truth. We’ve seen it a million times.

Separately, Dr. Gilad acknowledged, during the interviews of Dr. Lieb, he admitted that he had had a monthslong affair with a graduate student in his laboratory at the University of North Carolina.

Ok, wait, whoa full stop. The dude had an affair with a graduate student IN HIS LAB!

Done. Right there. The vast majority of Universities that have policies at least say you can’t have an affair with a student you have a direct supervisory role over.

Hiring committees are not courts of law and applicants do not have a right to be hired. This committee at U of C should have taken a pass as soon as they learned Lieb was screwing his graduate student.

There are a number of problems that we academics need to confront about this.

First, the guy raped an incapacitated grad student at a dept retreat. This has to put some courage into departments to lay down some rules during their retreats. Like maybe, no faculty partying with grad students after official hours, when the other faculty aren’t around. Open the retreat with a discussion of harassment, respect and professional behavior like they do at GRCs now. That sort of thing.

Second, what in the hell do we do about these unproven cases in which the guy (it’s almost always a man) who keeps jumping institutions leaves a smell of harassment and bad behavior behind him that hasn’t been proven or documented?

It’s weird, right?

If you take a rec letter from a trusted colleague about a prospective student or postdoc that has the slightest hint of a problem, professional work wise, you take an automatic pass. You move on to the next candidate. Nobody talks about lawyers and proof and how you “have” to hire this particular postdoc or they will sue you for defamation. Yet when it comes to a faculty hire, the stench of misconduct is treated differently. “well, it hasn’t been proven! there’s no paper trail! Sure he left in a hurry and the old institution ain’t talking but its a coincidence! and we can’t listen to these rumors from eight of his previous trainees who all tell the same tale, hearsay! we’ll be sued for defamation if we choose not to hire him!“.

Something is very wrong here.

We’re perfectly okay not hiring a candidate because we suspect they won’t like our town and will be soon looking to leave. Ok with violating HR rules to sniff around about a two-body problem and refuse to offer a faculty job to such a problem candidate. Underrepresented minorities? Don’t even get me started. Women of childbearing age or with a young child? yeah. Our hiring committees do all kinds of inferring and gossiping and not-offering on the basis of suspected factors. Thinly evidenced. Not proven. Actually illegal reasons in some cases.

But when someone is rumoured to be a harasser of women? Geez, we have to bend over backwards to extend him his alleged right to the job.

Something is very wrong here.

People of science? Please. Just. Look. Somewhere. Else. Would. You? Please? Find your romantic entanglements outside of the workplace. Really. It cannot possibly be this difficult.

The other day I was discussing the notion of what is “fair” in majority USian thinking.

In the US, it is considered fair if the very top echelon of the disadvantaged population succeeds at the level of the bottom slice of the advantaged distribution.

And if any individual of the top echelon of the disadvantaged population should happen to achieve up past the middle of the advantaged distribution? Well clearly that is unfair and evidence of reverse discrimination!

I was not familiar with the details of the Abigail Fisher (#StayMadAbby) case under consideration by SCOTUS (see Scalia) this week when I wrote that. I have learned a few things.

The University of Texas has a policy of accepting the top 10% of in-state high school graduates. This accounted for 92% of the slots when Ms. Fisher was applying for admission. She was not in the top 10% of her class.

Her qualifications were mediocre at best: A GPA of 3.59 and SAT scores of 1180/1600.

So she was less than amazingly qualified and was fighting for one of the 8% of the remaining admission slots for non-top-10% applicants.

There is more though, which is a real kicker. Again, from the Salon article. There were:

168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year.

So if she had been admitted, they would have all had a case that she was stealing their slot.

It gets better*.

It’s true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were black or Latino. Forty-two were white.

Emphasis added.

Ms. Fisher is suing on the basis of those five black or Latino students who were admitted. They had worse grades, you see, so she deserved to get in. And was discriminated against solely on the fact that she wasn’t black or Latina. Except 42 white students also were admitted with worse grades. So if anyone took her slot it is 42:5 THAT IT WAS A WHITE STUDENT.

And of course had she been offered admission, there were 168 individuals with the same claim against her that she is making now.

Reminder. This is not just one woman’s disappointed whinging and viral YouTube video.

This case has wended its way all the way up to the highest court in the land and is being considered by our SCOTUS Justices.

She is the best possible plaintiff. Because the details of this case underscore how true it is that “fairness” in this country is that which only just barely allows the disadvantaged to draw (almost) even with the very lowest attaining members of the advantaged populations.