February 28, 2014
Commenter mikka wants to know why:
I don’t get this “professional editors are not scientists” trope. All the professional editors I know were bench scientists at the start of their career. They read, write, look at and interpret data, talk to bench scientists and keep abreast of their fields. In a nutshell, they do what PIs do, except writing grants and deciding what projects must be pursued. The input some editors put in some of my papers would merit a middle authorship. They are scientists all right, and some of them very good ones.
Look, yes you are right that they are scientists. In a certain way. And yes, I regret the way that my opinion that they are 1) very different from Editors and Associate Editors who are primarily research scientists and 2) ruining science tends to be taken as a personal attack on their individual qualities and competence.
But there is simply no way around it.
The typical professional editor, typically at a Glamour(ish) Mag publication, is under-experienced in science compared with a real Editor.
Regardless of circumstances, if they have gone to the Editorial staff from a postdoc, without experience in the Principal Investigator chair then they have certain limitations.
It is particularly bad that ass kissing from PIs who are desperate to get their papers accepted tends to persuade these people over time that they are just as important as those PIs.
“Input” merits middle authorship, eh? Sure, anyone with half a brain can suggest a few more experiments. And if you have the despotic power of a Nature editor’s keyboard behind you, sure…they damn well will do it. And ask for more. And tell you how uniquely brilliant of a suggestion it all was.
And because it ends up published in a Glamour Mag, all the sheep will bleat approvingly about what a great paper it is.
Professional editors are ruining science.
They have no loyalty to the science*. Their job is to work to aggrandize their own magazine’s brand at the cost of the competition. It behooves them to insist that six papers worth of work gets buried in “Supplemental Methods” because no competing and lesser journal will get those data. It behooves them to structure the system in a way that authors will consider a whole bunch of other interesting data “unpublishable” because it got scooped by two weeks.
They have no understanding or consideration of the realities of scientific careers*. It is of no concern to them whether scientific production should be steady, whether uninteresting findings can later be of significance, nor whether any particular subfield really needs this particular kick in the pants. It is no concern to them that their half-baked suggestion requires a whole R01 scale project and two years of experiments. They do not have to consider any reality whatsoever. I find that real, working scientist Editors are much more reasonable about these issues.
Noob professional editors are star-struck and never, ever are able to see that the Emperor is, in fact, stark naked. Sorry, but it takes some experience and block circling time to mature your understanding of how science really works. Of what is really important over the long haul. Notice how the PLoSFail fans (to pick one recent issue) are heavily dominated by the wet-behind-the-ears types and the critics seem to mostly be established faculty? This is no coincidence.
Again, this is not about the personal qualities of the professional editors. The structure of their jobs, and typical career arc, makes it impossible for them to behave differently.
This is why it is the entire job category of professional editor that is the problem.
If you require authoritah, note that Nobel laureate Brenner said something similar.
It’s corrupt in many ways, in that scientists and academics have handed over to the editors of these journals the ability to make judgment on science and scientists.
He was clearly not talking about peer review itself, but rather the professional Glamour Mag type editor.
*as well they should not. It is a structural feature of the job category. They are not personally culpable, the institutional limitations are responsible.
February 28, 2014
Do you decide whether to accept a manuscript for review based on the Journal that is asking?
To what extent does this influence your decision to take a review assignment?
February 24, 2014
In my limited experience, the creation, roll-out and review of Multi-PI direction of a single NIH grant has been the smoothest GoodThing to happen in NIH supported extramural research.
I find it barely draws mention in review and deduce that my fellow scientists agree with me that it is a very good idea, long past due.
February 10, 2014
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):
January 21, 2014
Huh. A bit surprised I never had occasion to repost this. Well, the conversation about the Ginther report and disparity in NIH Grant success reminded me of this.
Originally posted 03/23/09.
In the year 1899 an American cyclist won the world championship in the 1-mile track event. In those days, track cycling was what really mattered and cycling was a reasonably big deal. So this was an event in sport. An even bigger deal was the fact that Marshall “Major” Taylor (Wikipedia) was black. This fact was, likewise, important:
The League of American Wheelmen, then the governing body for the sport, banned blacks from amateur racing in 1894, just as bicycling’s popularity surged.
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.