Scientists are complete idiots on the business of science.

Once upon a time I asked Science Twitter to opine on whether they had ever met anyone smarter than they are. They, being mostly not sociopathic narcissists, said they had.

So far, so good. They are also quite willing to admit the obvious,

except for those weenie few per cent that are left after we discount the spoiler/joker rate. These are undoubtedly the duplicitous folks that claim never to think anyone else is an idiot.

I threw in a distractor for the parents in the crowd….

..but seriously, for many in my audience, this is going to be the situation where they are most able to rub elbows with something like the full distribution in their country. Public elementary school. Of course, many will already be on a very select track due to their choice of geographic location.

Next, we moved on to some science logic. Totes different and unrelated issue.

Here we see the joker rate of 3.4% on full display. Most Science Twitter types know this is nonsense. We LIVE for trying to assess the central tendency within a sample that expresses some portion of the variability that exists in the presumed population we are trying to study. Mean plus or minus error bar. bam.

Oh, they are getting warmed up now. A little worrisom on the joker rate but maybe people were just fired up to click the first option? Anyway, CLEARLY, a correlation can exist without ever point being perfectly predictive of the central tendency of the relationship between two variables. And CLEARLY the fact that there is some variability in one measure does not mean it does not tell us, on average, about the other measure if those two things are correlated. And as good scientists who are able to understand the idea of central tendency and error, we do not throw out a correlation if it does not form an invariant line. Or at least most of us do not.

Now, what about the simplest of experimental designs? The two factor, two level quad box that appears in the first chapter of any Experimental Design text book?

Well OF COURSE good scientists understand that there can be not just random variation in a measure, there can be non-random variation. I.e., an influence of another factor! And this may be a constant but is most often a variable influence. Which, gasp, may INTERACT with the first factor in some way….often a variable way. So of course these good scientists, many who deal with this very simple reality of the natural world on a daily basis, report that they are well aware of such things and would never toss a measure just because it was influenced in an identifiable way by more than factor. Geez, don’t insult our intelligence here.

Okay, so we finally got to the water drinking part.

Good god, scientists let all of their training go right straight out of the window when it comes to the business of being a professional scientist.

Thought of the Day

November 16, 2016

If the information firehose and intellectual go-juice of a Society for Neuroscience week leaves you mentally exhausted, you don’t actually work those 60 hours a week you claim to work. 

They know they are wrong. The arguments on both sides have clarified the discussion and pointed the finger clearly at the powerful, the entitled, the entrenched and the beneficiaries. 
In desperation they pull their imagined trump card.

 “We can agree to disagree”

No, we really can’t. 

Some weaksauce low energy muppet just tried to shame me for being “easily amused”.

Is that supposed to be cutting?

The alternative is either that you are humorless or too dumb to get the joke, right?

Thought of the day

March 27, 2016

Personalized, artisanal trolling is the new twttr.

The Washington Post tells this tragic tale of woe:

In her nearly 2,500-word letter, Ben-Ora explained the complaints she had with Yelp, including how she was required to work for a year in customer service before she could move into another position.

“A whole year answering calls and talking to customers just for the hope that someday I’d be able to make memes and twitter jokes about food,” she wrote.

She’s 25.

In case you were wondering, yes, she did major in English, why do you ask?

She’s poor*, and struggling and doesn’t like it. Because the world should pay her six figures to write internet memes and shit. I guess. And this is all the fault of her employer somehow.

Because 80 percent of my income goes to paying my rent.

Nobody with a college degree can reasonably expect to move to the Bay area and have anyone feel sorry for them about not knowing what rent costs. The internet exists. You can check on that. Beforehand.

Let’s talk about those benefits, though. They’re great. I’ve got vision, dental, the normal health insurance stuff — and as far as I can tell, I don’t have to pay for any of it! Except the copays. $20 to see a doctor or get an eye exam or see a therapist or get medication.

Benefits? A mere $20 copay? ….and this is an outrageously bad sweatshop that she works for? ok.

Naturally, after posting her screed on Medium, the inevitable.

UPDATE: As of 5:43pm PST, I have been officially let go from the company.

Wasn’t that what you wanted?

via @forensictoxguy

*from her remarks, it looks like she is making $20K takehome, fwiw.

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

Glam cost

September 24, 2015

How much do you think it costs to generate the manuscript that is accepted for publication at your average Glam journal?

How do you align this with your views on fair distribution of research funding?

Typographical Errors

September 17, 2015

I have never understood this nonsense. Ever. What do typographical errors on a manuscript or grant application have to do with the quality of the science or the scholarship. The thinking?

Copy editors can catch the typos in manuscripts.

Grants? You are on your own risking a failure to communicate your points. But a couple of typos leading some jackwagon to decide they can’t trust the science based on this? Please.

Keen Political Insight

September 16, 2015

A: “Strong assertion that this thing should be so!

B: “What is the basis for your assertion?

A: “hmmmina..hummina….umm WHAT IS THE BASIS FOR YOUR COUNTER CLAIM????

I weep for science some days people. I really do.

First of all, if you don’t understand that anything featuring groups of humans is in the broader sense “political” than you are a fool.

The typical charge that NIH grant review is “all political” made by disappointed applicants, however, always sounds a little more…specific. Take this guy:

Nice and truthy. But what does it mean?

As you might expect I set about trying to get home slice here to define terms and be more specific about what “politics” there are that are making the decision among grant applications which survive triage. Naturally he started dodging and weaving and refused to define what he meant by “politics” save for

which is ridiculous. Yes, big scale stuff like this involves a lot of real actual political behavior. But this has very little to do with the round-by-round review of grants in study sections. In fact, the Brain Initiative folks launched their political effort precisely because they were not enjoying the success they thought they deserved in the usual NIH grant review process!

The closest our friend came to honesty was

which is nice and wishy washy as a definition. Obviously it means that he has decided that the people who he thinks should not get funded do win NIH grants. Since he has determined, in his wisdom, that it is unjustified that they are funded then clearly it is because of “undue personal influence“.

It cannot possibly be that the many players in the system come with their own unique constellation of beliefs about what constitutes the most-meritorious proposals, see? It has to be politics and undue personal influence.

And this is such an important factor in deciding what gets funded out of the 40-50% of proposals that do not get triaged, that he is suggesting wholesale revision of the process to award below the triage line via lottery.

I find this laughable. Yes, there is a great deal of randomness as far as which grants get selected for funding in a given round. I continue to believe, however, that non-random factors are important and that over the entirety of NIH grant selection, the 5%ile grant is likely to be selected over the 45%ile grant for nonpolitical reasons. We may not agree individually with all of these reasons, but I think dismissal of it all being “undue personal influence” is wrong. YHN is a prickly and unfriendly customer in real life and yet is funded. I know of many really friendly and awesome scientists who struggle to get NIH funding. Time after time on study section I hear the crappy application from the highly successful PI being lauded on the basis of past accomplishments and never once on the personal influence. The vast majority of the time, people are reviewing grants from people they don’t really even know personally.

I remain confused as to what this charge of “politics” really means, if it is anything other than personal disgruntlement. But I am eager to learn.

So by all means, Dear Reader, have at it.

What does it mean to you to say grant review is “political”? Be specific in your terms. How could we reduce undue influence? What changes to regular old unsolicited grant review should be made to combat this truthy sounding boogeyman?

Thought of the Day

April 22, 2015

You know those clickbait links on the bottom of some dubious “news” website articles, including HuffPo? Usually about the latest celebrity pictures or “hottest NFL wives” or something?

There is a trend for “white celebrity you didn’t know was married to a black spouse!” 

Now it’s “…and aren’t their biracial kids  kyooooot?”

This feels like interracial fetish porn to me. 



Tthe comments just keep coming over at RockTalking.

8581+ year old guy:

In 2012-13 my NIH renewal proposal with 4 specific aims was turned down 2X by the GM, NCSD Panel, with 35%+ priority scores. …I appealed the grant reviews to the GM Council and they awarded the grant to me for 3 years at somewhat reduced funding. This funding will finance my lab until Sept 2016, after which I will close down. I am NOT closing down because I have lost my energy for, or interest in, research: [blah, blah we published and showed them!] I am closing down my lab because I can no longer put up with the aggravation of having my grants turned down

Cry me a river.

another senior investigator is on fire:

So far, all the comments fully support age discrimination. How sad!

Age limits are silly and discriminatory. Merit worked well UNTIL there was no more money in the NIH bank.

There should be COMPETITIVE opportunities for scientists at all stages of their careers (notice I said competitive) . So it’s not a handout at all and it would be merit-based….just like those for newly trained scientists.

There are wonderful examples of some amazing senior scientists. ONE special initiative is not unreasonable for this group!

Finally, I don’t believe I said that I “deserve” anything… except not to be discriminated against for age, gender or whatever characteristic you wish to select.

emphasis added.

updated: omg, the old guy again!

At the last American Society for Cell Biology meeting in Philadelphia (December, 2014) I stood up at the membership meeting ( only ca. 30 people) attended by some of the senior wheels in cell biology. I asked that the society appoint a new standing committee that did
nothing but try to re-design the NIH extramural grant system in its entirety, eg. the grant applications, who can apply, how review panels are chosen, requirements for NIH supported investigators to serve on panels, and how key personnel of the NIH bureaucracy are chosen, and what type of grants should be awarded. My suggestion was not greeted with great enthusiasm and, in fact, elicited some negative comments.

Bashir points out something that is also important about this proposal.

After all that determination to do something after Ginther Report, with mentoring groups and other round-a-bout approaches aimed at eventually addressing racial disparities in grant awards, suddenly we may have a very direct new mechanism that, regardless of the underlying logic, is essentially un-diversity.

Things that I actually have to say to some people.

yes. it is bad news that there is yet another way for people to fuck themselves the hell up on stimulant drugs. yes.