On his first day in office President Biden signed an Executive Order described thusly by the NYT. I am having difficulty finding a link to the exact text right now. [Edited to Add: The Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.]

“The president designated Susan E. Rice, who is the head of his Domestic Policy Council, as the leader of a “robust, interagency” effort requiring all federal agencies to make “rooting out systemic racism” central to their work. His order directs the agencies to review and report on equity in their ranks within 200 days, including a plan on how to remove barriers to opportunities in policies and programs. The order also moves to ensure that Americans of all backgrounds have equal access to federal government resources, benefits and services. It starts a data working group as well as the study of new methods to measure and assess federal equity and diversity efforts.”

Well, the NIH doesn’t have to take 200 days to “review and report”. They’ve already done so in

Ginther, D.K., Schaffer, W.T., Schnell, J., Masimore, B., Liu, F., Haak, L.L., Kington, R., 2011. Race, ethnicity, and NIH research awards. Science 333(6045), 1015-1019.


Hoppe, T.A., Litovitz, A., Willis, K.A., Meseroll, R.A., Perkins, M.J., Hutchins, B.I., Davis, A.F., Lauer, M.S., Valantine, H.A., Anderson, J.M., Santangelo, G.M., 2019. Topic choice contributes to the lower rate of NIH awards to African-American/black scientists. Sci Adv 5(10), eaaw7238.

So we can skip the 200 days worth of can kicking, Dr. Collins, and move straight to the fixing part. The “ensure” part. The “equal access” part.

This means funding research on topics that are important to Americans of all backgrounds, including African-American ones. Equally. This means pumping up the budget of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). It also means holding the other ICs responsible for taking on their share of these projects and not just shrugging them off into NIMHD.

It means funding not just white American science teams that work on these topics but funding teams of African-American investigators. Equally.

It also means not just funding African-American professors to work on topics of relevance to the health interests of African-Americans but rather equalizing the funding chances of African-American PIs who choose to work on any topic at all.

It’s time to go big. Forces within the NIH who have been trying to do good on this should feel empowered to shout down the nay sayers and to hold the foot draggers to account.

Forces outside the NIH who have been trying to do good on this should likewise feel empowered to hold Susan Rice, their Senators and Congress Reps to account.

It is that time of year when NIH issues a notice covering some long-standing prohibitions against spending their grant money on certain topics. NOT-OD-20-066 reads in part:

(a) No part of any appropriation contained in this Act or transferred pursuant to section 4002 of Public Law 111– 148 shall be used, other than for normal and recognized executive legislative relationships, for publicity or propaganda purposes, for the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, electronic communication, radio, television, or video presentation designed to support or defeat the enactment of legislation before the Congress or any State or local legislature or legislative body, except in presentation to the Congress or any State or local legislature itself, or designed to support or defeat any proposed or pending regulation, administrative action, or order issued by the executive branch of any State or local government, except in presentation to the executive branch of any State or local government itself.

(b) No part of any appropriation contained in this Act or transferred pursuant to section 4002 of Public Law 111–148 shall be used to pay the salary or expenses of any grant or contract recipient, or agent acting for such recipient, related to any activity designed to influence the enactment of legislation, appropriations, regulation, administrative action, or Executive order proposed or pending before the Congress or any State government, State legislature or local legislature or legislative body, other than for normal and recognized executive-legislative relationships or participation by an agency or officer of a State, local or tribal government in policy making and administrative processes within the executive branch of that government

You can see the weasel words, of course. The deployment of “designed to” could mean a whole host of things when it comes to “publication” or “electronic communication”. But still, the message one tends to receive here is that if some Congress Critter gets all up in a snit about it, you could be in trouble for publishing any studies or reviews or opinion pieces that tend to have political/public policy implications.

Gotta be honest folks, I think the vast majority of what I do could possible have public policy implications. Now, of course, most of what I do falls on the seemingly good side of one of the specific issues of concern to Congress about what I publish.

None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act except for normal and recognized executive congressional communications.

But you can see where someone might get nervous about whether or not some aspect of their study of, oh, cannabis or THC or cannabidiol (CBD) just picking one out of the hat not really, might be viewed as “promoting legalization”. Especially if some advocates happened upon some result or other and started using your paper as their Exhibit A…. You can also see where the cannabis proponents (especially the medical advocates) might view this as the root of the conspiracy to scientifically demonize their favorite plant. and maybe it is, maybe it is… Congress will argue that they’ve thought this all through!

(b) The limitation in subsection (a) shall not apply when there is significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage to the use of such drug or other substance or that federally sponsored clinical trials are being conducted to determine therapeutic advantage. “

…..but this doesn’t help, right? The whole point of doing basic and pre-clinical and even clinical research (not trials, research) is to determine if there even IS any ” significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage“, right? This escape clause reads like you have to pull that medical evidence out of a non-Federally-funded hat before you can then do more research which might tend to “promote the legalization” of, e.g., cannabis.

But I digress. Oh, look SQUIRREL!

(2) Gun Control (Section 210)
“None of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.”

Yeah, that’s still in there. Notwithstanding Republican protestations that there really isn’t a ban on research on gun-related harms every time they get put in the crosshairs (oops) by the press in the wake of a mass shooting.

But I digress. Again. The thing I really wanted to discuss is:

(3) Anti-Lobbying (Section 503)

“ (a) No part of any appropriation contained in this Act or transferred pursuant to section 4002 of Public Law 111– 148 shall be used, other than for normal and recognized executive legislative relationships, for publicity or propaganda purposes, for the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, electronic communication, radio, television, or video presentation designed to support or defeat the enactment of legislation before the Congress or any State or local legislature or legislative body,


(c) The prohibitions in subsections (a) and (b) shall include any activity to advocate or promote any proposed, pending or future Federal, State or local tax increase, or any proposed, pending, or future requirement or restriction on any legal consumer product, including its sale or marketing, including but not limited to the advocacy or promotion of gun control.”

“any legal consumer product”. WOWIEE. Yes guns, but at present this includes all kinds of barely-regulated supplements and quack remedies (hi CBD!), cigarettes, e-cigarettes, organic and GMO/antiGMO foodstuffs…. the list goes on and on. And I don’t know how “services” might be distinguished from “product” but this might include chiropracty and aromatherapy and meditation and hot yoga and who knows what else that falls into the probably-woo camp.

Maybe this was always in this anti-lobbying section and I just never noticed or realized the full implications, as written.

My concern is not really that the NIH will come after my or my institution for a refund should any Congress Critter decide to make hay against one of my papers under this prohibition.

It’s that NIH ICs will run scared before this and be highly conservative in terms of what they fund, lest it run afoul of Congress.

Yeah, I had a ring side seat at one of these in the past so it’s not a theoretical concern. It’s something that should concern all of us.


September 9, 2019

I’ve already lost the thread to it but some friend of Joi Ito, the MIT Media Lab guy who took Epstein’s money, was recently trying to defend his actions. If I caught the gist of the piece, it was that Ito allegedly really believed that Epstein ad been reformed, or at least had been sufficiently frightened by his legal consequences not to re-offend with his raping of children.

I want to get past the question of whether Ito was disingenuous or so blinded by what he wanted (Epstein’s money) that he was willing to fool himself. I want to address the issue of forgiveness. Because even if Ito genuinely believed Epstein was reformed, scared and would never in a million years offend again…he had to forgive him for his past actions.

I was pondering this on my commute this morning.

I do not forgive.

I only rarely forget.

I hold grudges for decades.

I have been known to ruminate and dwell and to steep.

I am trying my best to come up with cases where I’ve suffered a significant harm or insult from someone and managed to forgive them at a later date. I’m not recalling any such thing.

On the other hand, nobody has ever offered me millions of dollars to overlook their past behavior, either.

Thought of the Day

December 10, 2016

Take care of yourself and your family first, folks. The next four years are going to be a bumpy ride for decent people.

Secure your situation. Take the job, take the money. Hunker down. 

I really hate to say this but lab-wise it might be time to trim the sails too. Play for no-cost extensions of that grant, no telling what the glorious future of Precision Medicine Initiatives, BRAINI and the like holds for regular R01 budgets. 

Overtime rules

November 30, 2016

So. A federal judge* managed to put a hold on Obama’s move to increase the threshold for overtime exemption. Very likely any challenge to this will fail to succeed before a new Administration takes over the country. Most would bet there will be no backing for Obama’s plans under the new regime.

NIH is planning to steam ahead with their NRSA salary guidelines that met the Obama rule. Workplaces are left in a quandary. Many have announced their policies and issued notification of raises to some employees. Now they are not being forced to do so, at the last hour.

My HR department has signaled no recent changes in plans. Postdocs will get raises up to the Obama threshold. There are some other categories affected but I’ve seen no announcement of any hold on those plans either.

How about you folks? What are your various HR departments going to do in light of the de facto halt on Obama’s plans!

*activist judge

Generational Wealth

August 17, 2016

In the midst of the Milwaukee unrest this week, a young man on the scene was interviewed (Orlandis Jackson, interviewed by local NBC affiliate). He said something along the lines of how “the rich people have all the money and won’t give us none.

This immediately went viral on the Tweeters as unsympathetic voices howled over his seeming entitlement. 

This bothers me.

This young man may not understand the full scope of wealth disparity. He may not realize the causes. And/or he may not have the rhetorical skills to express his understanding fully. 

But he was right

In a deeply fundamental way. The “rich” of this country got that way, and stay that way, by stealing from the poor. The problem of inner city unrest is not that we (and for today the “rich” are the moderately well off, that includes most of my audience. Yes, you.) won’t “give” other people money. It is that we build our wealth at their expense.

I twittered a link to a study showing black communities paid more per dollar of insurance coverage, despite lower company loss rates, compared with nearly identical white communities. 

The aftermath of Ferguson MO unrest illustrated very clearly how  municipalities have shifted to nuisance summons as a way to make up for the powers that be refusing to tax themselves. Guess who gets the tickets?

And even in a general sense, tax schemes have become increasingly regressive. Taxes and fees on consumption replace progressive income / wealth taxes. Wages for labor are  taxed more highly than is investment income. Etc. All designed to shift the burden of society away from the rich. 

Our DonorsChoose drives show how we (the rich) refuse to pay to educate all and have shrunk school funding in poor communities. Education isn’t everything but it does help some people to escape the poverty they were born into. 

Which brings us to redlining (still a thing) and neighborhood unspoken compacts and other things that prevent black people from buying homes in slightly better neighborhoods. Interesting comment here:

Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000.

Real estate ownership is a huge wealth tool. Huge. Increasing property value becomes a financial cushion if nothing else. Reduces housing costs overall, with good use of the mortgage income tax deduction. Permits one to obtain loans (or at more favorable rates) for other wealth enhancing purposes. Such as higher education. Launching sonny-boy’s hi tech startup company. 

And from there we can drill right back down to Costco shopping. It’s cheaper to be rich. We buy in bulk and store the stuff in our big houses. Toilet paper, extra milk in our second fridge, tampons and toothpaste. All cheaper when you are wealthy. 

So stop sneering at the young man in Milwaukee. He may have phrased it inelegantly. But he was speaking a fundamental truth. 


Getting back around to the generational part of this post. Redlining was the policy of the Federal Housing Administration from 1934-1968. Federal policy. From the administrative entity that was supposed to help Americans afford to buy homes. Some Americans, apparently, but not other Americans. See Josh Begley maps here for a few key cities in our largest State. This discrimination is just for the availability of mortgages.

There is also the kind of discrimination that prevented minorities from purchasing houses in certain neighborhoods even if they had all of it in immediate cash money.

As far as I am aware, minorities did not enjoy special tax exemptions to account for their treatment at the hands of the FHA. Meaning, correspondingly, the FHA discriminatory redlining activity was transferring wealth from minority citizens to white citizens. The lack of fair opportunity to build wealth, particularly when that opportunity is buttressed by taxes, is stealing from Peter to pay Paul (the families that were able to use such opportunities).

Note that if you are unable to buy a house, the odds are that you are paying rent to the person who owns the property. Who is enjoying the leverage of you paying down the loan while their property values (wealth) inflate over time. This is yet another way in which wealth is transferred from the less well off to the more well off. Home ownership rates in Milwaukee are lower than in the state of Wisconsin as a whole. Home ownership rates for black Americans lag those of white Americans.

The wealth of property ownership in particular locations can be transferred generationally in many ways. First, it may confer indirect benefits in school quality, peer associations and vocational connections. Second, there is direct inheritance of the wealth later in life. There are a few people in my neighborhood who inherited houses. Given the amount we pay for our mortgage, well, that’s a substantial jump ahead for the standard model American Dream family, let me tell you.

In between we have the transfer of the ability to purchase a first house. When my wife and I were looking to buy our first house we ran across a stat that some 30% of first time buyers had some sort of family assistance. (I can’t find anything on that right now so if you have links, drop them in the comments.) Loans for downpayments and co-signing (with later relinquishment of ownership rights) for the loan are common. Helping to fix the new purchasers’ credit. Etc.

A subtle effect is timing. Real estate markets cycle, as you know. And mortgage rates can vary tremendously, which affects affordability. As it happens, my now-spouse and I were looking to co-habitate during a fortuitous set of real estate conditions. Despite one of us being a postdoc and one a graduate student in a fairly pricey real-estate market, the conditions were ripe. We’d be paying about the same for a mortgage that we were facing for rent. The only issues were the usual. Credit? decent. Debt to income, decent. Income to price….hmmmm, not great but those were the bubble days so…maybe. This left the downpayment. We didn’t have it. And wouldn’t have been able to save it for years (which, as it happened, would have been well into the peak of the housing bubble. And we’d still be short of the now-increased amount.). Generational wealth to the rescue.

It isn’t only the cash, it’s also about when that cash is available to you. Whether that be for housing, for emergency loans for something now that will save you money longer term, paying for education…the scenarios go on and on.

Our generational wealth stretches back several generations in our family. Home ownership, decent jobs and relatives who moved up in economic class relative to their upbringing, in many cases through education. All of my kids’ four grandparents ended up as educators, three of them for career length. Three have advanced degrees. They started when education careers meant a decent stable job with benefits and pensions. Some of their parents were educated, some not, but all were eventually middle class. Two of them were raised by single mothers (who were born over 100 y ago so think of that generation!), one of which had a sibling have to go to work to support the family instead of furthering education. So right there within family, generational privilege available more to one than the other. And I don’t mean to imply it was ever easy. But they were all able to take advantage of an environment in which there was not systematic discrimination against them. (Possible ethnic discrimination of three generations upstream due to an immigrant wave but that had subsided certainly by my parents’ generation.)

This post isn’t designed to recommend Harrison Bergeron solutions or to criticize those of you with immense generational privilege and wealth. It isn’t to beat my breast about how lucky I had it.

This post is about thinking a little deeper about why a young man in Milwaukee might complain that the rich never give the poor any money. And what that really means beneath the words.

And, y’know, maybe for those of you who habitually think that you never had any special privileges so why should anyone else…maybe you could think about your generational advantages?

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)

We have a standard issue GOP apologist, longterm commenter Neuro-conservative, trying to gaslight the Trump comments on 2nd Amendment people.

No offense, DM, but you are seriously imagining things.

I also recently had an extended discussion on politics relating to Trump and so-called main stream Republican values with my so-called main stream not-crazy Republican neighbor.

I have been pondering a related issue.

History has many examples of totalitarian horribleness emerging with the acquiescence of “normal” people who would never agree to the (eventual) orgy of violence and repression if it had been raised at the start. They get there, presumably, in small steps.

I assume part of this process is an active disbelief that the fascist demagogue “really believes” his most extreme comments. These good Germans*, sorry mainstream Republicans, must surely delude themselves about the direction in which things are heading. So gaslighting critics is the only possible option.

And the truth is, most nascent fascist demagogues *don’t* gain ultimate power. So it is easy to gaslight any concerns that may be expressed in any particular case. To say, as Neuro-conservative does, that any critic is merely overreacting. To pursue false equivalency claims with some other lesser perceived offense of someone who is not the fascist demagogue in waiting.

After all, these are early days. And even when they start with the really horrible stuff, even totalitarian states tend to keep the full reality out of the public view. It is very easy for the supposedly well-intentioned average normal person to ignore the signals. Until it is far, far too late.

A comment from @ShmoF16 brought up The Dead Zone awhile back. In this movie, the totalitarian charmer politician is revealed by the actions of a desperate critic who sees him for what he truly is, and tragedy is averted. Reveals, as in, on national teevee. Trump is being revealed daily on national teevee and it does seem to help, a little. His polling numbers are continuing to head downward and Hillary Clinton’s campaign is competing in new swing states that used to lean Republican.

This is not enough yet, in my view. Life doesn’t follow fiction I guess. People of the main-stream Republican bent are so dedicated to their ideology of demonization of the opposing camp that they are unable to see what is right in front of their face. Unable. I believe this because the alternative is to think they know full well what is coming and the welcome it.

I’m not there yet. I like my neighbor. I think people like Neuro-conservative are mostly just deluded and not actively evil.

*Another interesting ponder I had. The accusation of following Godwin’s Law is itself a form of gaslighting. The law sort of implies that since reductio ad Hitlerum occurs, that all mentions of National Socialist Germany automatically invalidate** any argument as obviously absurd. This fascinates me since I’m smart enough, unlike many Internet discussants apparently, to understand that similarities, metaphors, parallels or comparisons need not be identical in quality or extent to be of value.

**Godwin himself argued that his Law was not a fallacy.

In December 2015, Godwin commented on the Nazi and fascist comparisons being made by several articles on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying that “If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician.”[citation]

August 9, 2016 was the day.

Political observation

July 25, 2016

When pressed, the more mainstream supporters of Donald Trump in the Republican party insist that they believe that Trump does not really mean the full import of his wildest statements. He doesn’t really plan to block all Muslims from entering the country, he doesn’t really mean to deport all undocumented immigrants, he doesn’t really mean to…. etc. So, as I understand their thought process, it is okay to support his candidacy and this doesn’t mean that you support all that crazy stuff.

Interestingly, these self-same people have a burning hatred (or at least a profound irrevocable mistrust) of Hillary Clinton because they believe that she doesn’t really mean what she says during the campaign or in her prior political activities. They are positively obsessed with conspiracy-level accusations about her alleged insincerity, dis-ingenuity and secret machinations. And completely and utterly unable to take her policy statements, and descriptions of her reasons for her prior actions, at face value. And to be clear, it is not just that they criticize her actions. They are worked up to an absolute frenzy about their beliefs about her alleged insincerity, far more than they are about the actual policies or actions.

It’s fascinating. On the one hand Republicans support Trump because they believe he is a liar. On the other hand, they absolutely hate Clinton because they believe that she is a liar.

Thought of the Day

June 8, 2016

Hillary (H-Rod, as Isis the Scientist puts it) gave one heck of a General election speech last night.

She is going to mop the floor with Trump all through the coming campaign.

This will be a bigger landslide win than Reagan’s. 

How would you like to be the first person Obama nominates for the open Supreme Court seat?

And you have to go through the dog and pony show with no chance of being confirmed?

Sitting through fake interview after fake interview with Republican Senators?

Whoever volunteered for that has my respect. Service to a nation undeserving.

Question of the day

March 14, 2016

When did the majestic plural become the default for US political candidates?

Is it just me or is it particularly jarring when a populist man of the people like Bernie Sanders uses it?

Trump is not the problem

March 14, 2016

Donald Trump is not the problem. He isn’t.

The real problem lies with the 30-40% of US Republicans that favor him for President.

As I saw someone put it, these people do not disappear if Trump is defeated in the primaries, during a convention fight or in the general election.

Those people are still there.

And they, with their affection for violent, fascistic nativism, are what we need to dismantle.



This is where we are, America.