Twitter Cloud

June 16, 2018

Sounds just about right

from someone on the Twitts going by @ilovepigenetics

Annoyed that PIs prefer to cut positions vs. experiments. #sciquester #dotherightthing #shortsighted Fewer jobs=less taxes=less funding

this was followed with an interesting response to YHN:

@drugmonkeyblog Do the right thing. You have a responsibility to your trainees.

and the lunacy goes on (reverse chron):

  1. @SciTriGrrl @BabyAttachMode I choose to pay my people and live on 75% salary. Is it hard, yes. Am I lucky that I can do it, yes.
  2. @SciTriGrrl We are smart people. Don’t take the easy solution. Figure out a smart solution.
  3. @BabyAttachMode @SciTriGrrl Who needs the $ the most-a PI who makes ~100K or a student who makes $25 K?
  4. @neuromusic @drugmonkeyblog Find ways to make it cheaper. I’m very disappointed. You have a responsibility to those you took on.
  5. @SciTriGrrl Cut your salary. Don’t hire new people, but your first responsibility is your trainees. $25K doesn’t support a student or a PD.
  6. Lessons from my Father: Cut YOUR salary if you must, but pay your people first. The #1 rule I learned from my Dad, a small business owner.

There are two main problems here. The first one is related to whom the PI owes “responsibility”.

The NIH Grant funded PI typically has a number of responsibilities in my view.

She has a laboratory of employees and trainees with a good bit of smear between who is an employee and who is a trainee. On the one end is the straight-up employee who is a technician and on the other end an undergraduate “volunteering in the lab for experience”. The former might have a reasonable expectation of life-time employment (within the confines of normal variation and the grant cycles). In between there are the postdocs who are on for a 2-3 year training stint without explicit expectation of a life-time job and graduate students who are there to achieve a semi-defined task (the doctorate). The PI has a responsibility to do well by these people, there is little doubt. But there is also little doubt that perfection cannot be achieved for everyone. Not everyone is going to have an outcome commensurate with their expectations. This is reality, not evidence of a PI who is uncaring, irresponsible or insufficiently “creative”.

The PI also has a laboratory. This is the edifice built by and for the prior trainees, the current trainees, the future trainees, the PI herself…and her University. Sometimes this laboratory has been inherited from a prior investigator (or a chain of investigators). It may be a laboratory that will obviously be passed down to subsequent investigators. It may be a laboratory that has enjoyed considerable University support over the years. It may have enjoyed considerable support from a specific Institute or Center of the NIH. The PI may have to compromise on other responsibilities to service her responsibility to the laboratory, from time to time.

The PI has a career. She has to continue to publish papers, secure funding and supervise research to keep this career going. You may view this as a selfish responsibility but hey, if you are complaining about the fact that another person is taking a career hit by the PI not being “creative” enough…you need to explain why one person’s selfish goals are to be prioritized over another’s.

The PI has a life. Just like you do. Sure they may be further along in years, stage(s) or whatnot than you are. They may have some things that you cannot see yourself ever attaining (like a mortgage, twopointseven kids and even a stay at home spouse. perhaps college bills for offspring). And their salary is clearly higher. It looks to you like they are totes moneybags and should just forgo 25% of their salary so that someone else can stay in their job for another 6 months. Guess what? It’s time to get real. NIH grant supported investigators do make a lot more than postdocs do, mostly, but they are by no means insanely compensated. And just like you, they went through a period of training and fell into debt, behind the mortgage curve, behind the 401K explosion, they came along post-pension, etc, etc. Just like you they nursed ancient cars through postdoc and into the first years of faculty. They ate pasta. They did all that and got lucky to get a job. And started a life. And now they have people who depend on them to maintain that life. My sympathies are limited for those who claim that the people farther down the path just aren’t responsible or creative enough to ensure that each and every person to come through their lab achieves the same outcome as they have.

There is another big one, this one related more to “what” the PI owes responsibility. I might suggest this is even the first priority of the NIH funded Principal Investigator.

The PI has a responsibility to the grant. You know, the tax payer funded money that has been dropped on the laboratory, under the PI’s guidance, in expectation of some sort of return. A return of information, otherwise known as published papers. Yes, the PI has a HUGE part of her creativity and responsibility tied up in making sure that some science actually occurs. Published science. It is very easy for the trainee who has just been told that they have two months to find a new job to overlook this. The PI should be a good steward of the public purse. And sometimes that role is going to conflict with the above mentioned responsibilities to staff members. This is why the salvo from @ilovepigenetics about prioritizing salary lines over experiments drew my attention, btw.

If you keep people employed “over experiments” this means that the experiments aren’t getting done. Or aren’t getting done efficiently. Then where are we? If you can’t buy reagents, can’t analyze all the samples in the freezer, can’t support cage costs, can’t maintain mouse lines, can’t buy rats, can’t recruit human subjects, can’t afford scanner time… then everything in the above list crashes down. Because eventually productivity suffers, no new grants come in, no new trainees can be afforded, the dollars eventually run out and everyone needs to be fired.

Just to avoid firing one postdoc today.

postscript: This Twitt is also spectacularly clueless about the fact that the current extra good news of the sequester comes after a good 5-8 years of serious squeezing and pressure on the NIH budget and NIH funded scientific labs. PIs have been scrambling like crazy to be creative about funding, maintaining trainees salary lines as far as possible and to get the most work done that they can. Like crazy. For years now. And believe you me, this ain’t news to any postdoc with half a brain. They’ve known about how bad things are for ages. If they’ve been burning the midnight St. Kern oil to write fellowships and papers and assist the PI with grants (so that s/he can get one more out per cycle) then hey, I’m a bit sympathetic. Somehow I suspect not all of them have been doing this though….

I was having a few exchanges with successful science-project crowdfunder Ethan Perlstein (@perelste) who apparently was on NPR today. Good for him, good for his project, whee.

This stuff can work fine for small scale projects, one offs, etc. But placing this in the context of an alternative or replacement for major federal funding is deeply flawed.

1) Overhead rate. Now admittedly, not all Universities bother going after their indirect costs for small philanthropic donations. But if a lab tries to exist on this strategy? You can be damn sure they are going to come after indirects. Some Universities do this already. And donors don’t like it. You can bet there’s some fancy tapdancing trying to figure out how to minimize revealing to the medium ticket donors that their donation are getting taxed. The big ones fight it, obvs.

2) Chump change. Sorry but it is. Perlstein raised $25K. The NIH R03 is $50K for two years. The R21 is $275K over two years and the R01, as we’ve discussed, is most typically $250K (in direct costs, mind you) for 4-5 years. There is going to be very, very little that can be accomplished with the kind of cash that is available via crowdfunding.

3) Yeahbut! The uBiome and American Gut projects raised over $600K, man! Yeah, the former is at $286,548 and the latter is at $339,541 as of this writing. Impressive. Right? but the total is less than the cost of two years of NIH R01 funding. And these may be the best examples. Time will show how many of these can go viral and make big bucks, how many can get $25,000 and how many struggle to get $5,000. Color me extremely skeptical on the big-bucks ones.

4) Can it repeat? That’s another critical question. All well and good for Perlstein to pull down $25K in crowdfunding. But he needs to do it again. and again. and again. No offense but crowd funding works the first time on novelty, your buddies and people looking to make a point. Think they’d be lining up to throw down for Perlstein’s second project in such numbers? Will people who don’t even know him flog the shit out of the Twitt stream like they did for his Meth study? Here’s a hint: hell no.

5) Deliverables. Part of the problem is the nature of the deliverables. What is the crowd to see that has been done with their money? Well, from Perlstein’s project description, the data are going up online as they roll in. So…figures. basically. Not even clear that there will be a pub on which they can be acknowledged. The small scope of the project make it likely that at best one publishable panel will result. And dude, will regular journals put up with the Supplementary Acknowledgement Table approach so all donors can be listed? maybe. but what, now you are going to return to the same crowd and say “Hey, throw down another $25K and we’ll do Figure 2…if I still have a job, that is”.

6) Science is a tough sell. Still. It is extremely difficult to see where anything Perlstein happens to find about the intracellular distribution of methamphetamine is going to so engage the crowd that it jumps in with more funding. This is pretty basic science. It would take “I am mere inches away from curing Meth addiction” level stuff to grab the crowd if you ask me (and anyway, if you did that, Pharma would come a’callin’). In contrast, I offer the outcome for one of my favorite scifi authors. Tobias Buckell had a decent fan base, a book series for which there was a clamor for more from his crowd and he was asking for a mere $10K. He raised it, wrote the book and delivered that sucker to his readers (Kickstarter backers and nonbackers alike). It was, to my read, the same book he would have written (and I would have purchased) if he’d had a schweet advance deal at a major publisher. Or if he’d (somehow) still been able to write on spec like a noob author. Same damn product. Can we say the same for a $25k SCIENCE project? I think not.

Happy New Year

January 1, 2013

To all of my readers, the bloggers the I read and the Twitts with whom I chat…. Here’s wishing a very happy and productive 2013 to you and yours.

Best of luck to the job seekers and the grant supplicants, in particular. Fair winds to all the parents out there…may those of you with really young ones find some sleep. Happy dissertating to the late stage graduate students in the crowd and may all trainees publish a paper or three this year.

I’m not much for resolutions so I’m not prepared to offer any up…but I do have an interest is sustained behavioral change. I was able to improve in two target areas last year, one personal and one professional. The former is exercise related and was assisted by the Tweeperati- I may continue to rely upon you this year. The second target isn’t really blogable for obvious reasons but I hope to continue a slightly new approach to my work for the coming year.

I wish you all luck with your goals and resolutions and suggest that you seek online social support for any of them that require sustained behavioral change on your part.

Reinforcement works.

I wish to extend my warmest congratulations to our long term reader, annoyer of cobloggers, holder of feet to the fire and all around insightful and hilarious commenter becca who announced the successful defense of her dissertation today.

7 years…6 committee members…5 giant full lab notebooks…4 manuscripts/drafts…3 Thesis Advisors…2 grey hairs…1 PhD

You can tell from this and from the occasional details she posts in comments around the scientific blogs that it has not been an easy road. And yet she has persevered and succeeded in being awarded the Ph.D. for her work.

Congratulations, my friend.

Congratulations on all of your hard work, late nights and frustrating experiments.

I am very much looking forward to the tales of your next endeavors as a scientist.

SfN 2010: The BlogTwittup

November 2, 2010

Sfn10BANTER.jpgDr Becca and Tideliar, both of, have organized a social event for the online folks during the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting. Details are on this banner and you can visit Fumbling Toward Tenure Track or Some Lies to see who you might find attending.

One of the more salient issues to me in the wake of’s PepsiBlog fiasco was the moderate schism it revealed between science bloggers (lower case) who self-identify as journalists and those who self-identify as scientists.

The uproar was driven in large part by the journalist types screaming about traditional journalist ethics and the supposed hard line that is drawn between the editorial and business sides of a media property.

My response to this was that as a profession and job sector this is nothing more than a convenient fiction. Recent history is rife with cases in which financial considerations clearly shaded, moved, biased or otherwise influenced content. Look, I get it. There are many cases in which the alleged Chinese wall works. Cases in which newsmedia entities published stories clearly against their own financial interest. And yes, there is a lot of print and J-school professor hot air wasted on devoted to the ethical line.

But at best, these forces for ethical hard lines are losing. Better bet is that the profession is just irretrievably conflicted and we are just going to have to muddle along.

But what really disturbed me was the eagerness of some otherwise respectable scientist-bloggers to start claiming that they (meaning “we) are quasi journalists. Claiming that they (and let’s be honest, “we”) actually should lean toward and adopt the supposed professional ethics of journalism.

An exchange I’ve been having on the Twitts today illustrates precisely why science bloggers should not only not adopt a journalist stance but should continue to disparage, correct and otherwise dissect journalistic “coverage” of a science-related story.

The news of the day is the judicial decision to block an executive order issued by President Obama to expand the number of stem cell lines which could be used in federally funded research. The NYT bit does a good job of summarizing the context.

For years, private financing has been used to create embryonic stem cell lines, mostly from discarded embryos from fertility clinics. The process destroys the embryos. President Bush agreed to finance embryonic stem cell research, but limited federally financed research to 21 cell lines already in existence by 2001.

Under the Obama administration, private money was still needed to obtain the embryonic stem cells, but federal money could be used to conduct research on hundreds more stem cell lines, as long as donors of embryos signed consent forms and complied with other rules.

See? This is by no means a complicated story. The grand hoopla over the original decision by President G. W. Bush to permit federal funding of research on a limited set of stem cell lines was a HUGE media storm. Really, even most lay people should be up to speed on the issues and rapidly appreciate the scope of the current judicial ruling.

And yet some respectable science blogger went ahead and Twitted this:

Yikes! Judge halts stem cell research

The link goes to the NYT piece, btw. Nice headline from @davemunger, right? A journalistic headline. The kind of headline that the typical author/journalist, when called on it’s inaccuracy, tends to (wink, wink) blame on the editor. “Not my headline (shrug)” they will say in faux apology.

Irritated by this inaccurate sensationalism which clearly implies to the naive reader that this judicial act actually blocked all stem cell research, I responded to Dave with:

halts Obma’s *expansion* of permitted use of *federal funds* RT: @davemunger: Yikes! Judge halts stem cell research

He came back with:

@drugmonkeyblog Sure, but not quite as exciting when you put it that way. The implications of the move are still drastic

Quite a tell, isn’t it? Typical journalistic approach and why we need scientist-bloggers to oppose this sort of inaccurate communication. Sensationalism that draws the eye is “exciting”. That is the justification. So what if the viewer/reader who just glances at headlines walks away with a totally inaccurate perception? He gave the link to the story, right? No fault of his if people don’t read it and immediately grasp the nuance…

Yeah, well I object to this journalist tradition/ethic.

This is what I absolutely detest about journalism, dude. Just say no to inaccurate hypage RT: @davemunger: not quite as exciting..

What I object to is this notion that the closest approximation of the truth is optional. Inconvenient. That the business exists to get attention and readers, no matter the cost to the accurate transfer of the best possible information. It is, quite simply, offensive to my professional sensibilities. Yes, we have some movements toward hype in scientific publication but this doesn’t mean I agree with it. In point of fact I draw parallels between journalism and GlamourMag science…and Dave Munger stepped right into the steaming pile of why this is so.

@drugmonkeyblog What is inaccurate about my statement?


the judge did not “halt stem cell research” dude. He reversed the *expansion* of what could happen with fed funds.


.@davemunger return to the Bush scenario in which fed funds could be used for *some* stem cell res. private/state funds used despite fed


@drugmonkeyblog TFA says It’s actually unclear whether the ruling reverses back to Bush’s compromise, or even rolls that back as well

Ahh, the typical journalist dodge-and-weave when called out on inaccurate reporting. No, this is not some discussion of he said / she said and what might possibly be the downstream implication. I might buy it if you’d started your comments with this or refined them. It is intellectually dishonest to claim you intended your initial Twitt to lead to this particular nuance. Bullshit. Sure, when backed into a corner you can find some loophole to try to weasel out of. Just like the next one…


@drugmonkeyblog And he did “halt stem cell research.” He may not have halted *all* stem cell research, but I didn’t say that.

HAHAHAHA! Classic journalism. Use an unmodified and bold statement. When called out for the inaccuracy of what you know damn well was going to be the overwhelmingly frequent perception of the statement, retrench to Clintonian parsing of syntax. “I didn’t say ‘all’, dude, not my fault if people inferred that from my unmodified statement. It could have easily meant ‘judge halts one experiment involving stem cells in one obscure lab’! HAHA!”

Bullshit. You should be ashamed of yourself when you find yourself in this ridiculous attempt at a defense.

Unless you want to, you know, be a journalist. Then I guess it is totes okay to create whatever inaccurate impression you want via selective quoting, selective phrasing and other tricks.

Pfah. I spit on this journalist tradition. This is why it is an absolute mistake for people who identify as science bloggers to move toward being “more like journalists”.

Their crappy practices are the very reason that we bother to blog about science!

How can you have forgotten this?

and a powerhouse at that.
LabSpaces was previously a science news aggregator but now has jumped hard into the science blogging game with some key acquisitions. Many of them are some of our good blog and Twitt friends including:
Odyssey of Pondering Blather (joining the kids, old man? :-))
biochem belle of There and Back Again
Dr. Becca of Fumbling Toward Tenure Track
Genomic Repairman
…and they have a bunch of other bloggers over there that you will like (and may already know).
kudos to Brian Krueger for assembling this new blog collective. Looks like great reading ahead.

The #retweetFAIL

November 19, 2009

I know, I know. A diversion from our usual. I’m actually not making fun of WEb2.0AwesomeszEleven!!!w00t!!! for once.
This thought connects, however, to a frequent problem I have with software companies. See this complaint about a cockup pulled by my favorite reference manager software, EndNote.

Endnote version X2, however, pulls a Microsoft-esque blunder in screwing with one of the fundamental features dear to this user. And they have the nerve to tell others who complained that it is the user who is just not giving this kewl new approach a chance! ‘sclowns…

Now Twitter is pulling the exact same crap with their #retweetFAIL debacle.

Read the rest of this entry »

As I noted previously The Society for Neuroscience encouraged its members to blog and Twitt the annual meeting in Chicago (Oct 17-22, 2009). The experiment was far from a smashing success although I do believe that there were some hints of what could / should be for the future. The main problem* was, I wager, one of numbers. It was a meeting that registered some 30,000 attendees. I counted something maybe on the order of 30 people actively trying to Twitt or blog the meeting. I think you have to have a bit higher participation for the conversation to really take off, but that’s just speculation.
At any rate, I had a thought today. The USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism is holding an event that provides an interesting contrast.

USC Annenberg’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships program is holding a day-long brainstorming event aimed at helping Annenberg leaders launch a new, all-expenses-paid, professional seminar series to educate and encourage dialogue among health professional bloggers and Health 2.0 visionaries. The attendees, who include leading Health 2.0 professionals Matthew Holt of The Health Care Blog and Dr. Val Jones of, will discuss the best ways to promote transparency, credibility, accuracy and journalistic principles for the emerging health blogosphere, as well as exposure to larger public health and community health policy issues. This event is by invitation only.

Follow the Twittering on this meeting by the #uscblogcon hashtag. I think this may give you some ideas of what could be, if you are on the fence as to whether Twittering/blogging scientific meetings would have value.
*apart from some technical difficulties with WiFi coverage and too many iPhoners loading up the AT&T network.