Suggest women as potential reviewers

(by drugmonkey) Dec 12 2018

A recent editorial in Neuropsychopharmacology by Chloe J. Jordan and the Editor in Chief, William A. Carlezon Jr. overviews the participation of scientists in the journals' workings by gender. I was struck by Figure 5 because it is a call for immediate and simple action by all of you who are corresponding authors, and indeed any authors.
The upper two pie charts show that between 25% and 34% of the potential reviewer suggestions in the first half of 2018 were women. Interestingly, the suggestions for manuscripts from corresponding authors who are themselves women were only slightly more gender balanced than were the suggestions for manuscripts with male corresponding authors.

Do Better.

I have for several years now tried to remember to suggest equal numbers of male and female reviewers as a default and occasionally (gasp) can suggest more women than men. So just do it. Commit yourself to suggest at least as many female reviewers as you do male ones for each and every one of your manuscripts. Even if you have to pick a postdoc in a given lab.

I don't know what to say about the lower pie charts. It says that women corresponding authors nominate female peers to exclude at twice the rate of male corresponding authors. It could be a positive in the sense that women are more likely to think of other women as peers, or potential reviewers of their papers. They would therefore perhaps suggest more female exclusions compared with a male author that doesn't bring as many women to mind as relevant peers.

That's about the most positive spin I can think of for that so I'm going with it.

5 responses so far

Your kids' best friends

(by drugmonkey) Dec 10 2018

Parent blogging alert.

There was a tweeter thing today on how kids that get straight As lack creativity that among other things dragged up an old NYT article on suicide on college campuses. The latter article attributed these to pressures and all sorts of stuff but one thing struck me hard.

...dean of freshmen at Stanford, Julie Lythcott-Haims...was also troubled by the growing number of parents who not only stayed in near-constant cellphone contact with their offspring but also showed up to help them enroll in classes, contacted professors and met with advisers (illustrating the progression from helicopter to lawn mower parents, who go beyond hovering to clear obstacles out of their child’s way). But what she found most disconcerting was that students, instead of being embarrassed, felt grateful. Penn researchers studying friendship have found that students’ best friends aren’t classmates or romantic partners, but parents.

emphasis added.

I can think of no more terrible fate. My parents were fine and all, and indeed were super focused on our nuclear family. They themselves did not seem to obsessively prioritize their alone time, their couple time, their own respective families or their friends at all, when I was in the house.

But I sure as shit didn't consider them my friends. They were my parents and my friends were my friends.

You've noticed I'm not the friendliest guy in the world and trust me I wasn't as a child. But for damn sure I had friends. Some of you that pay close enough attention to my antics on social media will be aware that I still interact with friends I made in high school, college and graduate. I am kinda tickled that my kids have been in school classes with the children of some of my closest graduate school friends.

I enjoyed the social experience of college and I think that a massive part of that was the interaction with friends from a much broader span of life than I had experienced to date. I had friends from all across this great Nation and I am the better for it. I met some ersatz sisters who taught me a whole lot of shit I didn't know. I am intensely grateful for the friends that I made, the experiences we had together

....and the fact that nobody had photographic and videographic equipment at their fingertips through all of these experiences.

It horrifies me to read that "researchers studying friendship" at a major institution of higher education like Penn could find that "student's best friends" are their parents.

10 responses so far

SchadenFreuday

(by drugmonkey) Dec 07 2018

There was recently a little twitter thread on the obligations scientists have to work on finishing up projects, particularly once the formal association with that project has expired. This made me recall some thoughts I had from the PI perspective on finishing projects one has been funded to work on. So I was primed when these thoughts occurred today.

Once upon a time I ran across an interesting RFA from the NIH that seemed highly targeted for one particular lab. Oh, don't get me wrong, many of them do seem this way. But this one was particularly.....specific. The funding was generous, we're talking BigMech territory here. And while I could theoretically pull together a credible proposal with the right collaborators, I really wasn't the right person. Meh, it was a time of transition in my lab and in my science and I didn't have anything else to write at the time so....I put a proposal in.

And did not get triaged! whoohoo! Really, I should have been triaged. Clearly the field of proposals was really, really weak. As in not even credible, I am assuming. You know my mantra....always submit something that hits the minimal standards for a reviewer to get behind it. So mine was credible. I just didn't really have the specific chops on that area of work to support a good score.

The top-suspect lab got the grant, of course.

Which again, was very specific as to the topic and goals. Most interestingly it was for "Approach X" to the general idea when this laboratory had only vaguely flirted with X in their earliest going and had settled upon Approach Y.

I kept a bit of a weather eye on what they were doing with the funds, as you can imagine. After all I was interested in the topic enough to put in a grant proposal.

The Approach Y papers kept on coming. Nary an Approach X paper to be seen. I saw one very limited poster at a meeting once in the middle of their funding interval. And then at the end those data were published, with not much ground traveled. I did mention it was a BigMech, right?

That was a fair bit ago and apparently the laboratory got a second BigMech, a different one, but again clearly devoted to Approach X on the question at hand. And it was a few years in by the time I noticed.

I hadn't paid the strictest attention but at one point I got a manuscript to review from the laboratory. "Aha", I thinks to meself, "this is going to really kick ass after so much funding and so few papers". Both BigMechs are acknowledged, so we're on solid ground assuming what paid for this work.

Of course the manuscript was underwhelming. Not that anyone else is doing amazingly better solving this particular question. But the point is that they had copious funding over at least seven years and have barely published anything relevant to Approach X take on the topic. This dataset is relevant but far from earthshaking. It just retreads territory published five years before it appeared. And the functional outcome of this work is no better than one-off papers from at least three other groups who have not enjoyed such amazing levels of funding.

Now, the laboratory has published other work. Just mostly on Approach Y which was not the goal according to the original FOA and going by the abstracts on RePORTER.

It's possible that the group has been working away like beavers on the topic and just never had any positive results. It is not totally foreign to see a laboratory that will only publish big positive hits. But I do not see that in their overall history. There does not seem to be a reluctance to squeak out small papers with one thin asterix showing positive effects. So I have to conclude they just aren't really working on Approach X much at all.

In a way this makes me angry. I still feel like the bargain we make is to take a serious stab at working on what the grant says. Yeah, yeah a grant is not a contract but in this case there were fairly focused calls for applications. Someone who was actually planning to do the work was not funded. Perhaps more than one someone.

[record scratch]

Wait a minnit dude, doesn't this apply to you!???!!!!

Yep.

It has.

I mean, not in the sense of highly targeted original FOA but sure, I've had my intervals of what looks like pretty good funding on a topic and have batted below expectations on publications. Of course I know how hard we worked to get something going on the project as proposed. I know that we did the science as best we could. I know what headaches interfered and I know what data exist that I mean to publish* one day. I have certainly credited that project with other somewhat-related side project work to the extent it was kosher.

But a critic could go through this same thought process when they get my manuscript to review.

"That's IT????!!!!!"

And if they have been less fortunate than I in the NIH grant game, the odds are they are going to rant about how unfair everything is and how I must have sweet political connections and the Systemz is Brokenz.

They aren't wrong.

And they aren't exactly right, either.

These scenarios play out all the time in NIH extramural funding land. I don't know how you do real science and not come up blank once in awhile. Occasionally this is going to play out to the tune of an entire BigMech, right? Maybe?

Otherwise we are only doing utterly safe and conservative science. Is that correct?

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*This is where it intersects with the twitter discussion. Writing up old projects, exciting or not, may be hindered if the staff who worked on it have now departed. I'm not going to sidetrack but obviously the obligation to render published science for grant dollars awarded falls heavily on the PI and less so on the trainees. But still, if you have been paid to work on the project, there is an obligation to produce on that project.

9 responses so far

Academic jobs were affected by the removal of mandatory retirement

(by drugmonkey) Nov 02 2018

I have occasionally noted that we have structural problems in academic science that are caused in large part by the behavior of one generation of scientists. This has created a suppression of the productivity and aspirations of GenX scientists whereby we will never live up to our scientific potential.

It is unclear whether these impacts will continue to trickle down on millennial scientists and beyond but a certain segment of the rapidly emeritizing population is trying to make up for what it has done to Gen X. And by "make up for" I mean they are skipping right over Gen X, the generation of scientists who they most affected, to cry crocodile tears and wring hands about the youngsters these days.

There's a new version of this posted by one Richard C. Larson in Science. It's interesting because it ties into an ongoing and very real phenomenon.

There have been numerous cases over the past ~8 years of a certain trend. It is the rumor or plain statement that Professor Smith is "planning to retire". Or perhaps merely thinking about retiring. Usually this is coupled to a low ebb of grant funding for Professor Smith compared to the salad days. Perhaps a long interval of failure to get grants funded is referenced or perhaps not but the overall picture is clear.
1) Professor Smith can retire. Whatever this person has going on in the personal life, retirement is financially possible as a choice.
2) Professor Smith is inevitably at or past traditional ages of retirement (i.e., mid 60s).
3) Professor Smith is very tired of the grant game and particularly the current necessity to submit many, many grants. (Whether or not he or she has been working as hard as the rest of us always have is immaterial, btw)

Then.....drum roll....

Anther grant hits. And Professor Smith takes it for another sweet 5 years of funding.

What is optional at this point in the distribution is whether said Professors Smith have any intention of really returning to full PI work. I imagine some do. Some, I assert, really just can't figure out how to retire. They like to be PI. They like to be employed and they LOOOOOVE to be able to still junket around the world to meetings. They expect to be living out their final days with some highly productive trainees pumping out papers with relatively little input from Professor Smith.

At this point, as always, someone is thinking I have a very specific Professor Smith in mind. I do not. That is how common this character has become. Every colleague I know, at far flung universities, seems to know this character.

Professor Larson asks "What are you waiting for?"

When I was hired as an assistant professor in 1969, mandatory retirement at age 65 was the law of the land for tenured faculty members. I was 26 years old at the time...by the time I was 50...federal law had removed all age limits. I could stay in my tenured position forever! That's how, in 2011, I found myself still an active professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge at age 68.

Typical set up.

how eliminating mandatory retirement had affected the availability of positions for new assistant professors. The question struck me as important but not personally relevant—until my colleagues and I got our results.

Our initial intuition was that there would be no substantial long-term effect. We expected to find that the number of open positions dipped just after the law's two changes. After all, the number of available tenure-track faculty slots is essentially fixed—at MIT, there are approximately 1000. To create room for a new faculty member, an existing one has to leave. But after a brief dip, we thought, retirements should return to normal, creating room for new recruits.

How convenient. Magical thinking to justify their selfish behavior. How can retirement return to "normal" if there is no more retirement and health care continues to extend life?

we discovered that eliminating the retirement age had reduced the number of new slots for MIT assistant professors by 19%, from 57 to 46 per year. Put simply, without a mandatory retirement age, senior faculty members are much slower to leave.

Who could have ever predicted that they would not leave at all, ever, until they literally died?

I had hired a postdoc ...he worried that, like many postdocs, he might not be able to get the tenure-track position he sought. There are simply too many applicants seeking too few positions. And I began to realize that I and other professors older than 65 were blocking the way of many young scholars who seek academic careers.

Really. You "began to realize" only because your dude was having trouble.

(In the meantime, [postdoc] secured that tenure-track position and is now an associate professor with tenure.)

Oh look. "no harm no foul" right? The really "superlative young scholar" postdocs were okay! ...this guy. smh.

Once “professor, post-tenure” was announced in 2016, I found it increasingly attractive. It wasn't the same as “emeritus”—not full retirement. I could retain my office, teach and supervise students, and be a principal investigator on research grants—all with great flexibility. I would get to choose which projects I wanted to do and be paid accordingly, up to 49% of my previous salary.

Need we mention that this half of previous salary is a whole assistant professor salary? Or perhaps a nice little chunk of bridge funding for the struggling associate professor? I mean...dude!

At 74, I in essence removed 9 years from someone else's career. I should have stepped aside sooner.

Holy crap. 74? and you are still on half time? which, btw, doesn't "remove 9 years". IT PREVENTS AN ENTIRE CAREER from ever happening.

What are you waiting for, Professor, Post-tenure Larson?

27 responses so far

It's coming from inside the room

(by drugmonkey) Oct 18 2018

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.
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*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.

12 responses so far

Science trainees and the NIH Doubling

(by drugmonkey) Oct 14 2018

Most of my Readers are aware that the NIH budget allocation from Congress plays a big role in our careers and how they have unfolded over years or even decades.

One of the touchstone events is the "doubling interval" in which the Congress committed to double the size of the NIH budget over the course of 10 years. This resulted in large year-over-year increases from 1994 to 2003 after which the NIH budget was essentially flatlined for the next dozen years. This is in current dollars so, as we've discussed on this blog, inflation means that the NIH budget shrunk in purchasing power over the post-doubling interval. ARRA stimulus funding in Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010 were mere blips, which alleviated acute pain but did little for the longer term issues.

One interesting thing about being me is that my NIH geekery has limits and I don't always appreciate everything fully the first time I see it. Sometimes it is because I am, like many of us, blinded by a sort of confirmation bias. I am by no means alone in seeing confirmation of my positions in data and statistics about the NIH that others view entirely differently. Sometimes it is because an earlier trend gets fixed in my minds and I don't always see the way five or ten additional years worth of data may change my thinking.

One of these issues is related to the data showing the production of PhDs each year by US domestic degree granting institutions. Our good blog friend Michael Hendricks posted this graph on the Twitters today. He, as I usually do, interprets this to show the evils of the doubling interval when it comes to regulating the size of the workforce. The first half of the doubling interval did indeed correlate with a steep increase in the rate of annual biomedical PhD generation without a similar trend for doctoral production in other areas. I typically use this steep increase in PhD production as part of my argument that our current stress in staying funded is related to too many mouths at the trough. We generated all these PhDs during the late 90s onward and gee, shocker, lots of these people want faculty level jobs competing for a fixed amount of NIH funding. Retirement and death of the existing pool of NIH PIs has not kept pace with this production, from what I can tell.

My usual eye tends to skip over a couple of key facts. The steep increase in PhD production started several years before the doubling even started. It was in full swing during a time just prior to the doubling passing Congress when the faculty were crying loudly about how horrible the NIH grant getting had become. I know because I was in graduate school in there somewhere.

The year-over-year PhD production actually stabilized during the latter half of the doubling interval. This was followed after the NIH budget flatlined by another increase in the rate of year-over-year PhD production!

So I think Michael Hendricks' current view, and my prior view, on the meaning of the PhD production numbers and how it relates to major changes in the NIH budget allocation cannot be true.

Sustained increase in the NIH budget actually produced stability in PhD numbers. It was the stressful times in which NIH grant getting was perceived to be ruinous and terrible that led to increased numbers of PhDs being generated by the US doctoral institutions.

There are probably many reasons for this relationship. I would not be surprised in the least if bad general economic times led more people to want to go to grad school and booming economic times led to fewer. These general trends are very likely related to the willingness of the Congress to give NIH more or less money.

But I would also not be surprised in the least if stressful grant funding conditions led the professors who participate in graduate training to be even more fond of this source of cut rate labor than they are in flush times.

11 responses so far

Please help MeTooSTEM launch as a nonprofit organization

(by drugmonkey) Oct 12 2018

This post is to ask you to consider donating to a fundraiser to launch MeTooSTEM as a charitable organization.

I know I do not have to belabor the obvious for my audience but we have a problem with sexual harassment, sexual assault, sex based-discrimination, and occupational retaliation against people attempting to ameliorate the effects of these events.

The National Academies of Science convened some investigations and issued a report, if you need a starter source.

The #MeToo hashtag was joined by a related tag specific to the issues of harassment and assault in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, #MeTooSTEM.

As this has unfolded, Professor Beth Ann McLaughlin has been doing heroic work to foreground victims, bring their stories to light for those who are unaware and to hold institutional feet to the fire to do better. This has resulted in gains that range from the basic decency for victims who finally have been heard, to clueless people in academia finally seeking the problem, to major policy changes of institutions. Famously, the RateMyProfessor organization was called to task and decided to discontinue its rating for "hot" professors.

We still have much work to do.

Academic societies are only haltingly developing new policies that permit them to remove members who have been determined by their own institutions to have engaged in sexual harassment, assault, discrimination or retaliation. You would think this would be a no brainer but thanks to the efforts of Dr. McLaughlin we are painfully aware of how many societies claim to have no mechanism for removal of their members, elected fellows and other hoi polloi.

We still have famous journals of science that will publish Letter to the Editor type defenses of a colleague proven to have engaged in sustained misconduct. We have editors of famous journals of science that I respect tremendously that still cannot see how damaging it is to let those sorts of letters persist on the internet.

This is why I am asking you to consider a donation to the fledgling MeTooSTEM organization. No donation is too small, if you can manage $5 or $10 it is welcome. If you can only manage communicating this fundraiser to your friends, family, or social media followers, it is welcome.

From the fundraiser text:

MeTooSTEM Needs Your Help To Take Our Organization NonProfit and Provide Resources to Graduate Students, Post Docs and Women Who Have Been Hurt by Sexual Harassment.

MeTooSTEM Started as a grassroots movement by students and professors frustrated by the inaction of national organizations and government funding agencies to protect women. Men guilty of sexually assaulting trainees, ending women's careers and retaliating viciously were still on campus, getting national awards, serving on study sections and going to conferences where they intimidate and retaliate against survivors.

4 responses so far

Cannabidiol is still, yes still, a Schedule I drug. Epidiolex notwithstanding

(by drugmonkey) Sep 27 2018

Yes, the DEA still continues to keep cannabidiol (CBD) on the list of Schedule I drugs. I took this up in December of 2016 and the issues continue.

The new-ish bit, I suppose, is that the FDA approved GW Pharma's cannabidiol product Epidiolex for Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, which involve uncontrollable seizures. This all flows from the "Charlotte's Web" phenomenon, which was desperate parents seeking help from a specific CBD-dominant strain of cannabis.

This meant that the DEA had to reschedule CBD as a compound with medical application. The reporting from CNBC says Schedule V:

Epidiolex will be classified as a schedule 5 controlled substance, the lowest level, defined as those with a proven medical use and low potential for abuse. Other drugs in this category include some cough medicines containing codeine.

But. However. Not so fast. Apparently the DEA has decided to re-schedule CBD ONLY in the context of FDA approved products. From the same report:

The rescheduling applies to CBD containing no more than 0.1 percent THC, in FDA-approved drug products. Though this allows GW Pharma to sell Epidiolex, it does not broadly apply to CBD.

emphasis added.

This is getting increasingly ridiculous. It is really, really, really clear that CBD does not have the fun recreational drug properties of good old delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It is hard to find much effect of this compound at all*, despite all the quack remedy type products that are illegally on sale in the country at the moment.

I don't understand how CBD got on the Schedule I list in the first place, nor why the DEA didn't take this convenient opportunity to re-schedule it altogether.

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*The anti-seizure properties seem solid.

N.b., As per my usual disclaimer, I may have held, hold, or be seeking to hold research funding involving CBD. Please read my comments with that in mind.

One response so far

Fear of being pilloried for your past sexual misbehavior

(by drugmonkey) Sep 21 2018

This one is for the guys who are looking at the accusations against Trump's latest nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. You dudes who are standard issue American heterosexual male-identifying people of at least minimal success with satisfying your sexual proclivities. You. You who are now worried that some incident in your past might have been perceived then, or eventually, as somewhat other than you perceived it by the target of your dubious affections.

Yes, you.

Please consider this is post in need of a Trigger Warning, it's going to be about sexual assault.
Continue Reading »

27 responses so far

The R01 Doesn't Even Pay for Revisions

(by drugmonkey) Sep 11 2018

Hard charging early career Glam neuroscientist Kay Tye had an interesting claim on the twitters recently.

The message she was replying to indicated that a recent request for manuscript revisions was going to amount to $1,000, making Kay's costs anywhere from $100,000 to $10,000,000. Big range. Luckily she got more specific.

One Million Dollars.

For manuscript revisions.

Let us recap.

The bog standard NIH "major award" is the R01, offered most generically in the 5-year, $250,000 direct cost per year version. $1,250,000 for a five year major (whoa, congrats dude, you got an R01! You have it made!) award.

Dr. Tye has just informed us that it is routine for reviewers to ask for manuscript (one. single. manuscript.) revisions that amount to $1,000,000 in cost.

Ex-NIGMS Director Jeremy Berg cheer-led (and possibly initiated) a series of NIH analyses and data dumps showing that something on the order of 7 (+/- 2) published papers were expected from each R01 award's full interval of funding. This launched a thousand ships of opinionating on "efficiency" of NIH grant award and how it proves that one grant for everyone is the best use of NIH money. It isn't.

I have frequently hit the productivity zone identified in NIGMS data...and had my competing revisions criticized severely for lack of productivity. I have tripled this on at least one interval of R01 funding and received essentially no extra kudos for good productivity. I would be highly curious to hear from anyone who has had a 5 year interval of R01 support described as even reasonably productive with one paper published.

Because even if Dr. Tye is describing a situation in which you barely invest in the original submission (doubtful), it has to be at least $250,000, right? That plus $1,000,000 in revisions and you end up with at best 1 paper per interval of R01 funding. And it takes you five years to do it.

The Office of Extramural Research showed that the vast majority of NIH-funded PIs hold 1 (>70%) or at most 2 (cumulative >90%) major awards at a time.

NIGMS (and some of my fellow NIH-watchers) have been exceptionally dishonest about interpreting the the efficiency data they produce and slippery as otters about resulting policy on per-PI dollar limitations. Nevertheless, one interpretation of their data is that $750,000 in direct costs per year is maximally efficient. Merely mentioning that an honest interpretation of their data ends up here (and reminding that the NIGMS policy for greybeard insiders was in fact to be about $750,000 per year) usually results in the the sound of sharpening stone on steel farm implements and the smell of burning pitch.

Even that level of grant largesse ("largesse") does not pay for the single manuscript revisions that Professor Tye describes within a single year.

I have zero reason to doubt Professor Tye's characterization, I will note. I am familiar with how Glam labs operate. I am familiar with the circle jerk of escalating high-cost "necessary" experimental demands they gratify each other with in manuscript review. I am familiar with the way extremely well funded labs use this bullshit as a gatekeeping function to eliminate the intellectual competition. I am perhaps overly familiar with Glam science labs in which postdocs blowing $40,000 on single fucked up experiments (because they don't bother to think things through, are sloppy or are plain wasteful) is entirely routine.

The R01 does not pay for itself. It does not pay for the expected productivity necessary to look merely minimally productive, particularly when "high impact publications" are the standard.

But even that isn't the point.

We have this exact same problem, albeit at less cost, all down the biomedical NIH-funded research ranks.

I have noted more than once on this blog that I experience a complete disconnect between what is demanded in peer review of manuscripts at a very pedestrian level of journal, the costs involved and the way R01s that pay for those experiments are perceived come time for competitive renewal. Actually, we can generalize this to any new grant as well, because very often grant reviewers are looking at the productivity on entirely unrelated awards to determine the PI's fitness for the next proposal. There is a growing disconnect, I claim, between what is proposed in the average R01 these days and what it can actually pay to accomplish.

And this situation is being created by the exact same super-group of peers. The people who review my grants also review my papers. And each others'. And I review their grants and their manuscripts.

And we are being ridiculous.

We need to restore normalcy and decency in the conduct of this profession. We need to hold the NIH accountable for its fantasy policy that has reduced the spending capability of the normal average grant award to half of what it was a mere twenty years ago. And for policies that seek to limit productive labs so that we can have more and more funded labs who are crippled in what they can accomplish.

We need to hold each other accountable for fantasy thinking about how much science costs. R01 review should return to the days when "overambitious" meant something and was used to keep proposed scope of work minimally related to the necessary costs and the available funds. And we need to stop demanding an amount of work in each and every manuscript that is incompatible with the way the resulting productivity will be viewed in subsequent grant review.

We cannot do anything about the Glam folks, they are lost to all decency. But we can save the core of the NIH-funded biomedical research enterprise.

If you will only join me in a retreat from the abyss.

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