How Not To Read A Retraction: Blogging, Biomedical Research, and Publication Ethics

Mar 12 2008 Published by under Blogging, Science Politics

As we discussed contemporaneously here at DrugMonkey, Nature published a retraction last week of a paper from the laboratory of Nobel Prize winner Linda Buck. At his eponymous blog, fellow ScienceBlogger Greg Laden also posted a piece on the retraction. Unfortunately, Laden's piece egregiously misrepresented both the impetus for the retraction and the relationship of the retracted work to Buck's Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (there is absolutely none). PhysioProf, ScienceBlogger and enthusiastically engaged member of the biomedical research community, clearly pointed out Laden's errors in the comments to that piece.
In a further unfortunate development, Laden refused to acknowledge his multiple mistakes, dug in his heels, and stood by his mischaracterization of the significance of the retraction. Only after extensive back and forth between PhysioProf and Laden, and after numerous other commenters rightly took Laden to task for his blunders, Laden belatedly edited his post to try to correct his errors, to explain why he made those errors, and to editorialize quite broadly on the nature of blogging (and blog commenting), the social organization of the biomedical research enterprise, and publication ethics.
Continuing the unfortunate nature of this entire series of events, Laden's broad editorializing--which also occurred in part via his own comments to both his piece on the retraction, as well as another meta-piece and comments thereto discussing, inter alia, the disagreement over Laden's analysis of the retraction--contained a number of additional gross misconceptions about how modern biomedical research occurs, the ethics of authorship in biomedical research, blogging ethics, the nature of so-called "trolling", and how the Nobel Prize is awarded. PhysioProf is fascinated by each of those topics, and Laden's series of blunders provides us an excellent context in which to explore them, which we do in detail below the fold.

Let's start with the complete text of Laden's original post (which PhysioProf fortunately had the foresight to archive):

Linda Buck shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 for her work on smell. However, the scientific community has been unable to replicate her results, so she has retracted the paper.

In the paper, the researchers described how they produced genetically engineered mice that produced a plant protein in certain smell-related neurons. The researchers had claimed that as the plant protein traveled between neurons, they could map out which neurons in the cortex of the brain received information from which smell receptors in the nose.
In the retraction, published by Nature on Thursday, the researchers said, "Moreover, we have found inconsistencies between some of the figures and data published in the paper and the original data. We have therefore lost confidence in the reported conclusions."
"It's disappointing," Dr. Buck, who is now at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told the journal Nature in a news article about the retraction. "The important thing is to correct the literature."

The story is covered in the New York Times.
The paper is not necessarily central to the reason that she was awarded the Nobel.

(Laden's blockquote is from the NY Times article.)
Here is the complete text of my first comment in response (blockquote formatting was messed up in the original comment on Laden's blog, but the correct quoting used here was completely obvious to anyone paying the slightest attention) :

Linda Buck shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 for her work on smell. However, the scientific community has been unable to replicate her results, so she has retracted the paper.

This is written in a ridiculously sloppy manner. (1) This is one paper out of many dozens she has authored in her career. (2) The "scientific community" had nothing to with finding that the results were not replicable. (3) The definite nouns "her results" and "the paper" have no antecedents, and make it sound like the retracted work was the defining work of her career.
Someone reading this who didn't know the field would conclude that the work that led to the Nobel Prize was not replicable and has been retracted.

The paper is not necessarily central to the reason that she was awarded the Nobel.

Gee, you think? The retracted paper had nothing to do with the Nobel. Zero. Nada. Zippo. Zilch. The work that was reported in the retracted paper was nothing more than a blip in the broad expanse of her career.
This is a poorly researched, sloppily written smear of Buck. I'm sure it was unintentional, but it has that effect.

Since Laden apparently had substantial trouble understanding exactly what was so misleading about his original piece, some of which involves poor English usage, before going on, let's just make sure we understand very clearly how his original language would be understood by someone who is not familiar with the underlying facts of the situation--presumably Laden's intended audience.
Things start to go wrong in the first sentence of his original piece. Buck didn't share the Nobel Prize with Richard Axel "for her work on smell". The Nobel Prize is explicitly intended to be, and almost always is, awarded not for a lifetime of accomplishments or for an extended body of work, but rather for a specific scientific discovery. Indeed, Buck and Axel shared the Nobel Prize for a single specific discovery that Buck made while a post-doc in Axel's lab, and that was described in a single 1991 publication in Cell: the identity of a large family of olfactory receptor proteins encoded in the mammalian genome.
In the second sentence, things go horribly wrong. First, as I pointed out in my comment, it was not the "scientific community" that failed to replicate the work in the paper that was retracted; it was Buck's own lab. Second, and more importantly, the definite nouns "her results" and "the paper" have no clear antecedents in the body of Laden's post. In other words, what particular results are being referred to as "her results" and what particular paper is being referred to as "the paper" was not defined earlier in the piece.
Because of that failure to define terms, the reader has no choice but to infer what the writer means by "her results" and "the paper" from the context. Since the only sentence in the body of the post that preceded the one containing these undefined terms referred to Buck receiving the "Nobel Prize for her work on smell", the only reasonable inference at this point is that "her results" and "the paper" refer to her work on smell for which the Nobel Prize was awarded. Which is totally, completely, utterly false.
In the last sentence of the original piece, Laden sort of reaches in the direction of reality, but again mangles the attempt completely, by including the phrase "not necessarily central". By including that phrase, the sentence clearly implies that the retracted work might be central to the work for which the Nobel Prize was awarded and that even if it is not central, it might have played some role, albeit a non-central one, in the work for which the Nobel Prize was awarded. Again, this is totally, completely, utterly false.
All of this resulted from a toxic combination of a poor understanding of the facts on the ground and sloppy writing, but hey, it's a blog, and ScienceBlogs doesn't provide its bloggers with fact checkers or copy editors, so this kind of thing will happen from time to time. It is unfortunate that in this case it led to such egregious misrepresentation of an ethically, emotionally, and scientifically laden situation.
I explicitly acknowledged in my first comment on Laden's original post that I was "sure it was unintentional", making it absolutely crystal clear that I was not impugning his intentions. Laden could have examined my assertions on their merits with less than five minutes of Googling, corrected his piece with another five minutes of drafting, but he unfortunately chose to dig in his heels. As we will see, this is because he has particularly strong adverse reactions to PhysioProf's rhetorical style, which he allowed to cloud his judgment.
After several days of back-and-forth in the comments, with at least half-a-dozen other commenters weighing in with the exact same analysis as PhysioProf and with lots of whining on Laden's part about "trolling", he finally revised his original post in an attempt to fix its undeniable mischaracterizations, by eliminating his incorrect paraphrases and just quoting the New York Times article. If he had left it at that, we might not even be discussing this now, but he also included a new addendum that evinces serious misunderstanding of how modern biomedical research occurs, and its practical ethics of authorship.
OK. Now let's get into some of Laden's particular assertions in the comments and his new addendum to the corrected post. Rather than treat these in chronological order, we will handle them topically: First, Laden's assertions about his own blogging process that gave rise to the original piece; Second, Laden's assertions about the underlying reality of how biomedical research, such as what leads to Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, occurs in reality and how the ethics of authorship works; Third, Laden's assertions about the nature of PhysioProf's comments and rhetorical style. As we will see, there are some problems with his positions on each of these topics.
Laden's Blogging Process

The phrases in my post before and after are close paraphrases. The point of this brief post is to direct my readers to something they might find interesting. I am not expressing an opinion. This is utterly obvious by looking at this post.

This brings up a very interesting issue of journalistic (and blogging?) ethics. It is certainly the case that Laden's "close paraphrases" were written using the literary style of factually reporting a close paraphrase, and not as opinions. It is very important for journalists (and bloggers?) to make it very obvious to their readers when they are engaged in factual reporting, and when they are engaged in expressing an opinion or polemic.
The problem with Laden's original piece had nothing to do with him expressing an opinion, right or wrong; it had to do with the fact that the content of what he was couching using the factual reporting style of close paraphrase was wrong, both as paraphrase and as statements of facts. It is my opinion that as bloggers we share this duty of journalistic ethics to clearly distinguish opinion or polemic from factual reporting and, when engaged in factual reporting, to get our facts right. If this sometimes requires post-publication correction, as it does in traditional print journalism, then so be it.

But, my opninion is based on the NYT piece and your blog post. I've not read the original piece (nor do I claim above to have done so).

Well, the fact that he never looked at the retraction certainly goes some way to explaining how he misunderstood its significance so completely. And this raises another interesting question of journalistic and blogging ethics. It certainly is common practice for journalists and bloggers to base pieces on other published reports, rather than original research. In some cases, this is totally innocent, but in others, it leads to some really bad shit, like Fox News's typical "some have reported that Barack Obama is an Islamic communist fascist hippie liberal who studied at a madrassa", where "some" means "some loonie right-wing smear rag".
While that kind of assertion about what "some have reported" may be factually correct, it is nothing more than a sneaky way to propagate lies. In the current situation, what if Laden's original attempted paraphrase of the NY Times article, instead of being completely wrong, was accurate, but the NY Times itself got the facts wrong? What do readers who come to a credible source of science blogging like ScienceBlogs expect of its bloggers?
Is it a fair expectation that bloggers will do enough research of their own, rather than just attempting to paraphrase the reporting of others, that they minimize the chances of (1) getting such a paraphrase wrong (as Laden did in his original post on the retraction) or (2) correctly (and even innocently, unlike Fox News) paraphrasing someone else's factually incorrect reporting, but thereby propagating--and lending credibility to--falsehoods? I don't have an answer, but I think it is an interesting question, and one that will become more and more important as blogs become more and more important sources of information.

If you don't like how I wrote what I wrote, then don't read it. I didn't read the original paper because I did not find it interesting enough, but I thought the topic would interest some of my readers.

Is our only duty as bloggers to just give our readers what we think they like? Or do we have some additional duties, as well?
Laden's Misunderstanding Of How Biomedical Research Works
OK. Let's get into more of the substance of Laden's actual opinions concerning the significance of the retraction and the authorship of the paper, and what this reveals about his poor understanding of how biomedical research works. At the outset, we need to be very clear that there is nothing wrong with not understanding how biomedical research works. But there is something wrong with making all sorts of wild accusations and inferences about the ethics of the behavior of biomedical scientists in the absence of any basic understanding of how biomedical research works.
From this comment, we get some sense for how Laden perceives his own purpose in publishing his original blog post:

I should have originally said "From my reading of the New York Times piece, I cannot parse out the argument of the relationship of this work and the Nobel Prize, but really, that is not the point of my making note of this story.... my main point is simply that science shows itself once again to be self correcting." That would NOT have satisfied PysioProf, I think because he/she wanted me to say that there was no link whatsoever. But I did not know that, I do not know this now, and I don't care about this, and this never had anything to do with why I posted this (again, read the title of the post!)

So the purpose of Laden's original post was to demonstrate that "science shows itself once again to be self correcting". But he explicitly states that he doesn't care at all about the underlying reason for the retraction, the relationship between the retracted work and other work by the same authors, or anything other than the bald fact that a paper was retracted by a Nobel Prize winner. This explanation makes a lot of sense, and explains why Laden was completely untroubled by, indeed, proud of, his ignorance of the actual facts underlying the retraction.
This raises the question whether the mere existence of a retraction of this particular paper tells us anything about whether science is self-correcting. My contention is that, without a lot more substantive digging into the facts underlying the retraction, its mere existence tells us nothing about the self-correcting nature of science. Papers can be retracted for a variety of reasons, and with a variety of motivations, and without understanding those reasons and motivations, we cannot say whether it was the result of "self-correction".
Here are some of Laden's outrageous assertions regarding the ethical implications of the retraction and the authorship of the original paper:

My reading of this (and this is just my opinion, not subject to trolling or deletion) is that this may well have been yet another case of a person with some fame and/or power getting his/her name on a paper while doing virtually none of the work.

This raises an interesting issue in the context of how biomedical research laboratories operate. Virtually all biomedical research labs in the United States, including Buck's, have a "principal investigator" (PI) who heads the lab, writes the grants that secure funding to do the research, formulates a broad vision for the research directions pursued by the lab, and supervises, guides, and mentors the graduate and post-doctoral trainees in the lab. Every trainee is immersed in the intellectual, social, experimental, and physical environment of the lab that was created and nurtured over the years by the PI.
If a trainee designs an experiment within the broad scope of the research interests of the lab, performs the experiment, and writes the paper, should the PI be the senior and corresponding author of the paper? You're damn right she should! That work could not have been performed without the massive contributions that the PI made to creating, funding, and maintaining a conceptual and experimental environment in which the work could occur. And this would be true even in the extraordinarily unlikely circumstance that the trainee never discussed the experiments, their results, or their interpretation with the PI before presenting her with a complete manuscript. Laden's notion of "doing the work" has nothing to do with how biomedical research labs function, and reflects a gross misunderstanding of how PIs contribute to what goes on in their labs.

However, it is interesting that while I took very little interest myself in this story, I now feel that this paper DOES relate very much to her Nobel Prise. I don't think one should give a N.P. to a felon or a scoundrel. In my view, her approach to publication makes her one or the other or both. Buck is the kind of 'scientist' that makes us all cringe.

Her publication practices are quite possibly (but not with total certainty) unethical, at least in the case of the retracted paper. My comments are based on the evidence that is there for all to see and it is nothing close to absurd.

The fact that there are people running labs who stick their name on everything is true, but not everyone does this and it is NOT common practice. It is unethical and should not be condoned under any circumstances. It is not a custom that needs to be fundamentally changed. It is bad behavior, wrong, not done by everyone, and IF Buck did it, she did something very, very wrong.

As I have said a few times, I'm not certain, but if you look at that retraction, there seem to be only a limited number of possibilities. It seems to me like there is a good chance that she is one of the cheaters. I'm not sure why there is such vehemence in defending her.

There is no evidence available in the public record that tells us anything whatsoever about whether Buck is a "felon", a "scoundrel", "unethical", or "one of the cheaters". Yes, it is possible that she is. We have absolutely no idea one way or the other, but there is no justification based on the publicly available facts to accuse her of any of these things.
The practice of PIs of biomedical research labs being the senior and corresponding author of every publication that arises out of work done in their labs is not only "common practice"; it is ubiquitous. And it is ubiquitous because it is scientifically and ethically completely appropriate. PIs may not pipette or push flies, but they contribute in numerous highly substantial ways whose existence can almost invariably be correctly inferred from the simple fact that the work occurred in their labs.
In terms of any "vehemence in defending" Buck, except maybe for the one commenter who claimed to know Buck personally, this is not at all about Buck. It is about getting the underlying facts correct before basing accusations of gross impropriety--"felon", "scoundrel", "unethical", "cheater"--on them. It is an insult to the notion of scientific objectivity and an evidence-based approach--which Laden certainly claims to care a lot about--to recklessly make these kind of accusations in the absence of any evidence that they are true.
Laden's Complaints About PhysioProf's Rhetorical Style and "Trolling"
I only recommend reading this part of the post if you are into "meta". The only reason it is even here is that Laden personalized this whole thing, and I want to set the record straight.

I had previously paraphrased some parts of the above article, but my exact wording so annoyed the trolls (one of whom is now banned from my site for trollish behavior above and beyond) that I have reverted to direct quotes only.

What "annoyed the trolls" was that Laden so egregiously, albeit unintentionally, mischaracterized the situation surrounding this retraction in a way that grossly smeared Buck's reputation and her Nobel Prize, and then refused to correct himself when the errors in his original post were clearly pointed out by "the trolls". There is an old saying that when everyone around you seems like an idiot (troll), maybe the idiot (troll) is you.

...this is just my opinion, not subject to trolling or deletion...

How can something be "not subject to trolling"?

I was directed to your post on this issue by a mutual colleague, and as with all of your other writing it is so grotesquely stylized, in a way that is not even remotely interesting to me, that it is hard to get through the crap (or should I say fucking crap) to get what you mean.

PhysioProf's writing style is exceedingly clear. The vast majority of people have absolutely no difficulty whatsoever in understanding my writing.

You should not be so sensitive. It does not fit with your trope (of trying to act like the most obnoxious person on the internet).

PhysioProf is not sensitive. PhysioProf relentlessly stands up for what he thinks is right. PhysioProf also freely admits when he is wrong.

Your condescending "PhysioProf is speaking in the third person again, so go fuck yourself" act must work for you, and I applaud any success you have. But you have to admit it is more than a little intrusive, so you have to get used to the fact that this approach you take will turn people off quite often. Not that many people are going to like this, and many will find it obnoxious.
You cannot come on like a prickly pear and then ask people to treat you like anything other than, well, a prickly pear. What you say is of no importance if it is wrapped in Prickly Pearness.

Many people find what PhysioProf has to say to be extremely interesting, and are willing to spend time and effort reading it. Many people find PhysioProf to be a very endearing presence in the blogosphere.

Let me make myself perfectly clear. I have demonstrated again and again that I am willing to listen to criticism, and I've changed blog posts in response. But PhysioProf has an approach that I find incredibly annoying and unethical, and I do not give him any consideration whatsoever. Never have, never will.

People who filter discourse on the basis of superficial aspects of rhetoric frequently end up missing really important and valuable things. There are specific deeper rhetorical aims to PhysioProf's approach, and it is extremely effective at sustaining and advancing those aims. The cost of a small number of people failing to understand what is going on is well worth the tremendous benefit that accrues to those who do understand. If Laden had kept his fucking wits about him in the first place, he might have corrected his original piece promptly, and avoiding this entire embarrassing spectacle.
It is also worth noting that the most extreme language in PhysioProf's first comment was "ridiculously sloppy", "poorly written", and "sloppily researched", followed by the explicit disavowal of any claim that this was anything other than unintentional on Laden's part. PhysioProf's next comment was, "Dude, the New York Times got it correctly. You fucked it up."
This is pretty mild shit in the grand scheme of things. We are, after all, blogging, not sucking juice boxes at a fucking Care Bears tea party!

I have some serious problems with anonymous blogging, frankly. Same with anonymous commenting. I accept that people may need to or really want to do this for some good reason, and I'm not necessarily saying that I think it is always wrong ... I do not have such a well formed opinion of it, and I know there is a range.
But all the GOOD reasons for anonymous blogging or commenting I can think of are about a person either protecting themselves professionally or from some kind of habitual attack, or simply because they are too weak in some area of personality to face the social interaction.

There are many very good reasons for adopting rhetorical stances, including that of author anonymity, that go far beyond what Laden "can think of". It looks like one of the things that led Laden down this unfortunate path in the first place is lack of recognition of the limits of one's own knowledge. Far more important than knowing what one knows, is knowing what one does not know. PhysioProf posts only about what he knows.
I spend a lot of time with the trainees in my lab working on their ability to recognize the limits of their own understanding of things, and the areas in which there is more going on than what they already understand. It is a natural human tendency to conflate the limits of one's own understanding with the limits of what (1) should be understood and (2) can be understood. Good scientists learn explicit and implicit strategies for combating this tendency, which I spend substantial time and effort teaching to my trainees.

PhysioProf, however, has a different approach, which I have never commented on before but I'm now being forced to: He or she has an approach to blogging and commenting that is obnoxious and offensive, not acceptable in my neighborhood, and he or she hides this atrocious behavior behind this anonymity. PhysioProf hides behind a cloak of anonymity and from there snipes atrociously on others. There is nothing redeeming in this approch. Is this supposed to be funny? It is not. Is it supposed to allow PhysioProf to do or say things that are both amazing and wonderful to read and that could otherwise not be said? So far that has not happened.

Many individuals enjoy and value PhysioProf's rhetorical approach and substantive content, both at DrugMonkey and at PhysioProf, and in the comments at many other blogs. Numerous individuals have expressed their appreciation for PhysioProf's contributions. Many individuals laugh their fucking asses off when they read PhysioProf's writing, and learn new shit at the same time.

PhysProf's problem is that you can't maintain an overdone profane Gonzo like trope and at the same time engage in a constructive conversation. It is simply not possible.

This is demonstrably false. The fact that there may be some subset of people who lack the capacity to engage with PhysioProf constructively does not alter this.

PhysioProf: You need to understand the following. You are a troll. As long as you act like a troll you will be treated like a troll. You get as much respect from me as spot of mud that might be stuck to the bottom of my boot.

This raises the interesting philosophical and practical question, What is a troll? Traditional definitions frequently require that a "troll" have no purpose other than stirring up shit. But stirring up shit can be an important technique for achieving important legitimate ends.
Is it "trolling" to use the Socratic method to lead people to novel understanding? Is it trolling to force people outside their comfort zone in particular domains, as a means for encouraging personal growth? Is it trolling to vigorously advocate for and defend positions using coherent arguments based in fact and logic? Is it trolling to identify bullshit as such? Being comfortable all the time is no way to grow, to expand one's capacities, one's scope of knowledge and expertise.

14 responses so far

  • Fuckin' A!
    I think it is an essential trait of liberal-mindedness to be able to take the reality/truth (even if profane) over the delusion/lie (even if seductively genteel). Of course, one has to recognize the difference first.
    Also, PP, I think you should change your handle to TrollMonkey.

  • Piled Higher, Deeper says:

    Are you guys sure this isn't just something you cooked up to rebut the charge of insularity?????
    Seriously though and all personality conflicts aside, it is important to be very clear to differentiate what is on the record and what is speculation in these types of cases. As the post points out, even if there was something in Buck's behaviors to criticize we cannot tell this from the record at present. Laden was over the line to insinuate felonious behavior.
    Along this avenue of thought, one must be very clear when objecting to the behavioral "norms" of a scientific subfield. That appears to be what Laden was actually on about. He seemed to be objecting to the "big lab" type of science that is common in many fields these days, as this post notes. When one objects to the norms of a given field, then one should not accuse someone who operates on those norms as a unique case of fradulent, exploitative or otherwise culpable behavior. It is better to stick to attacking the norms themselves.

  • yawning mcyawner says:

    yawn. PP you can make better posts.

  • Becca says:

    With respect, PhysioProf is more amusing talking in the third person on his own blog than dropping F-bombs in the comments section of other peoples.
    Now, on the very interesting topic of how biomedical research works- or doesn't ;), on ocassion...
    To be blunt, I think you might have the *official* requirements for authorship wrong...
    In the words of Alan Coleman (Nature, v.440 p.1112, 2006) "To qualify as an author, one should have made key intellectual and/or novel technical contributions

  • juniorprof says:

    PP, you are to be commended for setting the record straight here, very well done.
    It is interesting to note how different groups have interpreted what has happened here. I interpreted your original post (here) almost completely as an interest (and perhaps a bit of anger -- but maybe I was feeling my anger instead) in the author contribution line added to the retraction with a bit of a funny aside on just how specialized some of these types of papers can be (essentially only of strong and direct interest for future work to the lab itself). Others clearly went overboard with some rather odd interpretations -- quite instructive when you consider the relation some of these people have to the type of cutting edge medical/basic neuroscience research that papers like these represent (at least technically).
    I completely fail to understand how any scientist could doubt that Linda Buck has contributed sufficiently to be an author on work from her own lab. How could fellow scientists fail to grasp the operation of modern scientific endeavor so completely? Is there any real reason to think it has ever been any different (since funding agencies became seriously involved)? What type of ideal do these people propose to return to, the 17th century?

  • PhysioProf says:

    I completely fail to understand how any scientist could doubt that Linda Buck has contributed sufficiently to be an author on work from her own lab. How could fellow scientists fail to grasp the operation of modern scientific endeavor so completely? Is there any real reason to think it has ever been any different (since funding agencies became seriously involved)? What type of ideal do these people propose to return to, the 17th century?

    Not all modern sciences function this way. The modern biomedical and experimental biological sciences do.

  • juniorprof says:

    PP, I have to say that I disagree... I come from a physics background, there was little difference in basic lab operation in my experience from the biomedical and experimental biological sciences. Now, in my new place, I have a good deal of interaction with the chemical sciences departments. These labs (admitedly they are high profile labs) also have the same general structure we see in the biomedical and biological sciences. Perhaps my experience is atypical?

  • acmegirl says:

    PhysioProf hides behind a cloak of anonymity and from there snipes atrociously on others. There is nothing redeeming in this approch. Is this supposed to be funny? It is not. Is it supposed to allow PhysioProf to do or say things that are both amazing and wonderful to read and that could otherwise not be said? So far that has not happened.

    Somehow I doubt that PhysioProf is demure and reticent in person. I myself "hide behind a cloak of anonymity" but not because I couldn't bring myself to snipe otherwise. If anything, I tone it down a little on line. (heh!)
    Anyway, I don't think he should be talking - he's not all sweetness and light either. What difference does it make if his real name is on it?

  • PhysioProf says:

    The more theoretical and descriptive sciences do not operate laboratories in the way that we are familiar with.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    juniorprof, to expand ever so slightly on the PPs comment I'll actually refer to something he wrote in this post.

    I spend a lot of time with the trainees in my lab working on their ability to recognize the limits of their own understanding of things, and the areas in which there is more going on than what they already understand. It is a natural human tendency to conflate the limits of one's own understanding with the limits of what (1) should be understood and (2) can be understood.

    There is an incredible diversity of NIH funded research going on. Yes, even now, albeit some people think that the unusual-model stuff is being pared back dramatically. Just about every round in my section I run across yet another area of funded science that doesn't fit the stereotypical profile.
    It is worth considering the broad diversity of journals- look through one of the big publishers (Elsevier, Springer, etc) full catalog of journals sometime for kicks. Remember that broad swaths of science are not even indexed on Medline.
    Another consideration is that the NIH funds mechanisms that will almost inevitably fund smaller and older-school approaches. The R15 AREA grant for colleges with minimal NIH funding and high levels of grads entering science. Funding for investigators in states that have a low overall NIH profile. Colleges and Universities that have large populations of undergraduates from backgrounds that are underrepresented in bioscience. etc.

  • Thomas Robey says:

    As my newfound professional colleagues would say:
    Strong work, PP. Strong work!

  • Paying someones salary, while a very valued job, is not an intellectual or technical contribution. -Becca
    To be clear here, Becca: The PI isn't paying people's salaries with, say, a trust fund, or lottery winnings. They're paying salaries with an R01 or similar grant. To get that money, you have to spend an incredible amount of time and intellectual work writing a justification of why this area of research deserves funding. Once you buy so much as an Eppendorf tube with that money, you've made an intellectual contribution to any paper that results.

  • bob says:

    I agree with PP's comments about creating an intellectual (and material) environment being a potentially important contribution to papers that get done in the lab, but it's only _potentially_ important. Especially in the extreme version presented by Dr. Jeckyll in #12, "once you buy so much as an Eppendorf tube" it's at least bending the rules. If fostering an environment for ideas is sufficient, then including senior colleagues at other universities as authors could easily be justified ("their seminal papers directly inspired this work and it wouldn't have been possible without their intellectual contributions"), even though these kinds of gift authorships are against most explicit guidelines that I'm aware of.
    It's also interesting to see how attitudes change when the tables are turned and it's a professor trying to maintain exclusive control of intellectual property. How easy it is then to dismiss the environment and resources a university contributes to claim that something was invented entirely independently, at home, using the professors spare time and personal finances.

  • Zuska says:

    Wow, banned from Greg Laden's Blog. If I took his approach (i.e., being miffed whenever another Scienceblogger disagrees with me) I'd have had to ban about 5 or 6 Sciencebloggers from my blog already.
    Say, maybe if I start blogging anonymously, my blog won't be so full of kittens and flowers.

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