Roundup on "What Gender Problem?"

A recent post observing a lack of gender diversity in a scientific venue sparked rather a lot of discussion. For this blog, 158 Screechy Monkeys (at writing) is quite a conversation.
The conversation here is only part of a discussion that spans several blogs. While I'm sure most of you have been playing in all the comment threads, in case you missed a few.
drdrA's post initiated the original discussion: This Just In: Pipeline Broken Before First R01
Isis the Scientist: Science and Motherhood are Not for the Faint of Heart...
Stephanie Z at Almost Diamonds: How to Hijack a Thread
River Tam at Professor Chaos: She was just invited because...
Please drop a comment if there are blog posts that I've missed.

53 responses so far

  • Dave says:

    Awwww... c'mon. You KNOW I have to respond to the fact that you linked to 'How to Hijack a Thread'.
    Assuming I am the subject of Stephanie Z's criticism (and as insufferable troll of course I would see myself as the subject of any conversation), then Stephanie is seeing some sort of conspiracy that simply doesn't exist. I am not nearly as clever or calculating as she thinks I am.
    Most puzzling to me, a few of Stephanie's complaints seem to be that my behavior was generally restricted to this blog, as if that was part of my vile plan. To which I reply: It would have been better if I pissed off people elsewhere too?
    As for the central accusation, that I 'Hijacked' a thread (a feeling I assume DM agrees with because he linked to her blog), well then I really am sorry. I thought it was an interesting conversation and was honestly interested in keeping it going. OK, so I said a few goofy things here and there and my sarcasm and jokes were almost completely unrecognized as such, which pissed a few people off, but seriously -- would there really even have been any other conversation here otherwise? You can call it 'hijacking'; I call it 'leading the discussion'.
    By your own admission, DM, the thread here was one of the most interesting and lively conversations on your blog yet. No need to thank me or send gifts. I enjoyed helping.
    As a sort-of an aside: Your blog is generally great, but this particular blog entry of yours would have been better if you had summarized the most interesting insights and practical suggestions on the topic from all the blogs and replies. Linking to other blogs may get you points in the blogosphere, but I think casual readers would rather have an insightful summary review. Just a suggestion. Someone told me once I should praise but then encourage people to do even better.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    As for the central accusation, that I 'Hijacked' a thread (a feeling I assume DM agrees with because he linked to her blog)
    As with making assumptions about what I put in the quote randomizer, this is a fools' errand.
    I link to things that I find interesting or suspect might be of interest to (some of) my readers. It does not mean that I endorse or agree with everything I link to.
    Linking to other blogs may get you points in the blogosphere, but I think casual readers would rather have an insightful summary review.
    yeah, PP hates link vomitus too. I try to keep it to a minimum but our lack of trackback around here is kind of annoying.
    I was once blogger outside of Sb occasionally frustrated by what I saw as deliberate ignoring of my humble contributions. Now on the inside, I understand some of the reasons. Nevertheless, I try to be as good as I can about directing my reader's attention to things outside of Sb they might otherwise have missed.

  • Dave says:

    Understood. Sorry for the unfair accusation. I would indeed have missed Stephanie's lesson if you had not linked to it. And though reading it (and the other blogs you linked to) was simultaneously painful and ego-boosting (in a completely juvenile and sociopathic way), I learned something from the harsh mirror.
    And dammit, that's why I'm getting addicted to your blog. I actually learn stuff here. Even, occassionally, from Mr. CPPottymouth.
    But don't worry, the addiction will wear off soon. I am squeaking by on the fact that there are no grant deadlines coming up, nor new students in the lab, and the semester just finished. I'll be gone again soon enough (You may now all emit a sigh of relief).

  • For fuck's sake! Why do you dumbfucks encourage assholes like Dave--whether he's trolling or just a regular old asshole, who gives a flying fuck?--with the whole rimjob cookie reacharound treatment just because he whines like a whiny-ass tittybaby about what a "learning experience" it has been for him and what an "interesting and lively conversation" his assholishness has triggered?

  • Stephanie Z says:

    It does not mean that I endorse or agree with everything I link to.

    Heh. DM, I think it would be more than safe to say that you and I don't have a long history of seeing eye to eye. That said, I hope you understand just how much I do appreciate a good, gritty argument. You know, on the issues.
    And thanks for the links. I had missed one.

  • I find the entire interaction to be lacking in sincerity and counterproductive to the discourse -- especially as it is being read by young women who aspire to be academic scientists.
    But, I am glad that we all feel better about gender issues in science having converted Dave to our cause. How very lucky for us all.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Why do you dumbfucks encourage assholes like Dave

    For the same reason I encourage assholes like you -- with the kids out of the house, juvenile attention-junkie behavior is now a cute option rather than a lifestyle.

  • anon says:

    CPP - I love you. 🙂

  • Dave says:

    PhysioProf, you're right. I'm sorry that -- at least for a short while -- I distracted people from your antics. I am sorry that your well-practiced little jerky dancing didn't get the attention it usually deserves and gets for a whole day. Someday, with practice, I hope my apparent misogyny can develop into full-fledged and more democratic abuse of everyone, regardless of gender -- as you have managed.
    Please, everyone: Let's talk about PhysioProf before he wets his pants.
    Meanwhile, I encourage Isis and Stephanie to look up 'philogyny'. It's just as obnoxious as misogyny.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Dave, care to point to actual behavior of mine that you object to instead of making vague references about my supposed general tendencies?

  • Dave says:

    Stephanie: I am simply offering vocabulary tips. To help in your next scrabble game. I am not sure what you are talking about. Is there something in particular you feel guilty about?
    It sucks to have vague, far-reaching, and unconstructive accusations thrown at you , doesn't it?
    But it's nice that we all get to be much meaner on the internet than we would ever really be in person.
    You know, I too am getting tired of this being all about me.
    At which point CPP sez: "Well than why don't you shut the fuck up?"
    To which I reply: "Good point."

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Yeah, that's about what I thought.
    I don't play Scrabble, and vague accusations don't bother me at all. I am, in fact, quite contentedly pleased with myself this evening. I'm also rather pleased with, I suspect, DM for jumping into the fray.

  • Eppendork says:

    Props Dave - you planted a seed and watched what happened - that is what good discussion is about. Eppendork realises that scrabble isn't every ones game - but loves to play it and WIN. Much like Monopoly.
    E.
    PS: 186 screechy monkeys - how hot is that? RESPECT

  • Eppendork says:

    Opps my bad that was ment to be DM not Dave - also seed "hijacking" is borderline issue for me - I am all for discussion where ever it may occur - the need for acknowledging others opinions and where you nabbed the idea from is really important. Also laying down ground rules - whilst I realise moderation is not always conducive to open and frank discussions, but it needs not to be an all out brawl which is where the moderation comes in. And Steph Z I enjoyed your post btw.
    E

  • I think that the reason some women are disturbed by what is going on here is that they might have considered this blog to be a space with zero tolerance for misogyny, not a misogynist encounter group/recovery session. What was intended to be a discussion of gender issues in science has been diverted into being all about the magical awakening of some random misogynist scumbag who materialized out of nowhere to tell women what to do. This shit is completely typical same-old-same-old, and deserves only the same-old-same-old response.

  • Dave says:

    "Eppendork realises that scrabble isn't every ones game - but loves to play it and WIN. Much like Monopoly."
    I suck at scrabble. And my command of the language is quite poor too. For example, I really should have accused Isis and Stephanie 'misandry', instead of 'philogyny'.
    I don't think CPP is a true sociopath, in the clinical sense, although he exhibits borderline symptoms, like me. Solopsist isn't right for him either. I don't know what the word is for that type of behavior displayed by lonely 10 year olds who swear and have tantrums to get attention and feel important.
    Regardless, CPP's point above is reasonable. In retrospect, I could have been more thoughtful and less inflammatory in places. The risk of that, of course, is another one of those arguments where everyone blandly agrees and nothing changes. Passion tends to ignite the intellect, and provocative behavior tends to nucleate action. It's good to get excited about topics now and then.
    That said, anyone who gets hugely upset over some stranger's drivel on a bored faculty member's low-profile blog really does have a problem*.
    *This statement, of course, is true sociopath misogynist behavior -- blame the victim.**
    **This statement is also typical sociopathic behavior. Undercutting one's own authority is a sort of passive-aggressive tactic often used to mentally destabilize the victim.
    ***My pointing these things out is a continuation of sociopathy, in that it's egocentric game-playing with other people for my own amusement.
    ****Sociopathy is often associated with obsessiveness, which explains the plethora of footnotes here.
    *****Sociopaths are often frighteningly intelligent.
    ******I just added that last one to amuse myself, although it's true.
    *******I recognize that ost people find sociopathic behavior frightening and disgusting. See my point immediately above.
    ********My honest opinion is that the way science works, sociopathy is actually selected for. Women tend to recognize this as the typical misogynistic old-boy network thing. But really, we sociopaths just like a good foe for our intellectual battles. And empathy really cripples that. Besides, it can be argued that the pursuit of truth is only derailed by excessive empathy. Scientists are supposed to be coldly analyzing data and figuring things out, not having a fuzzy-wuzzy hug fest with other scientists ("Well, I know you had a bad day, so I guess your hypothesis is right after all...") Sociopaths make better scientists.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Thanks, Eppendork.

  • becca says:

    "For example, I really should have accused Isis and Stephanie 'misandry', instead of 'philogyny'."
    I'm so glad I didn't have to correct you on that. Misandry is the parrallel; plus more applicable; plus has better connotations. Isn't testosterone worth loathing once in a while?
    Dave, if you love provocative behavior so much, I suggest you study Jon Stewart rather than Larry Summers. Remember the cardinal rule- if you tell the truth, you have to make them laugh, or they'll kill you. *
    *Does my affinity for footnotes and my ability to converse with sociopaths imply sociopathic tendancies on my part?
    For what it's worth, the pursuit of truth can be imparied by reacting to something with red-hot searing righteous anger. At least with empathy everybody gets motherfucking cookies.
    Dave- you say sociopaths make better scientists because you want to justify your antisocial behavior. It's a flawed hypothesis, you are too emotionally invested in it, and it's causing you to be wrong in any manner of ways.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I'm going to agree with a modified version. Sociopathic tendencies make for more successful people everywhere. Business, politics, academia....you name it. use and manipulate people and you get ahead.
    The trick for the rest of us is working to minimize the rewards for behavior we find abhorrent. In hopes of minimizing sociopathy.
    (this is independent of whether any parties are or are not being sociopathic personalities in this discussion..)

  • Becca says:

    DM- Data plz?
    Any evidence from nonhuman primate species must include chimps and bonobos 😉
    Remember, everybody cooperating to kill the monkeys (mmm delicious monkey brains....) is still everybody cooperating.

  • Spaulding says:

    re:#15 "...diverted into being all about the magical awakening of some random misogynist scumbag..."
    Yes, that's BS. Some guy posts, is instinctively declared to be a misogynist by the ruling powers. When he persists and others in the conversation adapt their hasty labeling, some imagine it means that he's been "converted"? Pretty arrogant for someone to think that, rather than second-guessing the accuracy of their own misogyny radar.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    The trick for the rest of us is working to minimize the rewards for behavior we find abhorrent. In hopes of minimizing sociopathy.

    Actually, there's not much we can do to "minimize sociopathy." What we can do is set up incentive structures that induce sociopaths to direct their (often considerable) efforts into what we find desirable channels.
    The first step, of course, is to stop rewarding them for doing things we don't want.

  • Dave says:

    Hmmmm. Even when I do totally goofy things you guys manage sometimes to turn it into a serious discussion.
    1. I really do think that science selects for sociopathy. In part, I think this is because sociopaths make better scientists. However, as DM pointed out (and I agree) -- the advantages of sociopathy are not unique to science. Sociopaths do better in many pursuits. But (and this is really important) -- sociopathy is most advantageous in highly competitive situations.
    So the way to reduce sociopathy in science is to make it less competitive. How we should do that is a Really Big Topic, aspects of which we've touched on already.
    2. Misogyny is more subtle and well-intentioned than I think Isis and Stephanie recognize. I think Spaulding in #21 might be thinking in this direction (though it would be unfair to presume so).
    Let me give an example: Let's say, in reference to a woman student about to take a prelim, you hear one of her committee members say: "I am going to give her a really hard time, and will probably flunk her. Sure, she's very smart and does good work, but I just don't think she has the confidence and tenacity to succeed in our program or in a scientific career."
    Is the committee member a misogynist or does the committee member genuinely care about the long-term welfare of the student?
    Now, I recognize that most of the people reading this are relatively enlightened, and will recognize the misogyny. But the perpetrator might not. The perpetrator might actually honestly mean well. Perhaps the Perpetrator will 'nurture' the student into a lab management position, or less-competitive junior instructor position, or even something most people think of as prestigious but suitable for people who can't hack a real scientific career, like being an editor at Cell Press.
    Let's make it a bit easier: Imagine that instead of a student, it's a woman who just interviewed for a tenure-track position and the speaker is a member of the selection committee in a soft-money driven department at a high-profile institution. In this case, he might add: "She doesn't seem to have the drive to succeed on her own. She's lucky that as a postdoc she worked for Big Name PI."
    It's easy to say Misogyny is bad. We all agree on that. And it's easy to attribute lack of women in science as a result of misogyny. But that's a shallow analysis and poentially wrong conclusion. Note I said 'potentially'. I don't rule out misogyny. I'm just saying that if lack of women is a problem, solving it requires more than knee-jerk misandry (I love my new word!)
    Notice, by the way, that in my example I never implied that the Bad Committee Member was male. Yet you all likely imagined a man saying those words. A white man. THAT is a bias on your part, and is just as bad as Isis or Stephanie imagining misogynist conspiracies that don't exist.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The essential point in your example, Dave, is the same essential point motivating much of the recent discussion. In a slightly different way it motivates my attempt to get away from the personal attacks (attempts which I will note you continue to thwart with snark, which is your choice).
    It does not matter one fucking bit whether someone is well-intentioned at heart or not when it comes to these interactions. Person to person? Perhaps. But once you have a relatively public environment, nobody gives a crap if you are a good soul. Nobody gives a crap that DearAuldGeezerBeard is a "product of his environment".
    What is more important is that someone else 'splains that the more important move is to work to dismantle the biases. In the case you cite, for example, it is okay to come to the conclusion that someone doesn't have what it takes just so long as this relies on valid and relatively unbiased measures. Given the NIH grant stats and what many of us see as great scientists in our respective fields, gender is a poor discriminator.
    I used to have conceits about confidence and tenacity and even things that verge on CPP-like "past-performance predicts future performance" attitudes. As I grow and mature and see all sorts of people producing interesting science and complete shit, irrespective of traditional predictors, I lose confidence in such predictors.

  • daedalus2u says:

    I completely disagree, sociopathy does not make for a better scientist. It does make for a better (or rather a more successful) politician (where the goal is to manipulate other people). Sociopaths do well at manipulating other people to do things that are not in their self-interest. A good sociopath can exploit people to meet the sociopath

  • DrugMonkey says:

    daedalus2u, you are agreeing with my point. scientific success does require obtaining resources. it does require social advancement in the sense of being acknowledged to be a Big Swinging...cheez.
    The more you can manipulate other people to your own ends, the more successful you are in obtaining the necessary resources.
    Nobody is saying sociopathy makes for better science given that one was able to acquire all the necessary resources (including human resources) and deploy them successfully...it's the given that is the sticky bit.

  • Dave says:

    DM said: "it is okay to come to the conclusion that someone doesn't have what it takes just so long as this relies on valid and relatively unbiased measures. Given the NIH grant stats and what many of us see as great scientists in our respective fields, gender is a poor discriminator."
    Yea, I think we agree on that. But here's the more important point that I didn't really emphasize enough for lack of time: When people doubt a GUY has what it takes, it's typically seen as reasonable. But when people doubt a WOMAN has what it takes, it's often labeled misogyny.
    So gender makes a difference with regard to how criticism is interpreted. Is that unfair? And if so, to whom? As you point out, DM, those quandaries are part of what's been part of what's driving the discussion here.
    "I used to have conceits about confidence and tenacity and even things that verge on CPP-like "past-performance predicts future performance" attitudes. As I grow and mature and see all sorts of people producing interesting science and complete shit, irrespective of traditional predictors, I lose confidence in such predictors."
    I want to agree with you about the uselessness of certain traditional measures of predicting future performance, but I can't because unfortunately I live in the real world. If you really think that past productivity does not predict future productivity, than you are an incredible fool. Past productivity is the single best predictor of future productivity.
    When it comes down to it, here's what every student/postdoc/faculty candidate is judged by: 1) Past performance 2) Apparent passion/drive/ability
    With regard to the above, women sometimes lose unfairly because by nature they tend to doubt themselves, or give the appearance of doubting themselves. In contrast, men tend to be cockier. I don't know whether this is genetic or whatever. It doesn't matter. But if you haven't noticed than you haven't talked to as many students as I have. In practice, this means that women tend to require a bit more encouragement to be successful, whereas guys tend to need a little more direction. But that's training. No problem. Here is the problem: You've got 5 great candidates but can only hire one (or fund one or whatever). A couple of the candidates seem to doubt their ability to get the job done. "Geez," you think, "If they don't even think they can get it done, then why should I? They know best, right?" And that's all well and good except when those two candidates are female, after which you, being the enlightened guy you are, say "But wait, that's just the way women tend to be. I should disregard that and judge them on the data alone." Congratulations, you've just consciously introduced a gender bias. Is that a good thing or not? I dunno. That's also what's driving some of the discussion here.
    And now let's go way way way back to the original topic, which was lack of women speakers at meetings. If getting a speaking slot is a reward for science well done and good speaking ability, then we must conclude from the lack of women speakers that women in general don't do science and/or speak as well as men. In which case you can argue that the meeting organizers have their heads up their asses because that's not true. Or you can conclude that the lack of women speakers is because there aren't enough women scientists for speakers to choose from. Or you can conclude both. Whatever. Again, recognizing the problem is one thing; proposing a solution is another.
    How do we fix the problem above?
    1) Get some decent meeting organizers who know how to recognize good science and find good speakers.
    2) Stop measuring 'performance' based on subjective criteria, like meeting invites and bogus popularity-contest awards like the 'Harold C. and Catherine T. Metzburg Award for Pioneering Science' etc.
    How do we make the problem worse?
    1) Scream 'misogyny!' every time there's a gender difference in anything.
    2) Tell women it's OK to not be competitive in a competitive environment, because they're women.
    #1 is just shallow name-calling. Stephanie's blog entry had nothing to do with the topic; it was all about me and linking to it was, for whatever reason, silly management of the discussion, DM.
    #2 is simply bad advice. I am not saying the world is perfect, but fomenting delusions so that everyone feels better about themselves doesn't do anyone any favors. You can tell an insecure student everything is OK for 5 years if you want, but Lordy help them when they have to go out and fight for a job and funding and lab space etc. I tell students that a science career is kind of like getting the opportunity to race down a narrow hallway where the walls and floor and ceiling are covered in protruding glass shards. If you run carefully so as to not get cut, you'll never win. So you have to run full blast the whole way. And you'll get cut all to shit. The reward for winning? You get to race again. Over and over and over against increasingly younger and faster competitors. Until you die.
    That said, this career is worth it. Totally. I love science. Humanity is packed into a teeny tiny spot of knowledge, surrounded on all sides by vast black unknown. We researchers are the privileged few who get little flashlights to stand at the edge peeking into the blackness and describing -- for the first time in history and forever -- what we see there. I get shivers. I giggle. Seriously. I do.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Becca, evidence for #19 is available in the percentage of people in top positions in those areas who display sociopathic tendencies relative to the general population. It's not great data, since it's very hard to get these people to provide any information on the subject, but it's suggestive.
    It's certainly not the only strategy, and it comes with extra demands in terms of competence. The other place you find a disproportionate number of sociopaths is prison.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    But when people doubt a WOMAN has what it takes, it's often labeled misogyny.
    Yeah, and often it IS bias. What's your point? That sometimes it is true? So what? It is indubitably time to switch the balance so that the burden of unfair hosing falls on men and the benefit of a supposedly undeserved leg-up falls on women. Once the balance shifts back so that men are disadvantaged we can talk again. Of course, we'd be in our dotage at that point...
    unfortunately I live in the real world. If you really think that past productivity does not predict future productivity, than you are an incredible fool. Past productivity is the single best predictor of future productivity.
    By all means show me your evidence for this that avoids the circularity that successful postdocs get hired into faculty jobs disproportionately. You would have to look at the population of apparently lame postdocs who got lucky and succeeded versus the population of apparently stellar postdocs who got hired and cratered as a start. In my field, I see plenty on all sides. Perhaps you do not or perhaps you simply do not attend to the data in front of you. I don't know. If you mean that the inherent circularity is the "real world", well, I choose not to reinforce that because it is false to the underlying premise.
    Congratulations, you've just consciously introduced a gender bias.
    Not at all. As you had just presented it, the conceit that a confident manner was a factor that is useful to the decision was itself a gender bias. So by ignoring that factor you are eliminating the bias.
    How do we make the problem worse?
    1) Scream 'misogyny!' every time there's a gender difference in anything.
    2) Tell women it's OK to not be competitive in a competitive environment, because they're women.

    Careful now holmes. You are getting back into standard-issue alienated ally territory that I find tedious. These are straw arguments. In my view, discussion of whether science should be more collaborative and less competitive is orthogonal to whether or not there are systematic biases in the competition.
    Re linking to SZ's blog entry: It was extremely well written and an incredible insight into the typical nature of online discussions whether it was strictly accurate when applied to you or not. This is not entirely about you my friend and I am quite fond of discussion about the discussion (i.e., meta shit).
    "fomenting delusions": In fact we work very hard to explore misconceptions and delusions with respect to career on this blog. I suppose it is not always clear when I or anyone else is describing the problem versus prescribing solutions but most of us follow along okay on that.
    To work with your analogy, perhaps the next time you start your run, toughened up by your prior run, you might knock down a few shards for the next runner instead of cementing a few new shards in place....

  • daedalus2u says:

    DM, success in any and all areas requires access to appropriate resources.
    Acquiring resources in particular areas requires exploitation only to the extent that non-exploitive methods are unsuccessful. If you are such a poor scientist that you are unable to succeed if you are not exploitive, you should adopt a different field.
    Stephanie is correct, the other place you find a disproportionate number of sociopaths is in prison. They got caught at their exploitation.
    The objective in science is to find out about reality. The "standard" is does the idea correspond with reality, not can I avoid being hurt (or cut by glass in Dave's example) if I agree with Dr. Big Shot (even when he is wrong).
    If you never suggest a wrong hypothesis, you are being too conservative and doing it wrong. If you never correct your wrong ideas you are doing it really wrong. If you trash people when they are wrong (or cut them with glass as in Dave's example), you are being a sociopath and are damaging the field. You are needlessly making the field divisive and hostile, not fostering the open exchange of ideas so that the strongest and most correct ideas can survive and be worked on. You are exploiting the scientific ideal of open communication to trash your opponents in a sociopathic way.
    That is a "tragedy of the commons", where the common good will that scientists and human beings have for each other to achieve their common goals is being exploited and liquidated by the sociopath.
    To the extent that one trades "success" at being a human being by treating people fairly and honestly, and as one would like to be treated for "success" by exploiting, lying, and cheating them, one has achieved a very shallow and limited "success".

  • Dave says:

    I sed: "unfortunately I live in the real world. If you really think that past productivity does not predict future productivity, than you are an incredible fool. Past productivity is the single best predictor of future productivity."
    DM responded: "By all means show me your evidence for this that avoids the circularity that successful postdocs get hired into faculty jobs disproportionately. "
    OK, even though you've basically set the goal in a retarded way (it's like saying I need to prove that the fastest runners are fastest without resorting to race times or number of 1st place finishes), this is actually easy. Just take any temporal subsection of any PI's career, and compare the productivity in that period to any other temporal subsection. My thesis is that the productivity of each subsection of any single person's career will be highly correlated with each of the other subsections. Basically, I am saying that the variation in productivity over time is quite low. You are saying it is very high -- so high that there are no predictive trends.
    These data are obtainable from Pubmed and CRISP. Go look up some people and make yourself some graphs using whatever conventional productivity metric you want (pubs/year, grant $/year, Impact factors/years, whatever)
    At this point, if you are thinking reasonably and dreading the thought of actually doing some work and inevitably finding out I'm right, you will say: "Oh but Dave there is selection bias! Scientists with good long term productivity tend to be able to stay in science, because people tend to hire and fund scientists with good long term productivity -- but that doesn't necessarily mean that past productivity is any predictive! We don't really have the data going forward for people with unproductive pasts!"
    To which I respond: OK, besides the fact this this is like arguing that just because the sun comes up every day doesn't mean it will come up tomorrow, the data actually DO exist. Do a Pubmed or CRISP search for senior PIs (5+ years in an independent, presumably tenured, faculty position), where selection bias should be minimized. Show me that a randomly-selected list of people has more people with a history of nonproductivity who suddenly started cranking out papers and getting grants, than people with a steady history of nonproductivity or high productivity. My prediction is that productive senior investigators have a long history of high productivity. Of course not all highly productive young investigators stay productive in easily measurable ways (Pubmed, CRISP), for a variety of reasons (they may become department heads or deans or place more emphasis on teaching or get sick), so you can't do the experiment the other way very easily. But even so, my bet is that, even among senior established PIs, the most highly productive PIs in their 50s were also highly productive in their 30s, whereas the PI's in their 50s with the lowest productivity were less productive in their 30s.
    It's common sense that past performance predicts future performance. Honestly, if you don't believe that, then how the hell do you get through life without worrying about whether the sun will come up or your house will be in the same place?
    How in your terrifyingly random schizo-delusional world do you suggest selection committees judge candidates, if not on their past productivity? We should throw out grades and GREs for grad students? Rec letters because they represent past interactions and work habits? Everything on the CV that has to do with previous publications and grants?
    Seriously, DM, you can't mean what I think you are arguing. It makes no sense.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    If you are such a poor scientist that you are unable to succeed if you are not exploitive, you should adopt a different field.
    The point is that at any level the good become Great and the Great become ELEVENTY!!!! through exploitation. It is not, as always, a perfect correlation.
    Being willing to sit on reviews to get something competing out is sociopathic. Putting trainees in competition with each other within your lab is sociopathic. keeping trainees on their toes thinking if they just do a little MORE you will further their career is sociopathic. braying about how science is a meritocracy while working as hard as you can to arrange things to your own benefit with spin, politics and bullshit is sociopathic.
    ...but it works.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    My thesis is that the productivity of each subsection of any single person's career will be highly correlated with each of the other subsections. Basically, I am saying that the variation in productivity over time is quite low. You are saying it is very high -- so high that there are no predictive trends.
    These data are obtainable from Pubmed and CRISP. Go look up some people and make yourself some graphs using whatever conventional productivity metric you want (pubs/year, grant $/year, Impact factors/years, whatever)

    The point, my friend, is that I know such people personally and through grant review. (A big part of review can, at times, be pouring through productivity numbers). Because I take an interest in the ongoing fate of the young investigators in my closest described fields, I pay attention.
    People with great track records of productivity go through sustained dry spells, and then recover. Junior people with so-so postdoc productivity can come roaring out (relatively) as junior investigators. People who look like the shitz from postdoc or first grant then disappear, relatively speaking. People who floundered for years in a very highly productive and high profile lab where there appeared to be no excuse---who went on to immediate papers and grants in a new and less toxic environment.
    Consequently, when it comes down to individual decision, we are met with the same problem of any other group descriptor. Unfortunately, when faced with two individuals, their group assignment tells you fuckall about their individual positions within the overlapping distribution. Most educated people understand this. Except scientist who are in love with the conceit that extant reality means that women can't do science and in love with using 1SD differences in group IQ to predict which of two individuals in front of them are "smarter".
    How in your terrifyingly random schizo-delusional world do you suggest selection committees judge candidates, if not on their past productivity?
    It is a fair, but very different question. To say we have no better predictors does not determine whether it is a good predictor or not. My point would be to get you to stop deifying this and repeating it as if it is the God's own truth. It is not. (Pending your own honest appraisal of your own subfield. I'm not in it so I can't say. The point is not to apply ready made excuses for your homies but to ask how it looks on paper for any given CV)
    I am not telling you to throw anything out. I am telling you to apply the appropriate level of confidence to you measure. Neither too much nor too little.
    Of course there is another part of the equation. It could be that the risk is low of getting someone with good background who subsequently craters and higher of missing a diamond in the rough. You might think, what with over supply and all we can risk this. Unless you are the rough diamond, of course...

  • Dave says:

    "It could be that the risk is low of getting someone with good background who subsequently craters and higher of missing a diamond in the rough. You might think, what with over supply and all we can risk this."
    I am not sure whether you are advocating this position or not, based on what you wrote. It may be unclear or I may be dense. Or both.
    Regardless, it is an interesting point.
    I was told by a dean, and this statement has been backed up by others, that hiring a tenure track faculty member in a typical basic biomedical department costs about a million dollars, given costs of the faculty search, start-up, renovation, etc. The number seems reasonable to me. Of course there is a wide range. I myself have been offered jobs with startups ranging from $250K to over a million (My current job was in the middle, but had other advantages). And the recent crash in grant funding rates, the economy, and soft-money departments has no doubt lessened it. But let's say, for the purposes of this back-of-the-envelope calculation, that it costs $1M to hire someone.
    If that person is a dud, never gets an R01, fails tenure, then you're out almost a million bucks (you still have a nicely renovated lab, I guess). No sensible department hires anyone they think is going to fail. A record of doing that, and the dean will have the department head's head on a platter.
    But if that person is a success, then what? This is harder to calculate. An extremely cool and humble guy in the dept where I did my postdoc just won the Nobel prize. The funding crisis and economic downturn has hit hard there, and though he is fine, he recently made some arguments to the administration on behalf of junior faculty and his department. Here's the mathematically important part: Dr. C-- explicitly made the argument that a Nobel laureate on faculty was worth $200M to the institution. So what he was asking for, he said, was cheap given the benefits of his recent award. So let's call 'success' worth $200M.
    So, the payoff is potentially 200-to-1. Sure, there is a lot of fudge in this number. There may be some really long-reaching consequences of having a Nobel laureate that Dr. C-- might not have calculated in, which might increase the payoff. But the scar of having a recent hire fail might also do reputation damage that would indirectly increase the cost of a failure. So maybe it all evens out. Whatever. Let's go with the 200-to-1.
    Do you really think 1 in every 200 applicants is a potential Nobel laureate? If so, then you get a hell of a lot better candidates than we do.
    I assume you don't, which means one has to decrease the odds of hiring a dud substantially. Which means relying on criteria. Which, according to DM, should have nothing to do with past productivity.
    I still think this is a ridiculous position to take, and you, DM, still haven't produced the graphs I assigned as homework in my last post. I try to be nurturing, young man, but at this rate you will fail this course!
    [Anyone remember that old professor guy in The paper Chase?]

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    ...but it works.

    And since we're discussing ways of changing the world, does anyone see a way around that?
    Recall your basic behavioral psychology:
    * Reward trumps punishment
    * Intermittent reward trumps consistent reward
    * If you want to extinguish a behavior, you have to run the probability of success really low -- punishment isn't enough.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I said nothing about assigning zero weight to past productivity. I suggest much less weight.
    Your point brings up the question about what it means to "fail" as a new assistant professor. Never get a major research grant funded? In my soft-money ville this has essentially never happened although we've had junior people go elsewhere (whereupon I've mostly lost track but I think there have been few out and out "failures"). This incorporates people that looked highly promising and highly risky at the start.
    Get denied tenure? Well that brings up some complications.
    Nobel speculation is asinine. let's make it more realistic.
    Suppose you are hiring CNS level postdocs..and they never get another CNS pub in their first seven years. Is that a fail? Suppose you are looking for a 7-10 IF publishing postdoc and turn up your nose at a society-level publishing postdoc. If the latter person goes on elsewhere to hit your target level did you make the right decision? If your 7-10 IF selection hovers at the society level with one 7-10 every 2-3 years is that a failure?
    What does it mean to be a "dud"?

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    What is it? Scintillating personality? Good looks?

    You may think you're joking, but as it happens there's an embarrassing amount of research that shows looks (for both men and women) play a larger role in candidate selection and promotion decisions than any of us want to admit.
    A lot of bias is, "I can identify with this person." Or maybe "this person looks like s/he would fit into my imaginary social circle populated by TV characters."

  • Becca says:

    The quick'n'dirty calculations are easy. At my institution, I think it usually takes an R01 plus another something to get tenure. Let's say an R01 + 1/2 (= taking in 3.75*10^5/year).
    Now, let's assume the average age of getting your first R01 is 42ish (I think this is the actual age NIH says). And let's assume the retirement age is 62ish to give a nice round 20 year figure for grant-getting career length (plus it's when you qualify for social security). I Googled, and random internet value for institutional overhead was at 14% (which I figure is a totally low-ball estimate given some of the numbers I've heard at BigDeal Universities) (source: science careers magazine "From Science Fair to Science Fare" By Michael. McClure February 14, 2003)
    This means that, as long as your candidate is good enough to get an R01 and a half (or the equivilent funding) they're a good investment. In other words, anyone who is successful enough to pass through tenure will pay off for the institution.
    Now, we could of course argue about investing that money in the stock market and the wonders of compound interest- but I'm not taking into account any income from patents, teaching ability adding to student tuition, other grants... and the Science article suggests that the 1*10^6 figure is probably overly high anyway.

  • daedalus2u says:

    There was a recent letter to Science that illustrated the difference between treating funding as a cost of doing research or as a benefit of doing research.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/322/5906/1324b
    The scientist at a for-profit company (i.e. the real world) is not rewarded based on how much money he/she spends but on how much he/she produces and how little he/she spends to do it.

  • Yagotta B. Kidding says:

    The scientist at a for-profit company (i.e. the real world) is not rewarded based on how much money he/she spends but on how much he/she produces and how little he/she spends to do it.

    Which is one reason that my employers have been so unimpressed by the Generous Offers from Nearby State University to fund their electrical engineering department. They truly do have an amazing program going there -- they burn through cubic dollars every year. This is a predictable result of their tenure algorithm: to the best grant-foragers goes the tenure.
    Results? Rather a different story.

  • Dave says:

    "This means that, as long as your candidate is good enough to get an R01 and a half (or the equivilent funding) they're a good investment. In other words, anyone who is successful enough to pass through tenure will pay off for the institution. "
    I know at least one dept head who expressed the calculation in a very similar fashion. And I too think it's reasonable, from a strictly pecuniary point of view. Except my guess for average overhead would be about 50%. Ours is 52%, and I know people who have told me their fancy-pantsy place's rate is 70%. And I think the typical R01 is closer to $250K (the cutoff for modular budgets). Regardless, I think it all evens out because my impression is that an R01 and a renewal or an R01 or major NSF grant and at least some extra private stuff is about what it takes to make sure the dean is happy at tenure time. Plus publications, of course. My guess is that one needs to aggregate about 20 impact factors or so on average for tenure in a decent research U. But obviously there is a lot of fudge in that number, as I have seen people slide by with a lot less at Yale, and get trashed with a lot more at dorky State U. Probably all has to do with grant money and sucking up to the dept head and dean. Sucking up to the dept head and dean and related popularity contests are, by the way, known as 'service'. Teaching doesn't count for hooey. Bring in the money and suck up and you'll get tenure, as long as you don't [mess up].
    But forgetting about pubs and service, the important thing is that becca's calculation (and any like it) assumes that past productivity (getting 1.5 R01s in the first 6-7 years) predicts future productivity (the ability to pay off with continued funding until retirement).
    Again, that common sense premise operates at the base of everything. I still don't see how DM gets around it, despite his claims to do so and still be effective.
    D.C. is also totally right in #37. Except the code-phrase is 'good fit', as in "I think s/he would be a good fit for our department/program/etc." And here is where women and minorities and etc get screwed simply for being different. Which, uh, is sort of the topic. Not to be dogmatic or anything. Or hijack the conversation.
    Can I say how much I love the fact that DM calls us screetchy monkeys? I do. And I am not just sucking up. Well, OK I am. But I mean it.

  • screechy says:

    I suspect the name has to do with Uncertain Chad's penchant for dismissing any point of view which fails to suck up a "screechy monkey".

  • Message to Dave (and other long-winded assholes you know who you are):
    Dude, you are missing a very important point here. No one gives a flying fuck whether you're earnest, joking, learning, growing, spurring discussion, or whathefuckever. The problem is that your long-winded masturbatory gibbering, which seems to always end with some kind of exhortation to people that they are doing whatever it is that they are doing wrong, is WASTING OTHER PEOPLE'S VALUABLE TIME. No one wants to show up at what should be an interesting discussion and have to wade through thousands of words of your inane pedantic fuckwittitude. Get your own motherfucking blog and knock yourself out. But stop acting like such a motherfucking asshole in other people's spaces.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Message to Dave (and other long-winded assholes you know who you are):

    Or not.

  • Dave says:

    CPP: Message boards are like sculptures. A collective work of art. There are two approaches to this art:
    #1) Additive. This is like in pre-school where you squished bits of clay together until you got something that looked like something. A lot of message boards work this way. In this style, each contribution must be a tidy little glorious addition with group approval, but the end result can be limited and unimaginative. Or the whole sculpture can veer unsteadily off into some weird direction. That dog you were building could become a spider if someone starts adding legs.
    #2) Subtractive. Most of the really great works of art are built this way.
    "The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed--it is a process of elimination." - Elbert Hubbard
    ""I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don't need." - Auguste Rodin
    For this style to work, someone -- the original blogger or some message board 'asshole' -- has to lay down an enormous chunk of ugly but provocative rock. And then be OK with it as most of that contribution is artfully chipped away by others.
    What I don't get, CPP, is how your vulgar hammer swinging helps do anything useful.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Here's a case where your employer forces you to be trained for a specific socially-accepted behavior. Your refusal can cost you your funding and possibly your employments.
    http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/55278/
    BTW, what a choice between long-winded comments and comments full of enlighting expressions such as motherf*****r!

  • nan says:

    Sol, the difference between Dave and CPP is that CPP will post career advice as well as comment on things like finding a mentor, applying for NIH funding, and teaching med students... Also, it *is* CPP's blog, so it is not entirely out of the question that he can filter asinine comments (which I believe he has done in the past!). This would be one of the times he has let the commenter (Dave, in particular) air what they want to say. That turned out really well...

  • S. Rivlin says:

    nan,
    I appreciate the revelation. I had been one of those whose comments were removed by CPP, not because they were asinine, but because he claimed there were off topic. Nevertheless, you made it sound as if Dave needs to thank CPP for letting him post his opinions on this blog. It is my opinion that a blog without commenters is not a blog, it is just an ed-op article. You can still find those type articles in the disappearing newspapers around the country.
    On the day that CPP will begin filtering out comments and commenters his blog will fade away, no matter how good the advice found on his blog.
    BTW, the particular post we are commenting on here has been posted by DrugMonkey, not by CPP. It will be even more egregious if CPP decides to remove comments to this post. Censoreship never helped free exchange of ideas.

  • AreFromSW says:

    DM, I wonder how many were male minorities at your meeting? This topic also needs to be addressed in the underrepresented groups cat and jacked up! The "wherz the minoritiez?" rally needs more voices. Not just the fun/flirty ones - sigh.
    NSF has the Minority Postdoc program, but do they have any opportunities like ADVANCE at the fac levels (I mean programs, not "broader impacts"?) or any programs to help male minorities make the transition from postdoc-to-fac and in fac retention? I'm not up on NIH stuff. The DrDrA patterns I think had minority men and women faring the worst with fed cash?

  • if there is a blog in a forest and no one comments, is it still a blog? says:

    no comment

  • S. Rivlin says:

    If there is an idiot in the White House, is it still an idiot?

  • yes says:

    Hey Sol, we are night owls! Or, maybe you are in Australia..?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    About half way from there.

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