Shovel Ready: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Feb 24 2009 Published by under NIH Budgets and Economics

Alex Palazzo of The Daily Transcript beat me to this one but the NYT has an article up on the NIH and the stimulus package.
One key bit Alex highlighted is from NIH Acting Director Raynard Kington:

The acting director of the National Institutes of Health begged university administrators on Wednesday to avoid even applying for stimulus money unless the universities planned to hire people almost immediately.
"It would be the height of embarrassment," the official, Dr. Raynard S. Kington, said, "if we give these grants and find out that institutions are not spending them to hire people and make purchases and advance the science the way they're designed to do."
Not a problem, the administrators said, in interviews.

This sounds kinda familiar, doesn't it?

Hellooooo? Ivory tower knucklehead peers?? KNOCK, KNOCK!!!!!
This is not about what is best for science or the scientific enterprise. This is about stimulating the economy. And nobody has an evidence-backed clue about how to do that.
Is it really that hard to stick to two things people (meaning CongressCritters) can grasp?
Putting people back to work and buying stuff.
I think we should be hammering the college-grad employment stats because after all this is just about the only "new jobs" we can create with NIH dollars- technician positions. Trouble is that I wonder if this select group of potential employees is going to make much of an argument.
Second, we should be hammering the purchase stats...are laboratory big-ticket and consumable items disproportionately obtained from US companies?

Did I mention I love being right? I'm so right. HA! Palazzo, Abel Pharmboy and commenters to PhysioProf's post are wringing their hands about long term structural problems in the NIH-funded biomedical research enterprise.
Give. It. Up. As. A. Bad. Job. People.
The problems are real. But this is not the fix. It isn't. Do not go seeking to argue with POs over how the money should really be spent. Instead, give them what they want. New jobs and new purchases.
Okay, moving along we come to this gem:


Even politics -- long taboo in agency financing decisions -- could play a role.
"We will be sensitive to geographic distribution," said Dr. Kington, who emphasized that the money was intended to stimulate "the nation's" economy.

What a baldfaced LIE! You have to be kidding me. CSR has explicit geographic diversity rules for study section membership to keep the coastal elite research institutions from dominating. NIH has all kinds of special programs for states with minimal NIH funding. You report your Congressional district on the application and I know of at least one prior CongressCritter who's office used to send out congratulatory letters for each new grant award.
"long taboo" like fun.

21 responses so far

  • pinus says:

    So basically, write to your PO and say
    "Can I get some extra money, I need to buy this equipment (MADE IN THE USA BY THE WAY) and hire this person for two years to work on this project"
    Problem solved!

  • Alex Palazzo says:

    The problems are real. But this is not the fix. It isn't. Do not go seeking to argue with POs over how the money should really be spent. Instead, give them what they want. New jobs and new purchases.

    It may not be the fix, but hiring a huge surplus of biomed workers (i.e. gradstudents and postdocs) with no plans for their long term prospects is just irresponsible.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What job sector do you imagine is going to respond to this stimulus by focusing on "long term prospects"?
    Why should science be any different?
    Going back to PP's excellent post that started all the CareBears nonsense, do you envision this other highly pyramidal industries changing? Are they similarly irresponsible?

  • I think the idea of the stimulus is that it is better to have people hired in positions that may be dead-end than to have them panhandling in the streets. Keynesian stimulus--as I understand it--requires that you discard traditional notions of economic common sense in order to avert a severe crisis. The thinking is that if we don't throw caution in relation to the future to the winds, there isn't going to *be* a future in which any such caution could possibly be relevant to.
    To put it in terms of the scientists that would be hired with the NIH portion of the stimulus funds: Better to take a shot at reinvigorating the economy by hiring grad students and post-docs now without planning for their scientific job options in two years than for them to end up foraging for nettles in urban parks.
    I'm not saying whether I agree or disagree with this reasoning, but I think you are failing to understand what is being purported to be at stake.

  • DNLee says:

    The Diversity in Science Carnival is up. Thanks for the support

  • Dave says:

    You may laugh, Pinus, but I already did basically that. And yes, I did use the phrase 'American-made reagents'. I'll tell you in a month or two whether I got the money. Suffice to say there was interest.
    But seriously, DM, quit yer silly gloating. You didn't win any argument, because there was no argument. We all knew NIH would spend the money in some bizarre politically-motivated fashion. We're talking a government agency, after all. Your 'brilliant insight' was a given. Commenters were just speculating that it didn't necessarily have to be so, and discussing what our imaginary more perfect worlds might look like.
    With that bigger-picture mentality in mind, despite my eagerly tummying up to the trough, I did NOT write my congresspeople asking for NIH funding in the stimulus bill, and as a taxpayer am a bit dismayed at what happened (and I'm even a democrat!) To the contrary, I've sent several letters over the past few years suggesting that NIH reorganize and redistribute funds before more money is thrown at it. Don't worry if you disagree, because I don't think it's made any differece. I usually just get a generic 'Thank you for your concern regarding the perilous state of biomedical research funding blah blah blah' form letter piece of crap suggesting they don't even read the fricking things, but rather just file them is garbage cans that each have a certain 'constituent issue' label. No surprise there, of course, since I didn't include a campaign donation check.

  • Another biomedical researcher says:

    Or, to put it differently: there is a crisis out there for recent Ph.D. and recent B.A. students. The funding situation is making it difficult for even good finishing doctoral students (particularly of the foreign variety) to even get a postdoc - and in this climate the hiring situation is pretty globally dismal. With the funding they will at least be able to find postdocs more easily. And hopefully in 2 years the funding situation in industry (hurt very substantially by the credit crisis, particularly for new (and would-be new) companies) will be sufficiently better in industry that they will be able to get the type of job they want.
    The suggestion that we hire recent BA students as techs is particularly smart, and of long-term value for science in this country. Industry (notably a major export industry, the kind of thing that drives the economy) desperately needs more highly trained BS and MS level students. We in academia in general do a poor job training BS students to be immediately productive in industry (rarely do students have the level of lab skills needed), and we treat MS students as failed PhD students (when there are a lot of students who probably would rather focus on the MS and rapidly be able to contribute after MS thesis work). If the stimulus money ends up resulting in a new, highly trained cadre of enthusiastic, early-to-mid twentysomething scientists, that would be a real boom for the economy in the long term. If it ends up in bringing some displaced people from industry into academia for the short term, that's good too, when the other option is having talented people leave science because of a temporary downturn.

  • juniorprof says:

    I think the idea of the stimulus is that it is better to have people hired in positions that may be dead-end than to have them panhandling in the streets. Keynesian stimulus--as I understand it--requires that you discard traditional notions of economic common sense in order to avert a severe crisis. The thinking is that if we don't throw caution in relation to the future to the winds, there isn't going to *be* a future in which any such caution could possibly be relevant to.
    To put it in terms of the scientists that would be hired with the NIH portion of the stimulus funds: Better to take a shot at reinvigorating the economy by hiring grad students and post-docs now without planning for their scientific job options in two years than for them to end up foraging for nettles in urban parks.
    This is also my understanding. It can be done responsibly too. One must look to utilize such funds in such a way that they can be parlayed into future economic opportunities. One way we can do that is to look towards business opportunities for discoveries we make. File patents, work with your OTT office and see what you can do. There is no rule stating that business cannot work toward the public good. Now is a good chance to make that happen.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    juniorprof, you remind me of something! This should be like a full-funding package for all non-triaged SBIR and STTR apps, right?

  • juniorprof says:

    Yeah, just wish I had one cycling through review. It should also be a full funding package for all re-entry to science and minority supplements under review right now. Got one of those out there, hoping to make a job!

  • pinus says:

    Dave,
    I was being dead serious. That is exactly what I am going to say to my PO. let you know what happens. I don't have an R01, so it might fail. But, it never hurts to ask.

  • neurolover says:

    I think the some keynsian said something on the order of having people dig holes and fill them up again is necessary to avert economic crisis at times. Of course, we'd rather they built something useful, but even building something useless might help. The real problem, though, is people dig holes and leave them there for us to fall into -- that is, do something actively bad with the money.
    Examples could include the acquisition of big ticket equipment for people who don't know how to use them, that then suck time and energy out of other projects as people try to learn to use them or investing in retrograde energy technology that interferes with the development of something better. Holes that don't get filled in.

  • juniorprof says:

    Way to find an empty glass neurolover! Is academic science so full of idiots that we cannot even trust ourselves to do something good with 10billion extra dollars for 2 years?

  • Dave says:

    Pinus,
    I was being dead serious too. I really DID say that to my PO, and the response really was somewhat promising.
    For those out there not understanding why Pinus and I are thinking this way: It's no different than begging for any other grant money. You consider your audience -- what their resources, interests, and powers are -- and you make your pitch. In this case, there is a whole lotta newly flush POs looking to spread some joy. If you already have a relationship with them (as DM and CPP have urged you to have many times in the past -- insert links here, DM), then you will have already laid the groundwork for your communication and the rationale for your support. If you've been blowing off your PO as some numbnuts beaurocrat, then you're SOL and deserve to be.
    Part of being a scientist is whoring yourself out to those with money. Get used to it. Embrace it. It's a victimless crime.

  • neurlover says:

    "Way to find an empty glass neurolover! Is academic science so full of idiots that we cannot even trust ourselves to do something good with 10billion extra dollars for 2 years?"
    Am I in an half empty glass mood? I'm pretty hopeful that people aren't going to dig useless holes. I'm less hopeful that 10B spent over 2 years, with all the subsequent constraints, will result in meaningful advances in science. Do I think the money should have gone elsewhere? I'm not sure. I think the nature of a stimulus plan means that we were going to make some fairly arbitrary decisions about where we were going to spend the money, and I think science is a pretty OK place to do it (but then, I also love the WPA park benches & songs; I'd have funded those, too).

  • Speaking of songs, the NEA and NEH got shafted big time on the stimulus package, cause you know, artists and humanists are, like, totally worthless. Speaking of which, I saw some thing in Google News where some right-wing fucking piece of shit Republican motherfucker down in the fucking Confederacy was braying about how now that their state economy is so tight, all the humanities faculty in the state university system who study anything other than the Western, white, male canon should be shitcanned.

  • neuroprof says:

    "Is academic science so full of idiots that we cannot even trust ourselves to do something good with 10billion extra dollars for 2 years?"
    Yes, during the Clinton years you guys brought over half of China and now you've got a massive glut of postdocs sitting here waiting for what exactly? I know several postdocs here pushing 8+ years, and they publish regularly and reside at a university that is supposedly near the top in terms of NIH money received annually. With your armies of postdocs, can you honestly say American science productivity has increased since the salary doubling? We're saddling our children with this massive debt and wasting the money we've stolen from them. Nice.

  • Dave says:

    Neuroprof,
    I am not a fan of the recent NIH bolus or the imprudent handling of the late '90s NIH budget doubling, but I've not got my head in a hole either. There has clearly been an explosion in biomedical science productivity lately.
    As evidence, consider that some major journals have gone weekly, there is a plethora of new journals, and submission rates to all journal continue to climb. It is clear that researchers are producing more papers.
    Whether those extra papers are useful additions to the canon of knowledge or will actually lead to cures for anything can be debated all day. But clearly the biomedical budget increase is associated with an increase in 'productivity'.

  • Whether those extra papers are useful additions to the canon of knowledge or will actually lead to cures for anything can be debated all day.

    The answer to that won't be known until those of us who are currently active researchers have turned into grumpy delusional bitter old creepy assholes like Fucklington, waving our canes around in the air and shouting "Get offa my lawn!"

  • Dave says:

    ...have turned into grumpy delusional bitter old creepy assholes...

    I have been working hard toward that career goal. I just need to make full professor first (next big grant should clinch it). But already I am trying to be obstructionist, petty, and unreasonably deferential to historical quirks of fate on all the committees I am on. In teaching, I've have started to cultivate the attitude that all the core principles are already known and therefore my overhead projector acetates from 1963 will be fine. Assuming I can find them all. If not, I'll just tell second-hand anecdotes about obscure 'classic' experiments. Actually, now that I think about it, I should probably expand my weeklong series of lectures on Donnan equilibrium. Explaining that always seems to take a while. And kids these days never seem to appreciate that stuff.

  • ponderingfool says:

    Considering NIGMS makes across the board cuts on grants in order to fund a larger number of grants, maybe that institute should pay the equipment costs in funded grants. The R01 of the lab I am was renewed its priority score was absurdly high. Reviewers thought the budget was great. We are still getting a cut. The cut is basically in line with the year 1 equipment "budget" plus 20%. Now to make up the difference we will be writing new grants which take time, energy, etc on our part and on NIH's part. It would be easier to just go back and look at the cut, look at the "equipment budget" and pay the less of the two in year one and year two. This money would be used to buy equipment, paying for shipping, etc. that is stimulating the economy. It could be mobilized more quickly as well than applying/paying new grants.

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