Finally, a half-decent assessment of the New Investigator situation in NIHland

Oct 28 2009 Published by under Careerism, Grant Review, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

I thought one of the Twitts that I follow was intentionally baiting me by linking a recent editorial in Nature Neuroscience. Turns out I am very pleasantly surprised by the degree of balance. For background, this editorial takes up the hoopla over the practice of the NIH in using out-of-initial-priority-score exceptions (aka "pickups") to fund investigators who have never held a major NIH research grant before. I had observations here and here. To summarize, I am usually disappointed with the lack of understanding of the NIH grant business displayed by media accounts of this particular nuance of the funding picture.
Nature Neuroscience appears to grasp nuance, bravo.

grant writing is a skill that generally improves with experience. However, other factors also figure into grant peer review scores and all of them favor established investigators. In deciding how likely the proposal is to successfully yield data, reviewers are liable to consider the prior track record of the investigator, preliminary data, which is much more difficult to obtain when starting a new lab, and personal connections, which established investigators have had more time to build.

Nice. Some recognition that there miiiiiggghhht just be some things about New Investigators' treatment that are not necessarily pertinent to grant quality...

The new, shorter application could theoretically even the playing field, as all investigators now have to adapt to the new format, but with less information included to form a judgment, information outside of the proposal, such as an investigator's previous track record, is likely to exert a stronger influence.

Heck yeah it is. This is a consistent refrain of both PP and YHN ever since this was first raised.

For more established investigators, an extra round of review may be painful, but for a new investigator on the verge of running out of start-up funds, it could mean shutting down projects, firing personnel or, ultimately, the loss of one's job.

Exactly. New Investigators are less error tolerant across the board of all aspects of grant review and funding because they have nothing else on which to rely. The more senior crowd can whinge all they want about downsizing their labs and loss of momentum and all that. There is a big difference between losing 1 of 3 techs or 2 of 4 postdocs and losing (or never having obtained) 1 of 1 of either.

Although the system may be biased against young investigators, the bigger question is whether it is truly necessary to remedy this inequality. Historically, funding has always been more difficult for young investigators to acquire and it could be argued that there is no special need to intervene now.

Here I think they go off the rails a bit, even though they recover a bit in the following comments. Still, they seem to miss the central point that bias against New Investigators has always been viewed as a problem, not an intentional feature. Many NIH initiatives (e.g., the R29 FIRST award, the New Investigator checkbox and related reviewer instructions) have been launched to fix the problem.

Formalizing the NIH's discretion to fund R01s from young investigators has been criticized on the grounds that it circumvents the current peer review system, subverting the NIH mission to fund 'the best science'. Seen superficially, it can appear unfair; for every grant awarded to an early-stage investigator below the payline, another grant with a better score remains unfunded. However, these assertions rest on the assumption that the scores accurately reflect the quality of all proposals. This seems an unrealistic notion, given the known limitations of the current system.[emphasis added]

This is what has me so enamored of the editorial. I so rarely see this pointed out by any officialdom of the NIH or in any popular media coverage of the issue. I tend to suspect that the NIH is vested in not admitting this central fact, i.e., that the initial priority score is not a perfect reflection of unbiased, objective quality of the proposal.
It is not. As I say repeatedly, whenever you have actual people making decisions about things, you have bias. Pretending that people are not biased evaluators is just plain stupid. (Plus, it reflects a willing ignorance of a wealth of psychological studies and that is just annoying.)
The only real solution to personal bias in judgment is to put mechanisms in place which tend to even out or counter biases as far as they can be identified.

51 responses so far

  • The only real solution to personal bias in judgment is to put mechanisms in place which tend to even out or counter biases as far as they can be identified.

    Do you have any ideas as to the kinds of mechanisms that might be utilized?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Yes, PiT, I do. A second or third or even fourth layer of review that checks on specific types of bias. Say that against newer and untried investigators, for less popular areas of scientific interest, for so called translational work, clinical work...oh, right, that's called Program.
    We might also use the tried and true method of competing biases. This is why CSR study sections have to reflect gender, geographic and ethnic diversity. Oh, wait...something is missing here..what o what could it be...?
    (I'm on record saying we need not just newbie assistant professors but perhaps even senior postdoc types participating on review panels in greater numbers. and by "greater numbers" I mean counted on a per-review basis, not just bodies present. )

  • Post-docs!?!?!?!?
    Those fuckers should be at the fucking bench cranking out motherfucking data, not on junkets to fancy-ass hotels in DC.
    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!

  • Ally Buff says:

    "This makes some sense: grant writing is a skill that generally improves with experience. However, other factors also figure into grant peer review scores and all of them favor established investigators."
    Drugmonkey,
    How about among “other factors….favor established investigators”, this other factor: the more grants an established investigator has, the more successful he might be in pursuing the same but re-worded questions on an additionally submitted grant ???. Study Sections/CSR and ICs need to be careful in assessing it. Young investigators are being affected also by this imbalanced "competition".
    Nothing against individual’s capabilities to pursue ideas from different fronts of scientific inquiry. That’s American creativity, which is good. However, there are also the concepts of realistic approach to science, time effort, real training of future scientists and so on.
    Failure or disregard for balancing those realities might partly explain the hilarious comment by Comrade Physio Prof

  • JAT says:

    Yes, I agree that we need to foster the success of young investigators. However, there should be a balance in how this is done. All established investigators were young investigators once. They all had to struggle to compete. Yes, there were definitively better times when these old folks struggled much easier than now. But there were also really bad times (remember, in the late 80's and early 90's) when the funding level dipped below 10% for a few years. No tremendous effort was made then (other than the lone R29) to help out the young investigators then as compared to nowadays. Sour grapes? Not really, just reality. People seem to forget that young investigators have a tremendous wealth of funding opportunities these days too from many non-gov agencies that none of the so called established investigator can tap into.
    Let me make clear...I am not at all against making things more evenly competitive for young investigators or for everyone for that matter, and providing more opportunities for them to succeed due to their in experience. But from the various blogs I have come across, I hardly see mentioning of the welfare of the so called established investigators (not defined as cream of the crop ones) in most discussions. The bulk of the so called established investigators are kind of in the middle of somewhere, making significant contribution to science but also struggling to keep afloat. Should we just change the system to tailor for the cream of the crop and young investigators, and get rid of all the ones in the middle? Bias? It does go both ways.
    Changes to improve application format and review are in general a good thing if they are done right. The way it is now, too many changes at one time...never a good thing. Scientists are tough, and eventually can adapt. But the price to pay seems to outweigh the good intention, at least for now and for EVERY level of the scientists.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    (remember, in the late 80's and early 90's) when the funding level dipped below 10% for a few years. No tremendous effort was made then (other than the lone R29) to help out the young investigators then

    The NIH success rate data (see this post) don't seem to bear out your assertion. I have heard senior types refer to study section rounds in the early 80s downturn that resulted in no grants getting funded. I cannot reconcile memories such as yours and the ones I heard with the NIH-sourced data.
    ??

  • JAT says:

    I guess my comment on the below 10% success rate depends on a particular institute during that era. For example, NEI and NIDCR consistently funded around 35% whereas NIGMS and NCI funded around 8%. Some institutes funded even less such as NICHD, a notoriously tough institute at any given era. NIH data is an average of performance from all institutes. Of course, as an average, time is undoubtedly tough and unpleasant these days for everyone.

  • A Reader says:

    This editorial and your continued stance on this issue is bullshit, DM. I am tired of young investigator whining and I think it's scandalous that peer review is being routinely and systematically ignored by NIH staff in order to give handouts to less highly-ranked proposals. Grants are not welfare. GRANTS ARE NOT WELFARE.
    Grants should go to the best ranked proposals. Period.
    Yes, I know this is where you start whining about systematic biases against young investigators. Who is to say those biases are bad?
    Young investigators are worse at writing proposals, and this works against them. Why shouldn't it? A poorly thought-out plan is a poorly thought-out plan. Unclear thinking is unclear thinking. An inability to express the importance of a study might just correlate with lack of importance. If young investigators should get special consideration because of presumed lack of grant-writing ability, then scientists who learned English as a second language should get even more special consideration. And scientists who don't have secretaries or time to sit around doing nothing but writing grants should get special consideration. Where does the handicapping end?
    Young investigators have less of a track record, and this counts against them? Why shouldn't it? Do you want your tax dollars gambled away or put on something that looks more like a sure thing? If you were bidding out a contract in any other business, a record of success would be an important consideration. Why shouldn't it be in science?
    Young investigators have fewer connections and this counts against them? Why shouldn't it? When someone's research runs into a snag, or a hard-to-find reagent is required, who is more likely to get help and/or materials? Connections = better chance of research success. And we want our tax money to go toward research success, right?
    You argue, DM, that loss of funding is somehow less devastating for senior researchers compared to young researchers. Where did you come up with that stupid idea? Shutting down a lab is shutting down a lab. From the taxpayer perspective, it's worse to shut down a senior investigator lab because this squanders expertise and equipment that could otherwise be used. Shutting down a young investigators lab only squanders a young career.
    ...and that's the rub, isn't it? A young investigator who fails to get funding can lose his/her job. Boo hoo. That sounds so sad.
    Unfortunately, fewer investigators is the only thing that's going to get us out of the problem. Biomedical science funding agencies cannot grow their budgets to keep up with the overproduction of researchers and crass skimming of indirect monies that has become endemic to the system. People have to lose their jobs. To think otherwise buys into the MYTH that biomedical science will collapse without an influx of new investigators. Which is totally untrue. Obviously. If the pipeline were empty, it wouldn't be so tough to get jobs or funding.

  • JohnV says:

    I think I've had the above commenter as a reviewer 🙁

  • Ally Buff says:

    Reader,
    There is also some BS in your posting.
    No one is happy when an established investigator, doing excellent research, has his lab shut down. That’s bad for science, and very sad when that happens, and it is happening.
    No one is talking about Grant Welfare for young investigators. Perhaps, what many people are talking is about the consequences of “scientific greed” without sufficient scientific merit to be considered “BEST RANKED PROPOSALS”. Except that they get qualified “Best ranked” for the very reasons you describe in your post. All that is affecting young investigators, as well as established investigators whose labs were or might be shutdown.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I am tired of young investigator whining and I think it's scandalous that peer review is being routinely and systematically ignored by NIH staff in order to give handouts to less highly-ranked proposals.
    Scandalous or not, this is the explicit design of the system. Multiple levels of review from initial peer review, to the line POs to the IC Advisory (Well-Established Peer, btw) Councils then to the IC Director. Every level is permitted and even expected to put their imprint on the process.
    Grants are not welfare...Grants should go to the best ranked proposals. Period.
    No, they are not welfare but if you look at the R56 Bridges, the summary statements for certain funded grants (as part of the review of the next competing continuation, say) you will see that there is a very long tradition of Program using their decision making to save the bacon of "their" well-established investigators who did not compete successfully. Are you as exercised about this more-or-less covert welfare that has been going on for a very long time?
    Young investigators are worse at writing proposals, and this works against them. Why shouldn't it? A poorly thought-out plan is a poorly thought-out plan. Unclear thinking is unclear thinking.
    Agree on unclear thinking, disagree VERY strongly on the first assertion. I have been on something in the neighborhood of 10 study sections in the present era. I have seen unbelievably well-written proposals from newbie investigators draw much self-described enthusiasm and clearly off-the-line scores. Simultaneously I've see absolute crap proposals from well established people get excoriated for being crap but end up with fundable scores "because we know Prof Bleuhaire / Dr. Greyebearde will do great stuff". I am not defending the newbie who writes a crap proposal, I am defending the fantastic proposal that gets crap priority scores for no discernible reason other than newbieness.
    Young investigators have less of a track record, and this counts against them? Why shouldn't it? Do you want your tax dollars gambled away or put on something that looks more like a sure thing?
    I have yet to see any evidence for this highly common attack. This idea that somehow the n00b is riskier. What does this mean? The modern n00b is 35 at the least, has one or two postdocs and plenty of pubs by the time they get an asst prof-ship. They are the super-motivated ones who manage to land jobs and are about to launch (at last, great god almighty independent at LAST!) an independent career. The idea that this person is somehow a bigger risk to diddling away the $$ in comparison to R01 #3 for the big cheeze with 5% effort on a whole bunch of additional collaborations is idiotic on face. I want to see some evidence on this "risk" of which you speak.
    in any other business
    Since you bring this up, ROI and stuff, what is a better investment- a person with a 30 yr career ahead of them or someone at age 65 who could drop dead or retire at any moment?
    Young investigators have fewer connections and this counts against them? Why shouldn't it?
    I think the point in the NN editorial as the inherent cronyism of personal connections on the study sections leading to better scores than are warranted...
    Where did you come up with that stupid idea? Shutting down a lab is shutting down a lab.
    My point is that the senior person is much less likely to have to actually "shut down the lab" or to be looking for other employment for a given grant review. If they get screwed by the system in some way, they can absorb the hit. They have other grants. They have a greater chance of being hard money.
    From the taxpayer perspective, it's worse to shut down a senior investigator lab because this squanders expertise and equipment that could otherwise be used.
    Or maybe it cleans out semi-dying wood that keeps plunking away at the same old incremental advances at the expense of new and exciting ideas. At 2-3X the salary cost for the PI, I'll note. The expertise of the lab is not only with the emeritizing dood but also with the younger scientists in the lab....let them go off and start a new off-shoot with a 30 yr future ahead of them says this taxpayer.
    A young investigator who fails to get funding can lose his/her job. Boo hoo. That sounds so sad.
    A senior investigator who had her day in the sun has to retire on the normal 65yr old schedule or, gasp, even earlier. And go off and play with their grandkiddies or watch birds or something. Boo hoo. (Actually that sounds not the least bit sad.)
    People have to lose their jobs.
    Fine. So explain to me why anyone has more moral right to their job as an academic scientist than anyone else. For most alleged merits you can point to, we can drill down and identify the unearned privileges of that individual that made the difference for them over the next scientist. I have found the number of individuals who are head and shoulders smarter and better are pretty few and far between, myself.
    that biomedical science will collapse without an influx of new investigators. Which is totally untrue. Obviously.
    The "collapse is coming aieeee!" hyperbole is necessary for public and congressional attention. Those of us not in that arena can safely ignore that and talk about optimizing the system for the longer term. I think that the risk of the impacted pipeline is that the smartest and best will preferentially bail, leaving us with those (of us!) too stupid to get out to eventually land the jobs. More seriously, it also raises unintended consequences with regard to socioeconomic background of those who see trying for a career as worth the risk.

  • Evil Monkey says:

    A Reader clearly doesn't get it. Under the current system (s)he and all his buddies can retire whenver they want from their good-ol' boy network, but the very act of maintaining the status quo helps ensure that there's little to no talent coming along for generations after them. Except for those postdocs trained in good-ol' boy labs who excel more at sucking up and writing pretty proposals than at actually doing science itself.

  • PalMD says:

    AReader:

    Get offa my lawn!!!!

    FTFY, alterkaker.
    Srsly, I'm not a researcher, and I don't have to depend on this system, but since you obviously do, your blatantly self-serving rant against those who don't piss in a leg bad is rather unseemly.

  • Anonymous says:

    Or to put it another way: Why does Old Money hate the Nouveau Riche so much? Because the latter earned it.

  • A Reader says:

    Re: DM in #11 --
    These sort of back and forth discussions don't work too well in blog comments, but I'll bite...
    Scandalous or not, this is the explicit design of the system.
    No. You mislead. In general, and until recently, the single most important determinant for funding has been the peer review ranking. If you knew the cutoff, you basically knew whether you were funded or not. Now, it is increasingly difficult to predict funding based on peer-review, because the funding cutoffs change depending on whether one is a member of one or more 'favored groups'. Remember that every successful 20th percentile young investigator is funded at the expense of a better-ranked senior investigator proposal. In other areas of government, the application of arbitrary considerations for awarding grants and/or contracts is considered an ethical violation. It should also be at NIH.
    Are you as exercised about this more-or-less covert welfare that has been going on for a very long time?
    Yes.
    Agree on unclear thinking, disagree VERY strongly on the first assertion. [...that young investigators are worse at writing proposals]
    The assertion was made in the NN editorial, and quoted by you: "grant writing is a skill that generally improves with experience." To which you responded (to the entire paragraph): "Nice." I assumed you agreed with that assertion. If you don't, then we have no quarrel on that point.
    This idea that somehow the n00b is riskier.
    Your argument against this baffles me. Let's say you need a plumber. Two come to the house. One looks at the problem, says "I've been in business 25 years and have successfully handled this sort of problem several times. I can fix it". The other guy says "I have never done this, but I think I have the training and I am really eager to give it a shot!" Who ya gonna hire? Seriously.
    Typically, the new young plumber is smart enough to realize that he is the gamble and will work cheaper until he builds a reputation -- the equivalent of a biomedical scientist asking for an R29 or something. But you don't think that's appropriate. Too bad.
    what is a better investment- a person with a 30 yr career ahead of them or someone at age 65 who could drop dead or retire at any moment?
    Reductio ad absurdum -- but I'll bite: The 30 year old may not get tenure, could discover they really don't like being a PI, or be hit by a bus. Betting on older investigators might not be such a bad idea anyway: http://www.nber.org/digest/dec05/w11359.html
    I think the point in the NN editorial as the inherent cronyism of personal connections on the study sections leading to better scores than are warranted..
    Being a valued member of the scientific community is not an explicit review criterion. But study sections make it one. Is that so bad?
    My point is that the senior person is much less likely to have to actually "shut down the lab" or to be looking for other employment for a given grant review. If they get screwed by the system in some way, they can absorb the hit. They have other grants. They have a greater chance of being hard money.
    Your assumptions are flawed. As pointed out above by JAT, young investigators have many more possible sources of funding than senior investigators. Why do you think senior investigators necessarily have more grants? The only reason senior investigators have a greater chance of being on hard money is because soft money positions were relatively rare until recently, and a lot of young investigators in a glutted job market foolishly took soft money positions. Don't blame senior investigators because young investigators took stupid jobs. Like I said -- grants should not be welfare.
    Or maybe it cleans out semi-dying wood that keeps plunking away at the same old incremental advances at the expense of new and exciting ideas.
    This is a completely bogus argument for supporting young investigators. Significance and Innovation have long been explicit NIH review criteria. *Everyone* has to have new and exciting ideas.
    A senior investigator who had her day in the sun has to retire on the normal 65yr old schedule or, gasp, even earlier.
    Well, no. If the senior investigator has tenure, he/she can dodder around the halls until death telling people about how they used to pay an energetic young boy to fetch cow stomachs from the butcher for a quarter-penny apiece, and then separate the proteins with a cart wheel and hand crank. But that doesn't cost NIH anything. In fact, many of these old pieces of 'dead wood' are the ones doing the teaching so the hot young bucks can spend their time in the lab. How many new young NIH investigators do you see prepping gross anatomy or histology labs? Or serving as vice dean for annoying and endless student complaints? Someone's gotta do that stuff. These young'uns might want to think a bit about what they'd have to do to earn their paycheck before they cry too hard for mandatory early retirement.
    So explain to me why anyone has more moral right to their job as an academic scientist than anyone else.
    Exactly. So why are we letting NIH hand out unearned awards and facilitating a continuing glut of soft-money positions? Youth and inexperience should not be a scientific merit. Yet you applaud the recent trend toward making it one.
    The "collapse is coming aieeee!" hyperbole is necessary for public and congressional attention.
    Oh, fuck that. The public and congress are not so stupid. You insult them. Congress doubled the NIH budget (at public expense) less than a decade ago. Their reward? Complaints about how biomedical science now has a funding crisis. The kid begged for the candy, got the candy, and is now whining about a stomach ache. We don't deserve sympathy. And we sure as hell don't deserve more candy.

  • A Reader says:

    Oh -- and for the record: I am an early-forties recently tenured researcher in an academic department in a respected R1 institution on 75% hard money. A decent gig, I'll admit. But I sure as hell didn't get where I am by shitting on people I could learn from and asking for special treatment.

  • A Reader says:

    Oh -- and for the record: I am an early-forties recently tenured researcher in an academic department in a respected R1 institution on 75% hard money. A decent gig, I'll admit. But I sure as hell didn't get where I am by shitting on people I could learn from and asking for special treatment.

  • JAT says:

    Although I don't completely agree with A Reader's comments, there is much truth to some of what was said. Nowadays, it has almost become a tug of war between young and established/senior investigator status, one being a victim and the other being a villain . I will venture to say that many of the young investigators will change their tones rather quickly on how fair or not fair the system is once they themselves make it out alive. I see it first hands in study sections how "unsympathetic" the young investigators can be. Not trying to stereotype, there are guilty parties at all levels in this madly competitive profession.

  • Dear "A Reader":
    You and your fellow washed-up old-fuck dead-wood cockwads have been clogging up the arteries of the biomedical research enterprise for far too long with your bloated salaries, patently ridiculous senses of self importance, and--most importantly--boring-ass same-old-same-old science. The entire system will be better off when finally shut the fuck up, dodder off, and retire or die.
    Fuck you very much.
    Love,
    Comrade PhysioProf

  • JAT says:

    Clarification: My response was made towards the earlier comments made by A Reader (#8). I quite enjoyed reading the more recent comments from A Reader.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    In general, and until recently, the single most important determinant for funding has been the peer review ranking.
    and it still is...
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/325/5948/1607/F1
    8-9% pickups now 18.5% pickups...but it has sure looked to me like the ICs were tightening the published payline against the internally predicted (I suspect many ICs of having a better idea of eventual payline than it would seem. It would be easy to adjust conservativeness based on fears of uncertainty in the budgeting process) payline. nevertheless, priority order is still quite obviously the major factor.
    If you knew the cutoff, you basically knew whether you were funded or not.
    This is still true. Are you saying that before if you were in the gray zone and you were all buddy buddy with program you knew you would get funded anyway above the payline...and now the chances are less certain? I can't get too worked up about that. It was always the case that some population was uncertain about the gray zone.
    If you are suggesting there are more "skips" (not funding *within* the payline) we haven't see the evidence for that. NIGMS dude pointed us to their data in a prior post but I think that is the only IC that does that. The skips were not numerous in two most recent FYs.
    Remember that every successful 20th percentile young investigator is funded at the expense of a better-ranked senior investigator proposal. In other areas of government, the application of arbitrary considerations for awarding grants and/or contracts is considered an ethical violation. It should also be at NIH.
    Right. And all programmatic considerations that disagree with the primary review are "arbitrary"? or is it just this one you disagree with. Is the CSR mandate for gender, geographic, ethnic and institution-type diversity on panels (also a Program consideration, I believe) "arbitrary"? The bottom line here is that your application of the principal means that a very large part of what Program *does* is unethical in your view. Are you sure you aren't just falsely trying to generalize a very narrow issue that offends you personally?
    Remember that every successful 20th percentile young investigator is funded at the expense of a better-ranked senior investigator proposal.
    and now you either mislead or intentionally mistake the point. The essential concept of a *bias* is that that better-ranked senior investigator proposal landed in that better ranked position at the expense of the better proposal from a junior investigator because of reasons that are irrelevant to our (the enterprise) core interests in the best possible science. As I said in the OP, this particular concept gets softpedaled in public but it should be THE operating concept for all of us. Those who see the representative sampling of grants in the 10-30th %ile zone understand this. Personally I have yet to run across a single person that claims *recent* and extensive study section experience and maintains with a straight face that the 14%ile grant is objectively and perfectly better than the 20%ile grant.
    new young plumber is smart enough to realize that he is the gamble and will work cheaper until he builds a reputation
    and they do. they have no existing R01 support(obviously), are less likely to propose over the modular limit, devote more effort to the project, are less likely to lard up the budget with techs and other staff that you can't tell wtf they are needed for (again, direct and recent experience talking here) and their salaries are half to a third the senior folks!
    And you forgot that your experienced plumber has 6 other jobs, three work crews, hasn't been on the jobsite in 10 yrs, gives you a dodgier estimate, can't commit to a firm start date and basically doesn't really *need* your business as bad as the newly established company does. I know what call I'd make...
    Being a valued member of the scientific community is not an explicit review criterion. But study sections make it one. Is that so bad?
    Cronyism and in-group/out-group dynamic is bad, yes. How can you be whining about favorable treatment for Program's new best buddies (New Investigators) and say this at the same time? How can you bang on about the priority score and (presumably the scientific merig) and say this? Not even remotely consistent, geez.
    a lot of young investigators in a glutted job market foolishly took soft money positions. Don't blame senior investigators because young investigators took stupid jobs.
    You are blaming the victim here. The situation is due to several factors including the size of the baby boom generation and a failure of academics to retire on schedule at 65. The situation is what it is. You might as well say "Don't blame young investigators because you are getting old, the boomers are plentiful and the system has decided it is time for you to suffer a tiny bit to share the load around". Sometimes life favors one and sometimes it doesn't. It ill becomes one to whine about tiny pinpricks while ignoring the sword cuts someone else has be receiving. All the numbers show that despite the whining, middle and senior career investigators still have it at *least* as good as junior investigators and generally much better. The fact that it is now worse than it was in the past for middle and senior career types does not mean that the n00bs are having a easy time of it.
    These young'uns might want to think a bit about what they'd have to do to earn their paycheck before they cry too hard for mandatory early retirement.
    so you are saying older types deserve NIH Grant WELFARE for these services? perish the thought...
    Youth and inexperience should not be a scientific merit. Yet you applaud the recent trend toward making it one.
    Being a senior investigator is also not scientific merit. The NIH system is (supposedly) based on the independent evaluation of this proposal that is on the table, full stop. And yet cronyism and reputation and all kinds of other stuff creeps into the review in a significant way. What I am applauding is a re-balancing of the tilted field. A partial re-balancing at that. You pose that this represents a massive slant toward New Investigators is not backed by the award data.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    But I sure as hell didn't get where I am by shitting on people I could learn from and asking for special treatment.
    My irrepressible co-blogger aside (if you are new here, well, it's a bit of a schtick) why do you think that anyone is "shitting on people" they could learn from? I advocate explicitly that my readers of the younger variety should get advice from anyone and everyone and integrate it like good little scientists. Is it the fact that I am challenging your viewpoint that means I am not respecting your proper authoritah?
    Nowadays, it has almost become a tug of war between young and established/senior investigator status, one being a victim and the other being a villain .
    I would say the quickest way out of that is for parties to acknowledge legitimate beefs. Particularly for those that hold all or most the cards to acknowledge the beefs of those that do not. Operating from a smug perspective that since you succeeded that means you deserved it and those that did not are undeserving is not a way forward.
    I will venture to say that many of the young investigators will change their tones rather quickly on how fair or not fair the system is once they themselves make it out alive.
    Yes, this is a fascinating question about how selfishly and hypocritically people change their tune to best benefit themselves. How many of the current graybeards do you think were once counter-culture-niks fighting the older generation in their respective Universities?
    I see it first hands in study sections how "unsympathetic" the young investigators can be. Not trying to stereotype, there are guilty parties at all levels in this madly competitive profession.
    "unsympathetic" how? I see a whole lot of goose-gander fairness being practiced. Some of those with the worst reputations for not treating established investigator applications with sufficient respect are just applying the same standard that is directed at junior applications.
    But in any case, you are identifying my frequent refrain. The only way to be fair is to have respective biases compete against each other. Can you blame both sides? perhaps. but if you have unequal outcome then you still have an unfair balance of power.

  • JAT says:

    "How many of the current graybeards do you think were once counter-culture-niks fighting the older generation in their respective Universities?"
    How true...one wave after another
    " Some of those with the worst reputations for not treating established investigator applications with sufficient respect are just applying the same standard that is directed at junior applications".
    Not trying to exclude the good reviewers...actually most of them are (at least with the study section I am on..quite impressive!). You are absolutely right, ones without respect of others will screw all people just to show that they can. Let's just hope there are not too many of them out there, yikes.

  • A Reader says:

    DM: The point by point replies are growing a bit cumbersome. We can't keep that up.
    I'll just respond to a single statement...
    The only way to be fair is to have respective biases compete against each other.
    I agree that peer reviewers have biases. They always will. They are human. And I agree that the only way to avoid systematic bias is to create an environment where opposing biases neutralize each other. However, I do NOT think that new biases should be institutionalized to combat other previously perceived biases. As your grandmother used to say: Two wrongs don't make a right.
    In my opinion, NIH should have the same paylines for everyone. There should be no special criteria for any applicant group and no special treatment for any individual. I don't care someone is a young investigator, woman, minority, or whatever. NIH has plenty of opportunities to steer money toward certain groups via RFAs, diversity fellowships, etc. And I'm fine with that. Every funding agency does that. But once NIH opens the competition, they need to treat all qualified applications the same. Review them, rank them, and pay from the top ranked on down until the money is gone. No discretionary funny business.
    But what about the biases? *IF* systematic reviewer bias is causing redirection of funds from better science to worse science -- and there is no evidence that it is -- then the right way to take care of reviewer bias is by having a diversity of reviewers. If review panels are biased against young investigators (assuming young investigators produce better science than older investigators), then include more young investigators on the review panels. If review panels are biased against women (and this leads to excellent women-initiated science being underfunded relative to worse male-initiated science), then include more women on the review panels. Simple as that.
    Here, perhaps, you might have thought about objecting on the basis that there might not be enough young investigators or women or whatever available to serve because they are underrepresented. How, you might reasonably ask, can we stuff the panels full of young investigators and women until enough young investigators and women are funded? In other words, how can we represent the underrepresented? There are two answers to this. First, maybe we don't need to. After all, it's supposed to be peer-review. If your field is composed of 95% old white males, then 95% of the panel should be 95% old white males or they are not your peers. Plus, as I mentioned above, I am not so sure that young investigator science is necessarily better than old investigator science. As for women, I agree that women are underrepresented in biomedical science and that obviously women can do science as well as men. So more women on the panels would be good. Which brings us to the second possible mechanism for stuffing the panel: Don't restrict panelists to only those with NIH funding. SROs should be free to choose reviewers with fewer restrictions. As is, reviewers must be NIH funded people, typically from academia. This is silly. NSF has long drawn reviewers from among wider ranks -- even from people who have never even applied for an NSF grant. NSF also relies heavily on ad hoc reviewers, which allows them to get a greater number of in depth reviews and a wider range of opinions on any particular proposal. Now, the NSF review process is far from perfect -- the panel reviewer, in charge of summarizing the ad hoc reviews, has far too much power because there is no rigorous quantitative scoring system. And there isn't really a payline; the PO basically recommends whatever he/she wants after taking into consideration the reviews. But it shows that there are logistically feasible ways to work around the problems that NIH has created for itself with regard to peer review. To get back to the original problem -- if NIH needs more women reviewers, it should start asking more women to serve on the panels. That's the job of the SRO. If the SRO perceives systematic bias by the panel, then the SRO needs to fix that, by better educating the panel and by choosing a better mix of reviewers. Unfortunately, some SROs are better than others.

  • A Reader says:

    Actually, it occurred to me that probably there is no RULE that study section members must be NIH funded. But obviously they tend to be. Do you know if this is actually a rule or just a tendency, DM?

  • homer says:

    Why stop at funding? Should young investigators get some benefit from youth on the publishing side as well? It took me many years of sending papers to Nature before I got my first in. Over the years, my questions improved, my data improved and my writing improved. Should we instead have allowed some of my early attempts (most now in the light of the rearview mirror not that hot) been given a pass (check box if young investigator) and been published? Who does that help? Certainly not science.
    Most of those in my grad school class are no longer active in science.
    Many of those I was a post-doc with are no longer in science.
    Lots of people don't get tenure
    It is a very rough field. It's true that not only the best survive, and good people get eaten up and spit out that shouldn't. But the best proposals should get funded, and often those are from more established investigators. You learn with practice.
    Finally, if good people are losing their tenure track jobs because of difficulty getting funded, we may also want to rethink the notion of faculty purely as money generators for huge institutions.

  • NeuroNeuro says:

    Biases are definitely there against young investigators. Here's how I perceive it. I've been running a lab for just over 5 years, and overall we've been pretty successful publication-wise (I think): a couple of papers in high-profile journals (2), a few more in decent journals (3), a few more collaborations (3) and several more papers in the works (3). My output is for the most part comparable to that of many of the senior members in my department in a top research university. Yet all this was done without any R01 funding, and not for lack of trying. Yet when I look at the comments from my grant reviewers, my impression is that reviewers are giving essentially little or no benefit of the doubt to my ability to conduct experiments or be productive, despite evidence to the contrary and to copious amounts of preliminary data. In fact after looking at the productivity of investigators that did get funded in a particular grant cycle, in many cases it is not any different than mine. Even looking at the productivity of the study section member did not impress me. So what gives? Is my proposed science that much worse than everyone else's? Or is it that established investigators simply like to keep funding each other? Thankfully, my program officer "picked up" my supposedly inferior grant (after 5 tries) last week. And while I am extremely grateful for this, I don't really think it is fair to say that I was getting any special treatment since I feel that I am working against a pre-existing bias in the review system. Theoretically, an investigator's track record is supposed to count a lot towards the score, and while my scores for "Investigator" are usually high, these are clearly not reflected in the final score in practice. In fact I have no idea where the final score comes from, since it never seems to reflect the comments of the reviewers or in the new scoring system the actual number scores given individually. I think the bias arises from the study section as a whole.... Anyway, sorry for my incoherent rambling.

  • Just to address one spurious comparison from A Reader: the job that plumbers do and the job that (good) scientists do is simply not comparable. The design of the sink and toilet has changed very little in the last few decades. Thus, experience is an almost unalloyed benefit.
    In contrast, a great deal of science today was undreamed of a few decades ago. New techniques, and new approaches with old techniques, contribute to scientific progress. So in science, a well-trained "youth" might make a greater contribution than an old plumber.
    In fact, if you think the optimal pursuit of science is akin to optimal drain snaking, I'd venture that you're in the wrong profession.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    A Reader: I am completely with you that the best thing is to maintain diversity on the panels themselves. CSR does this for some issues but not for career status. There has even been a push to ban Asst Profs completely. I don't understand the supposed point.
    The formal rules are here:
    http://cms.csr.nih.gov/PeerReviewMeetings/StudySectionReviewers/HowScientistsareSelected+orStudySectionService.htm
    Funding equivalent to R01 would seem to be the bottom line. I disagree with this policy.

  • Funding equivalent to R01 would seem to be the bottom line. I disagree with this policy.

    As do I, vehemently. Substantial ad hoc service as a totally brand-spanking new investigator was motherfucking HUGE in fostering my own grantsmanship success, and it is unconscionable that new PIs are now forbidden this benefit.
    In fact, this further widens the gap between the haves and have-nots. New PIs at huge-ass fancy-ass joints like my institution will always have access to truly outstanding grantsmanship mentoring from their colleagues, while those breaking into the game at smaller-ass or less fancy-ass institutions may not.

  • A Reader says:

    In fact, if you think the optimal pursuit of science is akin to optimal drain snaking, I'd venture that you're in the wrong profession.
    I'd venture that you haven't done much bench work. Or actually run a lab.
    A lab is not very different from a finicky toilet.

  • Lawren Smith says:

    #26
    “Over the years, my questions improved, my data improved and my writing improved. Should we instead have allowed some of my early attempts (most now in the light of the rearview mirror not that hot) been given a pass (check box if young investigator) and been published?”
    Self-improvement and openness to criticism is the way to do science. And If you keep your eyes open, you will also have to admit that some Established Investigators have been getting a huge PASS getting published, overfunded and extending their “scientific” torch to keep their science flourishing.
    “rethink the notion of faculty purely as money generators for huge institutions”
    This is one of the biggest challenges that science is facing right now and needs to be addressed. WHY ??
    Because Established Investigators, the ones established and protected by the establishment will not have their labs shutdown. The system takes care of them since they have been milking the NIH cow for years to have their institutions “flourishing” with bloated salaries and ranking very "high" in USANews. That young and established Investigators, those ones who have earned it with true science, lose their jobs or have their labs shutdown is a tragedy. "A Reader", seems to be taking that fact too frivolously and I wonder why.
    Diversity in Study Sections is one of the ways to improve the system for everyone who deserves it. This is what the Established Investigator Crew has been opposing for years while bringing into study sections their scientific comrades and friends. Being a reviewer on a study section should be based on short and/or long history of scientific ideas and merit. Period.

  • Lawren Smith says:

    #31 " A lab is not very different from a finicky toilet."
    A Reader,
    Running a lab is a little bit more than running a finicky toilet.
    That might explain how one gets published in "Waterworks, the highest design in fine class toilets" and your easiness in having scientists losing their jobs. It all depends on Wall Street !.

  • A Reader says:

    Running a lab is a little bit more than running a finicky toilet.
    I think, Lawren, that you maybe have not dealt with some of the toilets that I have.
    The procedure is also not that different:
    1. Recognize lack of desired result.
    2. Deny problem.
    3. Wait; hope problem resolves itself.
    4. Try a little brute force pressure.
    5. Try some fancy new chemical reagent.
    6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 a few times.
    7. Revise theories.
    8. Consider new technologies.
    9. Collaborate.
    Successful researchers, like successful poopers, develop the ability to move through these steps as quickly as possible, or maintain a variety of different toilets so that blockages are not career-threatening. There is no doubt that luck plays a role, as does knowledge, experience, connections, resources...
    But getting back to the point of the discussion -- I'd rather invest in someone who has a history of confronting and overcoming blockages, compared to some cocky young buck with a short history of using other people's excellent plumbing facilities. Success is moving shit. Experience is dealing with shit.

  • lawren Smith says:

    A reader,
    I happen to know quite a bit about your checklist. I agree that that is part of running a science lab. I also agree with your final statement that "experience is dealing with shit", if ONE IS ALLOWED TO DEAL WITH IT. Remember that the ESTABLISHED INVESTIGATOR CREW has the power to kill people's ability TO DEAL WITH IT.
    I wish that, in spite of our differences (different views and experiences are desirable), you were not one in that crew. I certainly hope so.

  • I'd rather invest in someone who has a history of confronting and overcoming blockages, compared to some cocky young buck with a short history of using other people's excellent plumbing facilities.

    Dude, you are such a smarmy piece of shit. Just because you rode some huge-ass dude's coattails--using his excellent plumbing facilities--to achieve scientific independence, doesn't mean that is the only way to do so. Many of the new PIs who get a chance and end up successful didn't play the shitty cheesy game you did. Stop projecting your own inadequacies all over the fucking place.

  • A Reader says:

    Hah, Comrade -- I wish. I was the only grad student in an obscure brand new lab that I helped build from bare walls and boxes, and after running from a first postdoc advisor who was an ass, worked in a basement for a different postdoctoral advisor who lost tenure for purely political reasons (although he ended up in a much more prestigious place with a much better setup, albeit after I was gone). Those who know me would put 'mentorily blessed' way down on the list of adjectives they'd use to describe me. I think I got where I am simply by doing my job and not getting all worked up about The Injustice Of It All. But if by 'smarmy' you mean generally willing to have a few beers with colleagues, well then I guess I might be smarmy. But that's not to get ahead professionally. I just like drinking beer and having fun. Gotta have fun. It ain't worth it otherwise.

  • lawren Smith says:

    Loosing a science advisor for purely political reasons should not happen. Science is science and should be political reasons independent. Having had that experience should have opened your mind to contemplate the possibility that scientists, whether young or experienced, lose their jobs because they refuse not to abide by the rules of science. When they speak out, like you’re doing now, they are harassed in their lab space, with comments at their back that reach study sections and so on until they get finally kicked out.
    A reader: I have no reason to not believe that you got where you are by your own merit. I do believe you. But having a little bit more openness to different approaches other than your grant welfare theory is expected and might help you and others in the long run.

  • Pinus says:

    wasn't there a post on here a few weeks ago showing that until recently, the majority of programmatically decided grants was for senior PI's? With the new way they are doing things, the numbers are now equal. So new people are getting as much of a hand up as established investigators...and we are to think that this is bullshit? not sure I understand the logic.

  • JAT says:

    New investigators get a hand up no matter what system is used. Their proposal is reviewed against themselves not against established investigators (new system ). Of course, percentile is calculated for all that are discussed and averaged against previous rounds. You may think that this again put them in disadvantage...not quite so. Their funding percentile is 5-7 points higher than established investigators (both old and new systems)
    Choosing grants outside the range for funding usually end up with established investigators because PD usually choose from grants that are closest to payline (not the inflated one set for new investigators). Personally I believe this is the right way to choose exceptions. Comparatively, these tend to be better ones. Of course, there are other considerations as to how many grants one has and what dire situation the PI is in, blah blah blah. I can't say why PD picks up grants that are way off the chart...may be related to institutes' set research priority.
    With the new system where decimal points are eliminated (i.e., a bunch people with the same percentile), you'd better make PD your new best friend. They have a lot of power to determine who's in and who's out when it comes to times that really counts.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Pinus, that was raw numbers of awards. I think (?) there are more experienced investigator applications submitted. You need submission numbers to judge the proportion of each which are funded out of order.

  • Pinus says:

    valid point CM.
    However, that regardless of the %..it reinforces the point that senior people catch plenty of breaks. That doesn't even take in to account bullshit RFA's that are explicitly written for labs.

  • Pawel says:

    It would actually be really interesting to look at ratio of output per dollar spent in the new investigator vs. established investigator pool. My guess is that new investigators would come out on top, meaning better output for less money. That would be especially true if we compared them to the best funded bigshot labs that I think are rather wasteful with their resources.
    Also, I think that new investigators are actually less risky as a group than established ones just because they are always under tenure pressure and they will do all it takes to do good science and publish. Sure, lack of experience goes against them, but they are predominantly extremely talented individuals who learn quickly. Those that don't usually don't get funded anyway.
    Moreover, most revolutionary discoveries in science are made by young investigators - older investigators tend to produce a steady output, but not nearly as innovative as the younger ones.
    Conclusion: yes - help them get started and if they don't succeed they will fall out of the system very quickly.

  • qaz says:

    This whole argument assumes that the NIH has no interest in maintaining the viability of the scientific/academic system. Which is like saying its ok to eat your seed corn because it tastes good. (And we know NIH has a strong interest in the future viability of the scientific/academic system, as evidenced by the large funding of training grants designed only for the purpose of training future NIH scientists!) To say that the goal of the NIH system is to "fund the best science" is short-sighted and foolish. Science is a process, and that means that we need to ensure that there is a continued pipeline. (You can argue that the pipeline is too full at the n00b-prof level, but that's a very different statement than is being argued here.)
    What NIH needs to do is to be explicit about diversity. (That's the job of program.) When you buy stocks, you are supposed to diversify, with a careful mix of high-risk and low-risk stocks. To just buy the "current hottest thing on the market" is stupid at best.
    Being explicit about diversity is what NIH is trying to do with these attempts to help new profs. But I don't think it goes nearly far enough. Every grant above some level (say 25%) should be "fundable" and then program needs to take into account how many grants you have, whether your topic is over-represented, etc. I would argue from my experience on study section that there is no recognizable difference in the likelihood of scientific success between any grant in that top quarter.
    PS. (IMHO, the real danger now isn't for graybeards/bluehairs or n00bies, both of whom are identified as "groups" in the fight -- it's the middle range, that first renewal, that second grant, that first step to a new field that's really different from your post-doc work, where people get lost. But that's nothing new. The damn baby boomers (the graybeards/bluehairs) and their kids (the n00bies) have been eating our lunch all our lives, so we're used to it.)

  • qaz says:

    Wow, I've been away a while. I'm going to have a couple of comments on this thread.
    Homer #26: "Should young investigators get some benefit from youth on the publishing side as well? It took me many years of sending papers to Nature before I got my first in."
    Actually, this raises one of my favorite examples of the difference between haves and have-nots. The likelihood of getting published in GlamourMagz is directly related to the seniority of the corresponding author. In part this is because getting published in those journals is a skill like any other (not necessarily related to doing good science), in part because the editors are less willing to piss off big-name silverback, and in part because big-name silverback calls up the editor and yells at them until they publish his paper. (Sarcasm on) Of course, as we all know, being published in a GlamourMag is a defining definition of quality and translates directly to productivity (Sarcasm off) and the likelihood of funding.
    I've become very enamored of the new Frontiers model - all papers are published in the specialist journal and they are voted up into the higher-tier journal. Science moves up not down. (Compare to the current practice of send to Nature and if you get told to go to a more specialized journal, you send the reviews to Nature Neuroscience.) Also, in the new Frontiers model, it's the readers/community who decide that your work deserves to be bumped up not the author/editor.

  • A Reader says:

    qaz: said: To say that the goal of the NIH system is to "fund the best science" is short-sighted and foolish. Science is a process, and that means that we need to ensure that there is a continued pipeline.
    I am fine with NIH doing social engineering, but they should do it by offering special grant opportunities (RFAs, fellowships, etc), so that the whole process is transparent and efficient. Tweaking R01 paylines in semi-obscure and variable ways is not the way to do it. If NIH wants special grants for new investigators, then they should just have special grants for new investigators, and I'll know not to apply. And new investigators will have a special competition pool better suited to their situation. This is I think what NIH is trying for, but in a completely awkward way.
    qaz said: in part because big-name silverback calls up the editor and yells at them until they publish his paper.
    I cannot think of a single paper in Nature, where I know the backstory, where this did NOT happen. Cell & Neuron I think require more a priori work -- you have to grease the skids BEFORE sending in the paper and then just accept that you're a subcontractor to the editors and reviewers after review. PNAS is all about a long history of beer with a National Academy member. Nature Neuroscience and Science are still mysterious to me. I have published in Nature Neuroscience a few times, but I know no formula. I have never published in Science, and the people I know who have seem to be as baffled about the reasons why as anyone. J. Neuroscience is pretty easy, in my experience. No extra work or politics required. Everything other journal is a foggy equivalent, in my field.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    "I am fine with NIH doing social engineering, but they should do it by offering special grant opportunities"
    Efforts along those lines are consistently undercut by university administrators. No sooner does a special grant mechanism for noobs appear then the administration lets it be known (formally or informally) that the mechanism in question won't count for much during your tenure review.
    They've made it pretty clear that they want RO1s and program projects, period.

  • Pinus says:

    "I cannot think of a single paper in Nature, where I know the backstory, where this did NOT happen."
    Here is your n = 1. I got a paper in nature in grad school and we didn't do that. Just got lucky with reviewers who thought the idea was very exciting and timely.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Rankings, are by their nature imprecise. Insisting on a sharp payline is fucking Stupid, and believe Eli Stupid is not a pleasant afternoon fuck even for CPP.
    So there are a lot of things that can be done.
    For example, assume the payline is 1.5 and there are 50 grants at better than 1.3 (These are made up numbers asshole, so don't even start) 25 between 1.3 and 1.5 and 25 between 1.5 and 1.7. Fund the ones better than 1.3 fully. Fund the ones between 1.3 and 1.7 at half the rate or, maybe only for one or two years. Shitheads could even call for a sliding scale. Don't fund anyone between 1.2 and 1.5 who has another R01. Anyone who gets half funding can reapply next year and play double or nothing.

  • becca says:

    "a person with a 30 yr career ahead of them or someone at age 65 who could drop dead or retire at any moment?
    Ahahahahaha!
    DM, my gen doesn't get to retire till 80. Our kids will live to 100. Your schedule needs to adapt.
    Or, all those annoying young fancy pants neuro researchers curing Alzheimers need to knock it off. They're only sewing the seeds of their own destruction by making it impossible to get any old people to retire.
    /silly snark
    "A senior investigator who had her day in the sun has to retire on the normal 65yr old schedule or, gasp, even earlier. And go off and play with their grandkiddies or watch birds or something. Boo hoo. (Actually that sounds not the least bit sad.)"
    Face it: until we fix healthcare, no one can afford to retire (nothing special about scientists). Until we stop doing research to make new expensive drugs, healthcare will not get fixed. The only way out is to let the system correct itself by letting old people die from diseases we could cure or start up nonprofit pharmaceutical companies.
    Anyone wanna help me start a company?
    "Are you as exercised about this more-or-less covert welfare that has been going on for a very long time?"
    =
    "Are you as upset about legacy students at the ivys as you are about affirmative action at the university of Michigan?"
    "As pointed out above by JAT, young investigators have many more possible sources of funding than senior investigators."
    Such as...? (seriously, I don't hear so much about this; perhaps because young investigators need to be so fixated on the R01 for tenure purposes)
    "How many new young NIH investigators do you see prepping gross anatomy or histology labs? Or serving as vice dean for annoying and endless student complaints?"
    That's because if you're young and spend your time on those things, you don't get tenure, not because all young people are unwilling to do them. Actually, if you count the lowly ranks of the adjuncts/non-TT folks, I suspect you might find the vast bulk of the first sort of jobs done by them.
    "Your argument against this baffles me. Let's say you need a plumber. Two come to the house. One looks at the problem, says "I've been in business 25 years and have successfully handled this sort of problem several times. I can fix it". The other guy says "I have never done this, but I think I have the training and I am really eager to give it a shot!" Who ya gonna hire? Seriously."
    Plumber #1 is taking apart your sink to clear out a clog. Plumber #2 is replacing your water heater, because she's not too hidebound to think a plumber doesn't do that, and because you needed it, and so you don't have to worry about your dip tube clogging up your pipes every few months.
    Plumber #1 can keep himself in business for 25 more years.
    Who would you rather hire?
    Nobody in their right mind should fund a grant with the same ideas an old fogey has that happened to be written by a newbie. But shouldn't research be about new ideas and not just old problems?
    "This is a completely bogus argument for supporting young investigators. Significance and Innovation have long been explicit NIH review criteria. *Everyone* has to have new and exciting ideas."
    And you think this works perfectly?
    *snark*
    A reader- you are clearly an awesome plumber.
    "The public and congress are not so stupid. You insult them. Congress doubled the NIH budget (at public expense) less than a decade ago."
    See, it wasn't your plumbing analogy but this that tipped me off that you know a lot about being stuffed with poop.
    Suppose you were an idiot... And suppose you were a
    member of Congress... But I repeat myself.
    --Mark Twain

    /snark
    Look, qaz has it right. No financial advisor worth more than a jar of warm spit would say that you should put all of your money in high risk/high rewards stock, or in safe but piddling returns government bonds. NIH needs a diversified portfolio. High risk and low risk. Short term and long term payoffs. That's a big part of the reason things should not be based on 100% peer-review. Because study sections are, from what I gather, enough of a pain without trying to factor in portfolio balancing.

  • Kinda new PI says:

    Look, the problem is simple. There are more scientists then ever who want money, but not enough money to go around. If you have money, then the system works. If you don't, the system sucks. It's an annoying argument, and proposing to fight "bias" won't solve a damn thing... it never does. Rather then debating about who is right/wrong, we should start asking ourselves if this is a good system for the future of academic science/education in our country.
    About me. I've been an Assistant Professor for 5 years. I still don't have NIH funding, and if I don't get an RO1 in 2010, I will lose my job. Yes, boo fucking hoo me. However, I admit some of what I am going through is my own fault. I did not take full advantage of my senior colleagues, I complained about the system, and, to be blunt, wrote mediocre grants. However, I am established in my field, have published excellent papers, done a great job teaching, and have been told by my senior faculty that they need to keep me because 7 of them are over 60 and they don't know who is going to be able to do the teaching. But, if I don't get an RO1, I'm getting the rubber stamp "NO" from the Provost's office on my tenure package... it is what it is, and I'm over all that.
    Now, should I have the honor of keeping my job and continuing in the NIH/university system, this is what I would like to see change.
    1. Two maximum RO1's per lab. This will allow professors to be professors and not fund-raisers/traveling snake oil salesman. How can a PI *EFFECTIVELY* train people, teach, think of new ideas, implement experiments... when all they do is write grants and sell their wares to increase their visibility? I've been in this job 5 years and I've spent 90% of my time writing grants... that's crap brothers (and sisters)! On the other hand, PI's who have 4+ RO1's (of which there are several in my department) don't even know the name of every person in their lab. WTF?!?!?!
    Frankly, if your research is that damn good (i.e. it will cure disease, create new technology) - and let's be honest, most of us are studying the role of protein X in mechanism Y for disease state Z - then you should be able to raise private money. If you can't... well then your science may be good enough to appease Cell/Neuron/Science/Nature former crappy post-doc editors, but it doesn't warrant you getting >2 RO1's while a junior guy loses his job. And if you don't like that opinion, bite me "A Reader".
    Most of all, we're reverting to feudalism and we don't even know it. We give a lab 4+ RO1's, the Overlord has a lab meeting 1x/month and bangs his/her sword demanding data. This creates more jobs for non-tenure track people, post-docs and grad students.. but does nothing for independent thought and innovation. I dont' care if Hughes money does this, because that's private. But taxpayer dollars? WTF??!?!?!
    2. Get universities off the indirect cost tit. Were universities created to take advantage of federal subsidies? What ever happened to education, learning, training, mentoring... WTF?!?!??! I sincerely hope that Obama identifies indirect costs as an area to reduce the budget deficit. It is hard to accept that my career as an independent scientist is solely dependent on my ability to raise 150k/year in tax dollars to keep the lights on and the toilets clean, when the % success is ~10. Can you dig it?
    3. Full open access journals. Don't let 2-3 "unbiased" peer reviewers be the final say if something is acceptable or not. Let's enter the 21st century my fellow scientists. Along with the rest of the world, let's let EVERYONE decide how good our science is with open access research, blogging, threads, etc... and the fear-mongering of "someone will steal my stuff" is the BS crying of old guys who still don't know how to send text messages. Everyone else is sharing their thoughts, shouldn't science be the most important knowledge to share? I think most people are just scared of being exposed for the frauds they are!
    Finally, I'd just like to say that I do respect my older colleagues. In their day, they were giants. They deserve respect. But they are out of touch with today's technologies and are preventing us from taking advantage of the tools available. I don't mind sitting around 10 years waiting for them to retire.. but Jesus, at least throw me a fricking breadcrumb so I can eat while I'm waiting! Oh well, maybe doing QC/DA for Invitrogen wouldn't be so bad... at least then I can figure out why Lipo2000 keeps killing my cells :/

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