writedit, writedit, writedit. tch, tch.

Apr 12 2011 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Grant Review, NIH Careerism

sigh.

Our very dear blog friend writedit is mads with Your Humble Narrator.

Perhaps DM can restrict these sorts of discussions to his various for-profit plots in the blogosphere, where he is welcome to take on all comers.

So, alas, I simply must, MUST I tell you, take the discussion over here...

If you haven't been following along, start with this comment from the walrus is paul, a self-identified NIH SRO that has been frequenting writedit's blog of late. The triggering comment was walrus referring to a query about idea thievery in grant review as "tin-foil hat paranoia". I disagreed that this qualifies as the "tin-foil hat" variety of paranoia. My argument is that usually this term is reserved for the most extreme beliefs in conspiracies and weird events for which there is no plausible evidence or rationale in the land of the sane. I also pointed out that this epithet is usually not dictated by the number of people who maintain a particular belief but rather the nature of that belief.

In this particular case, I argue that we hear assertions of idea stealing now and again from angry applicants. I hear this in person and I'm pretty sure the triggering comment (UPDATE: and additional comment making it clearer that this is indeed what the person meant) is not the first time this has surfaced in the blogosphere. Note that my recognition of this tells you absolutely nothing about whether I personally credit each such accusation. OTOH, being the good student of human behavior that I am, I also assert that yes, it is highly likely that there are or have been some incidents where the content of a grant application influenced the scientific conduct of the reviewer.

The proper answer is that of course somewhere, sometime an idea has been lifted from a grant application to the advantage of the reviewer and disadvantage of the applicant. It seems unlikely that it happens anywhere near as often as paranoid applicants who comment online would like us to believe, however. This latter derives, IMNSHO, from a laughable conceit on the part of many scientists that they are uniquely brilliant snoflakes and nobody else could possibly have the same exact ideas from reading the same literature and being in the same subfield.

The more interesting question is the degree to which subconscious influence operates despite the reviewer’s best intentions not to benefit from reviewing someone else’s grant proposal. IMO, of course

To ignore this reality and pretend that all possible participants in grant review are as pure as the driven snow, and that the structural features of the grant review meeting itself


we are REQUIRED to make a speech at the start of every review meeting about ethical conduct which includes a section on ” the ideas presented in applications are not to be pilfered”.

the walrus (and writedit) thereupon asserted that in their professional (and online?) capacities they have never, ever run across any PI who argued that his or her ideas had been stolen from a grant application by a reviewer.

All well and good. Unfortunately I tend to be a little suspicious when NIH staff pretend that all is perfect and well and the system works as it should and all that. You know how it goes. Things get testy. So here's the rest of it. the walrus got all miffy and pouty and offered to take his or her toys and return home.

since you have such a low opinion of the abilities and integrity of NIH staff, I won’t waste anyone’s time here by offering any further responses to their questions.

HAHAHA. For the record, I do not, in fact, have a low opinion of the abilities and, most especially, the integrity of NIH staff.

What I said, reasonably clearly, is that I assume that there are very good reasons for a public face of NIH staff (SRO and PO) that is not entirely compatible with my accompanying assumptions that said staff are smarter than your average rutabaga. This has nothing to do with "integrity" and everything to do with professional requirements.

Now, if the walrus is telling me that his/her public/professional need to pretend that everything is always perfect and rose-smelling in grant review is the actual, entire belief, then yes, I'd have to revisit my assumptions in his/her particular case.

There is never any bias in review, reviewers are always perfect and expert and engaged, the review order is meaningful to the last digit, new investigators just need to "write better grants", if Universities offer soft money jobs they "shouldn't" be doing this and "why would you want to take a job there anyway".....the list goes on and on for those things where the actual time it is on the street is not part of the official, public NIH line. I understand why they need to do this in some cases, not in others.

But not acknowledging that if you have lots and lots of scientists involved in reviewing grants there will be a suspicion of idea stealing at times? Ludicrous. And then going on to get all huffy just because I have one set of experiences and the walrus (and writedit) have another? hmm.

Okay, now on to the good writedit who seems to have let discomfort with my commentary overrun good sense.

Perhaps DM can restrict these sorts of discussions to his various for-profit plots in the blogosphere, where he is welcome to take on all comers.

My response: As you are very well aware, writedit, there is precisely one of those. Not plural, singular. As you are also very well aware, despite this scurrilous intimation, my tone and approach has been invariant on blogs that accrue "profit" to me (or any other entity) and otherwise. It is also the case that through the writedit blog you build additional credibility for what are most assuredly your primary professional talents and endeavors at present. Credibility that would, should you every see the need to deploy it, enhance your future job prospects. So if we are suggesting that someone is in this because they

get nothing out of maintaining this blog other than the satisfaction of being a good citizen and helping the biomedical research community through the exchange of useful information.

waayul, that is not strictly accurate in your case, now is it? I'd say this very real professional capital* that writedit has built amounts to a bit more than the beer money I make from the Scienceblogs.com DrugMonkey blog, wouldn't you?

__
*don't believe me? Which of you writedit (the blog) readers, if asked by your University if they should hire writedit (the blogger) to support their grant seeking faculty, would say anything other than "Yes dammit, right now!!"? Which of you would say that for some random administrator for whom you have no other evidence of their abilities? hmm? That's professional capital.

24 responses so far

  • That SRO dude is a serious fucken crybaby.

  • anon says:

    This was painful to read. My understanding is that these guys are in a tiff because you (and maybe others) assert that some reviewers are deviant assholes who steal ideas? Seriously? What rose colored blanket are they hiding under? I know at least one person whose former supervisor would hand his post-docs (herself included)pages from someone's grant to photocopy and do the experiments. He had tons of funding; the applicant, of course, didn't get any. She quit her position and is now in a biotech company. The past supervisor is no longer around, but I doubt he was the only person who ever did such a thing. Yes, these things happen. SRO's can do little to prevent this behavior, but what they can do is to take valid accusations seriously.

  • brooksphd says:

    bravo

  • becca says:

    Has it ever occurred to you that the job requirement might not be to *pretend* everything smells like roses, or even to *continue pretending* everything smells like roses even when confronted by the likes of a #FWDAOTI-obsessed cranky McRantypants, but to actually *believe* that everything smells like roses?

    A) They might disagree with you, and have an area of rutabega-reasoning due to pathetic naive faith in human decency (ahahahahaha!)
    B) They might also secretly agree with you, and be unable to agree publicly because of the constraints of their job (as you suggest)
    C) They might see your point, and yet also realize that you yelling loudly 'pay no attention to the man behind the curtain' might be legitimately construed as *destroying the system of trust on which a small amount of human decency can exist and enable scientific funding to function at all*.
    That is, they know people *do* absorb the ideas they read about, but they also know operating under the default assumption people do not pilfer helps keep everyone from pilfering.

    "As you are also very well aware, despite this scurrilous intimation, my tone and approach has been invariant on blogs that accrue "profit" to me (or any other entity) and otherwise."
    Wait a sec, you want us to believe that reviewers can't read grants without being influenced by them, but you can receive *payment* without in any way shape or form (consciously or otherwise) being influenced by it?
    Rutabega, meet turnip.

  • whimple says:

    ...but to actually *believe* that everything smells like roses?

    My experience aligns with becca on this one; I think the NIH administroids really are TrueBelievers(tm) in the church of it-just-doesn't-get-any-better-than-this. I once asked a recently retired SRA (now SRO) what he thought could be done that would improve the review process at the NIH. He replied that review was perfect just as it was and that although it could seem warty on the outside that the best science was always rewarded.

  • My experience aligns with becca on this one; I think the NIH administroids really are TrueBelievers(tm) in the church of it-just-doesn't-get-any-better-than-this.

    (1) Becca is an eleventeenth-year grad student who has zero "experience" with any of this, and as usual is just pulling gibberish out of her ass that sounds plausible to her.

    (2) My experience is the opposite of this: that NIH scientific administrators--both SROs and POs--are virtually all quite aware of the weaknesses and limitations of the NIH system of peer review and funding allocation, and that they are earnestly engaged in doing the best they can to ameliorate the effects of these weaknesses and to make the system as scientifically productive as possible.

    (3) This experience is based on years of dealing with multiple POs at multiple ICs in relation to my own grants, and dealing with multiple SROs responsible for a wide range of study sections, both in relation to my own grant applications and through extensive service.

    (4) When you ask people overly simplistic and broad "gotcha" questions in a provocative and accusatory manner, you shouldn't be surprised to receive glib uninformative answers. If you develop genuine professional relationships with people within NIH and treat them like the fellow scientists they are, you will receive more thoughtful honest answers.

  • K says:

    I s'pose people who have more ideas complain less about this kind of stuff.

  • Abel says:

    When you ask people overly simplistic and broad "gotcha" questions in a provocative and accusatory manner, you shouldn't be surprised to receive glib uninformative answers. If you develop genuine professional relationships with people within NIH and treat them like the fellow scientists they are, you will receive more thoughtful honest answers.

    This.

    Many in CSR and Program have a more insightful and comprehensive view of the scientific landscape than a great many of us. Thank you, PhysioProf.

  • Grumble says:

    As a post-doc, I was told by my PI not to talk to the lab down the hall because "they try to steal our ideas." It didn't take long for me to realize that the PI didn't have a lot of ideas worth stealing. Chances are, those who are most worried about idea-stealing are least likely to come up with good ones on their own.

  • Harry Vermin, Chief Lab Rat says:

    I think the whole discussion (i.e., beginning with the original commenter's question) is a little ridiculous. So what if the answer is "yes, stuff gets stolen all the time" ? What's the orignial questioner going to do with that confirmation? The only option available is to never submit a grant application. Let me know how that's working out for you...

    I thought it was also interesting that in his clarification follow up, he noted that what prompted his question was not a rumor of some reviewer stealing a thought from a grant, but rather knowledge of someone who stole an idea from a PERSONAL COMMUNICATION. So....has he stopped talking to everyone about his research now? After all, you never know who you can and can't trust. Watch out for that brother-in-law...

    I agree with those above who note that essentially, if you have enough good ideas, you don't immediately notice when one goes missing....

    Sorry, DM, but the Waaahmbulance-caller award goes to the original questioner in this one, not to the SRO or to writedit

  • drugmonkey says:

    You will note from my comments on that thread that I am not suggesting that idea stealing is so common as to be worth much in the way of crying and appealing. I said something to the effect that I bet it is very rare.

    My objection is to the head-in-the-sand, pollyannaish attitude because *that*, extended to many other areas of NIH business *does* have detrimental effects. Insisting that contingent job offers "shouldn't be happening" and blaming the victim, telling newbs that they just need to "write better grants"....etc

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I think it really does happen occasionally, I expect everyone knows it and also that it is very hard to bring up to even friendly POs because besides surreptitiously transferring a member from the study section in question, or making sure they never ad hoc again, it is difficult to prove and causes more problems for the accuser than the accusee.

  • Harry Vermin, Chief Lab Rat says:

    While on a standing review committee, I saw two nearly identical proposals (not in terms of plagarized text, but in terms of idea, rationale, and details of implementation) on a somewhat unusual topic, coming from opposite sides of the country. They were on staggered cycles, so we got PI #1's proposal in February and then (A1) September, and PI #2's proposal in June and then (A1) the next February. Since I was on the review panel for all of them (and for the preceeding year), I can attest that neither PI reviewed the other's proposal. Of course, the two of them may have discussed the idea in some other forum, but sometimes "the next logical step" comes to different people simultaneously. Science has a history of the guy who had the same idea, but was a week away from publishing it when a competitor came out with it first....well before the advent of NIH review panels and modern day communications technology.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    but sometimes "the next logical step" comes to different people simultaneously.

    Exactly. There are other times when someone beats their head against the wall trying to convince their scientific peers that something is critical, only to come up flat. Jump forward 5 or 8 years and all of a sudden there are 5 grants funded on the topic and the original PI is pissed that all of his/her ideas were somehow stolen. Or just pissed that they couldn't convince a panel to fund them and then all of a sudden the field at large comes to the same realization they had arrived at first.

  • Malone says:

    DM, you have made a logical line of argument to sound right. Deep down in your heart, I guess you know the reason you picked that fight is to show off. Do you really believe, you did this to right a wrong or a slippery slope comment? This is one of the problems with online bloggers, where they don't always act like they would if confronted in person. Word smiths.

  • drugmonkey says:

    This is one of the problems with online bloggers, where they don't always act like they would if confronted in person.

    I see this asserted all the time without a shred of proof.

    Do you really believe, you did this to right a wrong or a slippery slope comment?

    Yes.

    I guess you know the reason you picked that fight is to show off.
    "picked that fight" implies that I was irritating someone intentionally rather than simply expressing my point of view in my usual way. That would be wrong. With respect to "showing off", yeah, everyone who leaves a comment or blogs is in some senses doing this. meh.

  • pinus says:

    I have met several bloggers who use pseudonyms, they act completely like they do online.

  • becca says:

    No. Bloggers, including DM, are nearly all more awesome in person. But no less inclined to show off.

  • I think that would not be possible for CPP, unless maybe at an Insane Clown Posse show.

  • longtime lurker says:

    or a meeting of "think-they're-cool" 13 year olds. Anyone who can only express him/herself by dropping f-bombs as virtually every other word lacks either intelligence or maturity. I'm guessing the "Prof" in CPP rules out the lack-of-intelligence excuse, so we are left with the angst-ty teen. Hopefully not in real life.

  • Fucke offe, you motherfucken bagge of fucken dickes.

  • longtime lurker says:

    Q.E.D.

  • CPP says:

    Hahahahahah!!!

    Please tell me you're not really this fucken stupid.

  • longtime lurker says:

    No, not so stupid as to think you are funny/clever/mocking or whatever else you are 'trying' so hard for. But then, you already "know" if I'm stupid ---because you DO know me. (Hint: think hard...can't be that many people who actually know the real name behind your blog alias)

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