NIH funding and GlamourMag Science

Oct 28 2011 Published by under Conduct of Science, Science Publication

Michael Eisen has an interesting post up today on a topic which comes up occasionally here on this blog. He blames peer review, but really it is an indictment of GlamourMag science. A criticism of the conflation of journal reputation with the quality of any article published therein.

One finger point is directed at the reviewer/editor demands for more data/studies/proof before a paper could be accepted. I agree with much of Eisen's critique on this point.

What I am pondering today, however, is the tight NIH grant supply.

It strikes me that this is going to be a damn good thing if it stomps down on authors' willingness to put up with unnecessary* reviewer demands for more work.

*the controls appropriate to evaluate the data as presented are fair game. "gee it would be cool if you also showed blahdeeblah..." are typically not.

23 responses so far

  • Grumble says:

    "gee it would be cool if you also showed blahdeeblah..." is fair if the authors have submitted a trivial story to a journal has a reputation for publishing work that has a large impact on the field - what you call GlamourMags, and those a tier or two below them.

    I'm not sure how reduced NIH funding would cause *authors* to stop putting up with more-data demands. Faced with such a demand, they have two options: provide it, or submit elsewhere. Maybe you're saying that reduced funding might cause authors to stop submitting to GlamourMags, but consistently publishing in such journals is one way to impress grant reviewers with your productivity.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    We are all complicit in the reign of the Glamour Mags- some of us more than others.

  • Tea Party says:

    "We are all complicit in the reign of the Glamour Mags- some of us more than others."

    True. And all PIs are also complicit with regards to the tight NIH budget. Why create so many PIs when there is not enough funding to support them? Is that because PIs are so short-sighted as to only see the short term benefits of "training" (i.e., hiring cheaply) students and postdocs while ignoring the long-term, more serious time bomb? Why did you all think these students and postdocs would do once their "training" was finished?

    I guess time's up and the bomb has exploded. The "not enough NIH funding" crisis was created by academia mismanaging NIH funds for decades. The crisis will likely take decades to resolve as well, as there are no mechanisms in place to solve it. A change in culture is what is needed. It's only fair that all of you now suffer the consequences of your own actions. Good luck transitioning into your next career: pizza deliverer.

  • drugmonkey says:


    Yes, I think the calculation changes when $$ is tight. The *ability* to put in another person-year of work may no longer exist. The ratio of Glamour to total pubs may be altered in a way that puts grant renewal in greater question.

    We haven't touched on this in some time but I am one that advises keeping an eye on publication *rate*. There are certain floor expectations* and a C/N/S pub can only cover a certain amount of prior non-publishing.

    *highly variable depending on circumstance. But every circumstance has them.

  • My experience with review of competing renewals is that increased "glamour" of publication venue does not have much of a marginal effect once you reach the level of good society journals (i.e., IF at least 5). If you were consistently not reaching that level, you will get dinged for it, but a single C/N/S publication is not going to compensate if you were not otherwise productive.

    This means that grant review is less sensitive to the "glamour" effect than other aspects of professional advancement, such as getting jobs, awards, promotion, and tenure.

  • Oh, and BTW, I find it interesting that far-right-wingers so deeply enjoy what they perceive to be the suffering of others who are "getting what they deserve". They want criminals to be executed, people who fuck in unapproved ways to get sick, die, or lose their civil rights, poor people to live malnourished and in squalor, and immigrants to be unable to support themselves and have no access to healthcare or education.

    It must be horrible to actually be the kind of person whose inner world is constructed so as to gain the greatest joy in life at the suffering of others.

  • Tea Party says:


    The issue is not whether I am a sick individual, at least according to you. The real issue is: why are you and your colleagues going broke and constantly whining about funding? I am afraid I cannot be blamed for that.
    As you and others can see, research funding has been fairly constant as a share to GDP for a long time. You cannot expect society to come to your rescue with more funding simply because you keep training more PIs with little regard for their future and the future of the field as a whole. Look into your own career. How many PIs that could potentially replace you have you already trained? I bet a fair number. Then don't complain when these new PIs are hired and start competing against you and everyone else for grants.

    True, I conceit that now and in the future there will be much fewer resources for each of you. But that is not because the amount of resources has been terribly reduced; if anything, these resources have been substantially increased in the long-term. The problem is that you and other PIs have created so many more of like you that competition for those resources has become keen, and will be so for a long time.

    This is the elephant in the room with regards to science funding, and none of you PIs are willing to even talk about. Why so? I think that it's because you are addicted to cheap labor in the form of graduate students and postdocs, or, as I see it, future PIs that will further strain the system once their "training" is complete.

  • Joe says:

    I have a friend that says you should address every point the reviewers make, but not give them more data unless you just happen to have them and are willing to include them. So, if the reviewer says " This ms should not be accepted without Blah, blah, blah", you come back with a strong argument for why you don't need that.
    I have never tried this method to that extreme, though I usually end up arguing against one or two data requests per ms.
    I do find it irritating that there are certain journals where, no matter you give them, they ask for another paper's worth of data.

  • This is the elephant in the room with regards to science funding, and none of you PIs are willing to even talk about.

    You must be exceedingly ignorant of what PIs are talking about, because this issue has been the subject of extensive blogular discussion for years. And FYI, I am not going broke nor am I ever whining about funding. I have consistently taken the position that there are too many people competing for NIH funding, and that NIH's policy seems to be--as I believe it ought to be--attempting to reduce the denominator. Nevertheless, the fact that there are many more people obtaining PhDs and obtaining post-doctoral training than can eventually end up as NIH-funded PIs is no more an intrinsic problem with the biomedical research enterprise than the fact that there are many more people engaging in sports/music/art/writing/law/business/etc as career pursuits than can ever reach the "major leagues" is an intrinsic problem with those human enterprises.

    Finally, as far as "the issue", we each can of course identify and choose to focus on whatever issues we choose when commenting on blogges. I find it terribly disturbing that nasty vicious greedy miserable far-right-wingers who find such joy in other people's misfortune have such undue influence on our national discourse right now. It is nothing more than an extreme defense mechanism that allows them to tolerate their own impoverished and painful internal life by providing scapegoats whose "deserved" suffering is even worse. It is sick and it is sad, and in a sociopolitical cimate based on reality and not fantasy, such people would be correctly viewed as mentally ill and not as "Real Americans".

  • TP says:


    Ha, Ha. You might not be going broke now; just wait until the debt commission is unable to reach a consensus. We'll see how you fare then. Reps will defend Defense spending, Democrats will defend Social Security and Medicare, and everything else, science funding included, will be severely cut.

    I also find it disturbing that you compare a government-funded science labor market with "sports/music/art/writing/law/business/etc", since the latter are mostly private enterprises. People can do whatever they want on private enterprises. Science funding, however, is largely dependent on the Federal teat. Thus, it is a *privilege* that has been extended to you and others. But, since you and others in the "major leagues" cannot manage it properly, then I am for *withdrawing* such *privilege* that has been so generously given to you.

    Good luck in two months. For you own sake, the debt commission better reach a favorable agreement. Otherwise, you can apply for a job at the Food Network... washing dishes!

  • It's quite sad to observe people suffering from internal misery and pain who can only gain solace from what they perceive as the worse suffering of others. And it's a disgrace that one of the two political parties in this country has leveraged the greed, viciousness, and bigotry of these sick broken people into electoral gain and the consequent unfettered domination of society by a corporate oligarchy. But yeah, the problem is the "Federal teat".

  • TP says:

    And you keep not getting my point. Maybe you have aspirated too much DTT through your nostrils, thereby killing most of your neurons.

    The problem is not the "Federal teat", but that you have mismanaged the resources the "Federal teat" has given you, and in doing so, created a funding and existential crisis for your profession.

  • Grumble says:

    Come on, CPP, don't you know that the best way to get rid of a troll is to ignore him?

    On second thought, it's more fun to tell him to go fucke himselfe in the asse with a bigge sticke. Why don't you try that?

  • Who says I'm trying to get rid of him? It is useful to have people like that around so we can see up close the spiritual sickness that afflicts our nation.

  • qaz says:

    TP says ""sports/music/art/writing/law/business/etc", since the latter are mostly private enterprises."

    I don't know what fantasy world you've been living in, but in the real world, the financial markets have just been bailed out by the federal govt, not too long ago (say about 10 years ago), the airlines were bailed out to the tune of billions of dollars, and the state where I live is currently debating just how much to raise taxes to build a new stadium for our local sports franchise. (Notice that the debate is not about whether to cut taxes or not, but how much to raise them). The compromise suggestion was to give them (for free) the current stadium that was built with public funds 30 years ago. It was quickly rejected as not enough.

    Private business seems to me to be sucking pretty heavily off of the public teat.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    Tea Party-
    Don't forget that your "private research funding" meaning pharmaceuticals spends 50% of their funding on derivatizing drugs already on the market so that they can market an agent that is not substantially different that what's already used. The other 49% goes to making existing drugs easier to take (eg. once a day instead of twice a day).

    While the government should not be in the drug business, without government funding, you wouldn't have your rogaine, viagra, pepcid, etc. We'd still be performing gastrectomies for bleeding ulcers and HIV and other infectious diseases would be much more rampant. What gets me is that I suspect that when you get sick, you'd be the first in line for all these meds.

    Also, don't forget that the return on equity of government investment in research is very high. Something like every dollar spent pumps in 5 dollars into the economy. This is not true of other government spending (headstart, unemployment benefits, etc), so I suggest you re-calibrate (or at least do a little critical thinking).

  • drugmonkey says:

    Tea Party nutters don't do "critical thinking", Phys Sci. You know that.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    Don't lump them all in together. This person is clearly smart and can think through problems. H/she likely has a number of points on other issues that are valid and deserving of discussion. God knows government has areas on which it can improve! H/she is just misinformed on this issue, and we have an opportunity to educate.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Government cannot be improved by the "ideas" of those that are in willfull and cartoonishly absurd denial about the positive role of government

  • Grants Slave says:

    The real issue isnt the "government teat" per se...its what happens to US science when the teat goes dry. Observe the changes in NIH funding as the budget declines in 2012 and 2013. At the level of the IRG, support for innovation is replaced by the security of "sure thing" research plans. Less "milk" means more scientific incivilies...with PIs and funders pushing and shoving...trying to get their fair share of the limited resources. People get petty, aggressive and competitive. Recently, the Director of a major NIH institue refused to fund a grant with a 3rd percentile ranking, because the investigator didnt support her merger ideas at a Scientific Management Review Board meeting. Such economic tyrany can have a chilling effect on scientific progress, and the willingness of scientists to persist in the ongoing battle for funding.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Given the wide latitude of IC Directors to make funding decisions how do we know it was payback and not justthatthe PI had too much funding, was too duplicative, etc? Easy to cry shenanigans but tough to prove personal animus like that.

  • anon says:

    I would think that for an IC Director to dare to reject a 3rd percentile grant there must be a timely and major programmatic or policy issue. A dissenting opinion or refusing to support any IC Director ideas (including NIH Director) are neither reasonable nor acceptable reasons to turn down an outstanding grant. I find very hard to swallow that such reality would go unquestioned or unchallenged.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The NIGMS has had a policy in place for years that triggers extra-special review of grants if the PI already has a certain amount of direct costs from NIH in hand. There has been quite a bit of talk about capping total PI direct costs around the campfire (see Rock Talk blog) as a potential response to the current dismal funding situation. So if another IC decided to follow NIGMS' lead, this would be interesting, but hardly fodder for claiming shenanigans.

    There can be grants skipped over on other scientific bases as well. Personally I'm one that thinks that perhaps there should be a little more of this to avoid the cycle of me-too-ism in which Bunny Hopper cottage industries reinforce themselves. Those who serve on review panels are those that have been successful. It is a subtle (and not so subtle) recipe for self-replication and internal agreement of the Emperor's New Clothes variety.

    I believe one of the roles of Programmatic pickups in the grey area is to say "hey, wait, we should ALSO be funding this other stuff". Well, when times are tight, they may need to block the funding of highly-scoring apps because they already have a whole bunch of fairly similar projects funded.

    Remember, initial peer review is unable, and explicitly not supposed, to assess the overall portfolio of a given IC or the NIH as a whole.

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