Open Grantsmanship

Apr 27 2016 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Careerism

The Ramirez Group is practicing open grantsmanship by posting "R01 Style" documents on a website. This is certainly a courageous move and one that is unusual for scientists. It is not so long ago that mid-to-senior level Principal Investigator types were absolutely dismayed to learn that CRISP, the forerunner to RePORTER, would hand over their funded grants' abstract to anyone who wished to see it.

There are a number of interesting things here to consider. On the face of it, this responds to a plea that I've heard now and again for real actual sample grant materials. Those who are less well-surrounded by grant-writing types can obviously benefit from seeing how the rather dry instructions from NIH translate into actual working documents. Good stuff.

As we move through certain changes put in place by the NIH, even the well experienced folks can benefit from seeing how one person chooses to deal with the Authentication of Resources requirement or some such. Budgeting may be helpful for others. Ditto the Vertebrate Animals section.

There is the chance that this will work as Open Pre-Submission Peer Review for the Ramirez group as well. For example, I might observe that referring to Santa Cruz as the authoritative proof of authentic antibodies may not have the desired effect in all reviewers. This might then allow them to take a different approach to this section of the grant, avoiding the dangers of a reviewer that "heard SC antibodies are crap".

But there are also drawbacks to this type of Open Science. In this case I might note that posting a Vertebrate Animals statement (or certain types of research protocol description) is just begging the AR wackaloons to make your life hell.

But there is another issue here that I think the Readers of this blog might want to dig into.

Priority claiming.

As I am wont to observe, the chances are high in the empirical sciences that if you have a good idea, someone else has had it as well. And if the ideas are good enough to shape into a grant proposal, someone else might think these thoughts too. And if the resulting application is a plan that will be competitive, well, it will have been shaped into a certain format space by the acquired wisdom that is poured into a grant proposal. So again, you are likely to have company.

Finally, we all know that the current NIH game means that each PI is submitting a LOT of proposals for research to the NIH.

All of this means that it is likely that if you have proposed a 5 year plan of research to the NIH someone else has already, or will soon, propose something that is a lot like it.

This is known.

It is also known that your chances of bringing your ideas to fruition (published papers) are a lot higher if you have grant support than if you do not. The other way to say this is that if you do not happen to get funded for this grant application, the chances that someone else will publish papers related to your shared ideas is higher.

In the broader sense this means that if you do not get the grant, the record will be less likely to credit you for having those ideas and brilliant insights that were key to the proposal.

So what to do? Well, you could always write Medical Hypotheses and review papers, sure. But these can be imprecise. They describe general hypotheses and predictions but....that's about all.

It would be of more credit to you to lay out the way that you would actually test those hypotheses, is it not? In all of the brilliant experimental design elegance, key controls and fancy scientific approaches that are respected after the fact as amazing work. Maybe even with a little bit of preliminary evidence that you are on the right track, even if that evidence is far too limited to ever be published.

Enter the Open Grantsmanship ploy.

It is genius.

For two reasons.

First, of course, is pure priority claiming. If someone else gets "your" grant and publishes papers, you get to go around whining that you had the idea first. Sure, many people do this but you will have evidence.

Second, there is the subtle attempt to poison the waters for those other competitors' applications. If you can get enough people in your subfield reading your Open Grant proposals then just maaaaaybe someone on a grant panel will remember this. And when a competing proposal is under review just maaaaaaybe they will say "hey, didn't Ramirez Group propose this? maybe it isn't so unique.". Or maybe they will be predisposed to see that your approach is better and downgrade the proposal that is actually under review* accordingly. Perhaps your thin skin of preliminary data will be helpful in making that other proposal look bad. Etc.

*oh, it happens. I have had review comments on my proposals that seemed weird until I became aware of other grant proposals that I know for certain sure couldn't have been in the same round of review. It becomes clear in some cases that "why didn't you do things this way" comments are because that other proposal did indeed do things that way.

23 responses so far

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    Among (non-pseudonymous) science bloggers, open grantmanship isn't that uncommon, although typically for non-NIH agencies. Rosie Redfield posts her proposals (but being Canadian, they are to CIHR and NSERC), as does C. Titus Brown (American, but mostly NSF funded), for example.

  • drugmonkey says:

    two is "not uncommon"?

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    Fine. Here's a third, Rod Page. Mind you, these three are people whose work I follow and whose blogs I read. This is out of maybe 20 scientist bloggers that follow in total. So no, not *that* uncommon. I'm sure I could lots more outside of my research interests.

  • drugmonkey says:

    There are probably six figures or more of scientists applying for grants in the US alone.

    As far as I know the PI of the Ramirez group is not a science blogger.

    So given that I said "unusual for scientists", and did not reference the population of science bloggers (pseud or otherwise) I am unclear on what point you are trying to make with your "not uncommon" comment.

    Posting grant proposals online is highly unusual behavior, full stop. Any attempt to claim otherwise is an attempt (for unknown reasons) to distort the record.

    Now, did you have any comment on anything that is of substance in this post or are you only interested in meaningless distractions today?

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    My point is that the idea isn't all that new or radical. You just haven't been in the right circles (considering your frequent references to OA "wackaloons" you might even be actively *avoiding* them). It's like the people who "discovered" the Internet in the late 1990s ignoring that the nerds had been on-line for years.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I didn't say it is new OR radical.

  • jmz4 says:

    I wonder if they'll put the study section comments up there. Now *that* would be enlightening.

    But is that even allowable? I know they say "privileged communication" at the top.

    As to your points, I wonder if this would actually go beyond priority claiming and actually forestall people working on overlapping projects, if widely enough adopted. I know that I certainly wouldn't start a new project (which is what the application is supposedly doing, but YMMV) if I knew someone else was working on something similar. Of course, my PI and colleagues allege that these idea-stealing demon labs exist. But I haven't seen much first-hand evidence for that.

  • I would have zero problem posting every grant application I have ever submitted and their summary statements on the Internet from when I was a post-doc to yesterday. I just don't have the time or motivation to do so. If someone wants to email me, I'll happily send dozens of grant applications and their summary statements for posting on Internet.

  • serialmentor says:

    Comradde PhysioProffe, you're hilarious. No time to post a grant proposal (which would take how long, 5 minutes?) but plenty of time to comment on nearly every single DM blog post.

    Send them my way, and I'll put them in a github repository and even write a nice web interface with hyperlinks.

  • SidVic says:

    yeah, when i was first starting to submit ro1s I searched extensively online for a application to model mine on; i was unsuccessful. I think this is how i came across DM's site.

    I eventually begged and borrowed applications from senior colleagues. Reading those applications were indispensable.

  • Grumble says:

    "If you can get enough people in your subfield reading your Open Grant proposals"

    Uh-huh. Because all those people in my subfield don't have enough to read, right?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Tell us more about this github repository, serial mentor.

  • baltogirl says:

    I seriously doubt that a posted grant application will establish any kind of priority, because it will not be in the literature- is not a citable reference.
    I have been known to post portions of my grant application for teaching purposes.
    It was indeed difficult, coming from an NIH postdoc where no one has any grants for you to look at, to find a grant example when I was first starting out. I was really lucky to meet a former professor at a meeting who was an NSF SRO-type person. He sent me two NSF grants to review, one which was terrible (formatting, language, organization) and one which was really good (clear, organized etc). By comparing these two grants, I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do for my first submission. (I still sent the grant out to anyone willing to pre-review it for me.)

  • Mikka says:

    This is more about establishing online presence. In a world where having ten thousand twitter followers is something that would feature prominently in a promotion/job package, internet-savy influence is starting to weigh as much as real scientific contribution, because, well, maybe it should. I doubt that things like old-fashioned priority register for overachieving millennials like Ramirez, who know that the only opinion that counts today is that of the internet hive-mind.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yes I'm sure P&T committees are very impressed with thousands of Twitter followers.

  • Mikka says:

    TEN thousand. That puts you roughly in the top 50 science twits. And yes, P&T committees not constituted of mummified deadwood smelling of death do consider these things when evaluating reputation, as they consider blogs, and as they have always considered pieces written in non-scientific media. And NSF panels consider it evidence of a track record of broader impact because it engages the public. This I have seen.

    Not saying it's WHAT they look for, but if it's there and the applicant can pitch it well it can tilt decisions one way or another.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I think any given tenure candidate would be absolutely insane to count on ten thousand twitter followers to make up for any limitation in their traditional measures that are the usual grist of P&T committees. There may be the occasional one but I would bet the vast majority look at such evidence, have no idea how to use it and count it as nothing. This I have seen.

  • Mikka says:

    I have a grand total of 19 followers, 8 of them family members, so I'm not particularly happy that this trend is a thing. All I'm saying is that, these days, Asimov would not have had a problem keeping his tenured position.

  • qaz says:

    Mikka - The whole point of tenure is that no one need worry about *keeping* their tenured position.

  • Mikka says:

    They still tried to fire his tenured ass because of low scientific output, ignoring his prodigious productivity as a science divulger. Sagan was also denied tenure at Harvard because of his activism. These days, there would be an outcry with multiple cringe-inducing hashtags, gofundmes, petitions, all of which would percolate to MSM. The game done change, at least a little.

  • DNAdrinker says:

    " Sagan was also denied tenure at Harvard because of his activism. " That's probably not true. Harvard physics and astronomy pretty much treats their assistant professors as six year postdocs, at least they did in the 90's when I was there. I'm sure it was that way in the 60's, also.

    In the old days, everyone who has tenure there was a senior hire. Even some people who started as Asst Prof at Harvard, didn't get tenure, but got recruited as senior hires like ten years later. Harvard just new they could recruit the best, so they went out and did it.

    I saw an article from a Harvard Provost or someone like that a few years ago, saying that strategy quit working when dual career couples became a thing. They would try to recruit someone, but found that their spouse was well established in another city and the person didn't want to move.

    Also, you can buy 10,000 twitter followers for $5.

  • serialmentor says:


    Apologies for the late response.

    > Tell us more about this github repository, serial mentor.

    How about this one:

    It's more conveniently available here, in class #8 from Sep. 22, 2015:

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