Archive for the 'Anger' category

When NIH uses affirmative action to fix a bias

Jul 20 2018 Published by under Anger, Fixing the NIH, NIH, NIH Careerism

We have just learned that in addition to the bias against black PIs when they try to get research funding (Ginther et al., 2011), Asian-American and African-American K99 applicants are also at a disadvantage. These issues trigger my usual remarks about how NIH has handled observed disparities in the past. In the spirit of pictures being worth more than words we can look up the latest update on success rates for RPG (a laundry list of research grant support mechanisms) broken down by two key factors.
First up is the success rate by the gender of the PI. As you can see very clearly, something changed in 2003. All of a sudden a sustained advantage for men disappeared. Actually two things happened. This disparity was "fixed" and the year after success rates went in the tank for everyone. There are a couple of important observations. The NIH didn't suddenly fix whatever was going on in study section, I guaranfrickentee it. I guarantee there were not also any magic changes in the pipeline or female PI pool or anything else. I guarantee you that the NIH decided to equalize success rates by heavy handed top-down affirmative action policies in the nature of "make it so" and "fix this". I do not recall ever seeing anything formal so, hey, I could be way off base. If so, I look forward to any citation of information showing change in the way they do business that coincided directly with the grants submitted for the FY2003 rounds.
The second thing to notice here is that women's success rates never exceeded that for men. Not for fifteen straight Fiscal Years. This further supports my hypothesis that the bias hasn't been fixed in some fundamental way. If it had been fixed, this would be random from year to year, correct? Sometimes the women's rates would sneak above the men's rates. That never happens. Because of course when we redress a bias, it can only ever just barely reach statistically indistinguishable parity and if god forbid the previously privileged class suffers even the tiniest little bit of disadvantage it is an outrage.
Finally, the fact that success rates went in the tanker in 2004 should remind you that men enjoyed the advantage all during the great NIH doubling! The salad days. Lots of money available and STILL it was being disproportionately sucked up by the advantaged group. You might think that when there is an interval of largesse that systems would be more generous. Good time to slip a little extra to women, underrepresented individuals or the youth, right? Ha.

Which brings me to the fate of first-time investigators versus established investigators. Oh look, the never-funded were instantly brought up to parity in 2007. In this case a few years after the post-doubling success rates went in the toilet but more or less the same pattern. Including the failure of the statistically indistiguishable success rates for the first timers to ever, in 11 straight years of funding, to exceed the rates for established investigators. Because of affirmative action instead of fixing the bias. As you will recall, the head of the NIH at that time made it very clear that he was using "make it so" top-down heavy handed quota based affirmative action to accomplish this goal.

Zerhouni created special awards for young scientists but concluded that wasn't enough. In 2007, he set a target of funding 1500 new-investigator R01s, based on the previous 5 years' average.

Some program directors grumbled at first, NIH officials say, but came on board when NIH noticed a change in behavior by peer reviewers. Told about the quotas, study sections began “punishing the young investigators with bad scores,” says Zerhouni.


I do not recall much in the way of discussing the "pipelines" and how we couldn't possible do anything to change the bias of study sections until a new, larger and/or better class of female or not-previously-funded investigators could be trained up. The NIH just fixed it. ish. permanently.

For FY2017 there were 16,954 applications with women PIs. 3,186 awards. If you take the ~3% gap from the interval prior to 2003, this means that the NIH is picking up some 508 research project grants from women PIs via their affirmative action process. Per year. If you apply the ~6% deficit enjoyed by first time investigators in the salad days you end up with 586 research project grants picked up by affirmative action. Now there will be some overlap of these populations. Women are PI of about 31% of applications in the data for the first graph and first timers are about 35% for the second. So very roughly women might be 181 of the affirmative action newbie apps and newbies might be 178 of the affirmative action women's apps. The estimates are close. So let's say something like 913 unique grants are picked up by the NIH just for these two overt affirmative action purposes. Each and every Fiscal Year.

Because of the fact that, for example, African-American PIs of research grants or K99 apps represent such tiny percentages of the total (2% in both cases), the number of pickups that would be necessary to equalize success rate disparities is tiny. In the K99 analysis, it was a mere 23 applications across a decade. Two per year. I don't have research grant numbers handy but if we use the data underlying the first graph, this means there were about 1,080 applications with African-American PIs in FY2017. If they hit the 19% success rate this would be about 205 applications. Ginther reported about a 13% success rate deficit, working out to 55% of the success rate enjoyed by white applicants at the time. This would correspond to a 10.5% success rate for black applicants now, or about 113 application. So 92 would be needed to make up the difference for African-American PIs assuming the Ginther disparity still holds. This would be less than one percent of the awards made.

Less than one percent. And keep in mind these are not gifts. These are making up for a screwjob. These are making up for the bias. If any applicants from male, established or white populations go unfunded to redress the bias, they are only losing their unearned advantage. Not being disadvantaged.

28 responses so far

Another day, another report on the postdocalypse

As mentioned in Science, a new report from the US Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have deduced we have a problem with too many PhDs and not enough of the jobs that they want.

The report responds to many years of warning signs that the U.S. biomedical enterprise may be calcifying in ways that create barriers for the incoming generation of researchers. One of the biggest challenges is the gulf between the growing number of young scientists who are qualified for and interested in becoming academic researchers and the limited number of tenure-track research positions available. Many new Ph.D.s spend long periods in postdoctoral positions with low salaries, inadequate training, and little opportunity for independent research. Many postdocs pursue training experiences expecting that they will later secure an academic position, rather than pursuing a training experience that helps them compete for the range of independent careers available outside of academia, where the majority will be employed. As of 2016, for those researchers who do transition into independent research positions, the average age for securing their first major NIH independent grant is 43 years old, compared to 36 years old in 1980.

No mention (in the executive summary / PR blurb) that the age of first R01 has been essentially unchanged for a decade despite the NIH ESI policy and the invention of the K99 which is limited by years-since-PhD.

No mention of the reason that we have so many postdocs, which is the uncontrolled production of ever more PhDs.

On to the actionable bullet points that interest me.

Work with the National Institutes of Health to increase the number of individuals in staff scientist positions to provide more stable, non-faculty research opportunities for the next generation of researchers. Individuals on a staff scientist track should receive a salary and benefits commensurate with their experience and responsibilities.

This is a recommendation for research institutions but we all need to think about this. The NCI launched the R50 mechanism in 2016 and they have 49 of them on the books at the moment. I had some thoughts on why this is a good idea here and here. The question now, especially for those in the know with cancer research, is whether this R50 is being used to gain stability and independence for the needy awardee or whether it is just further larding up the labs of Very Important Cancer PIs.

Expand existing awards or create new competitive awards for postdoctoral researchers to advance their own independent research and support professional development toward an independent research career. By July 1, 2023, there should be a fivefold increase in the number of individual research fellowship awards and career development awards for postdoctoral researchers granted by NIH.

As we know the number of NIH fellowships has remained relatively fixed relative to the huge escalation of "postdocs" funded on research grant mechanisms. We really don't know the degree to which independent fellowships simply annoint the chosen (population wise) versus aid the most worthy and deserving candidates to stand out. Will quintupling the F32s magically make more faculty slots available? I tend to think not.

As we know, if you really want to grease the skids to faculty appointment the route is the K99/R00 or basically anything that means the prospective hire " comes with money". Work on that, NIH. Quintuple the K99s, not the F32s. And hand out more R03 or R21 or invent up some other R-mechanism that prospective faculty can apply for in place of "mentored" K awards. I just had this brainstorm. R-mechs (any really) that get some cutesy acronym (like B-START) and can be applied for by basically any non-faculty person from anywhere. Catch is, it works like the R00 part of the K99/R00. Only awarded upon successful competition for a faculty job and the offer of a competitive startup.

Ensure that the duration of all R01 research grants supporting early-stage investigators is no less than five years to enable the establishment of resilient independent research programs.

Sure. And invent up some "next award" special treatment for current ESI. and then a third-award one. and so on.

Or, you know, fix the problem for everyone which is that too many mouths at the trough have ruined the cakewalk that experienced investigators had during the eighties.

Phase in a cap – three years suggested – on salary support for all postdoctoral researchers funded by NIH research project grants (RPGs). The phase-in should occur only after NIH undertakes a robust pilot study of sufficient size and duration to assess the feasibility of this policy and provide opportunities to revise it. The pilot study should be coupled to action on the previous recommendation for an increase in individual awards.

This one got the newbie faculty all het up on the twitters.


being examples if you are interested.

They are, of course, upset about two things.

First, "the person like me". Which of course is what drives all of our anger about this whole garbage fire of a career situation that has developed. You can call it survivor guilt, self-love, arrogance, whatever. But it is perfectly reasonable that we don't like the Man doing things that mean people just like us would have washed out. So people who were not super stars in 3 years of postdoc'ing are mad.

Second, there's a hint of "don't stop the gravy train just as I passed your damn insurmountable hurdle". If you are newb faculty and read this and get all angree and start telling me how terrible I need to sit down an introspect a bit, friend. I can wait.

New faculty are almost universally against my suggestion that we all need to do our part and stop training graduate students. Less universally, but still frequently, against the idea that they should start structuring their career plans for a technician-heavy, trainee-light arrangement. With permanent career employees that do not get changed out for new ones every 3-5 years like leased Priuses either.

Our last little stupid poll confirmed that everyone things 3-5 concurrent postdocs is just peachy for even the newest lab and gee whillikers where are they to come from?

This new report will go nowhere, just like all the previous ones that reach essentially the same conclusion and make similar recommendations. Because it is all about the

1) Mouths at the trough.
2) Available slops.

We continue to breed more mouths PHDs.

And the American taxpayers, via their duly appointed representatives in Congress, show no interest in radically increasing the budget for slops science.

And even if Congress trebled or quintupled the NIH budget, all evidence suggests we'd just to the same thing all over again. Mint more PhDs like crazee and wonder in another 10-15 years why careers still suck.

63 responses so far


Jan 31 2017 Published by under Anger


Indecent people do not stop because they realize they are wrong or went too far.

They only stop when the decent people stop them.

3 responses so far

A couple of concerned citizens

Aug 12 2016 Published by under Anger, General Politics

First there was this lovely* gentleman from a Trump rally in Florida:

A rally which featured this equally delightful** example of RealAmericanism***

Then there was the guy (h/t @neuromusic) who you would think was just a garden variety dimwit who doesn't understand the law and hates cyclists. Until he gets to the part where he threatens to "pull a Trump on you". I don't think he was talking about scamming this poor cyclist out of a real estate investment and filing Chapter 11 to walk off with the money either, but I'm sure our conservative commenter friends BV and N-c will be right along to explain how this was a joke. Or that it is a complete coincidence that out of control, raging violent homophobic road rage jerks reference Trump.

*for the Trump apologists, who seem to be perplexingly dimwitted on the topic lately, this is what sarcasm looks like.

**also sarcasm.

*** ____________ (fill in the blank exercise)

11 responses so far

Trump advocates assassination of Hillary Clinton

Aug 09 2016 Published by under Anger, General Politics

August 9, 2016 was the day.

34 responses so far

I oppose H8

Jul 22 2016 Published by under Anger

Sometimes just shaking your head isn't enough.

One of the things that I've believed is the very essence of the American Dream is the aspiration to own your own little home, live in a nice neighborhood, raise your kids as best you can and live happily ever after with your spouse.

NBC Philadelphia reported on the American Dream of one couple as it is right now in 2016.

The couple said they bought the house in 2014 and moved there for a fresh start — a place where their boys, now ages 8 and 13, could play in the yard with the four family dogs and leave behind the hurt of their biological parents’ struggles with drugs and crime.

But, the pair said, they found only discrimination and hate. First, they said, in the form of the frivolous lawsuit, and later during a months-long campaign of repeated vandalism to their home that included someone using the cover of night to scrawl the slur onto their garage, breaking their security sensors on numerous occasions and twice taking a hacksaw to the white fence that supposedly sparked it all.

There's a gofundme set up to pay this family's legal bills.

I'm going to suggest that this is a great opportunity to give even as little as $5 just to register a vote of protest against hatred and in support of decency. Or as the lighting of a candle in the darkness.

Or maybe, as I do, you think that this could easily be you, your family or the family of people that are really close to you. The specifics may vary. Maybe it is not your sexual orientation but the color of your skin. Maybe it is your religion or the clothes you choose to wear. Maybe it is your chosen profession or perhaps a health or ability condition. Whatever it may be, you might be unlucky enough to end up in a neighborhood with people who hate you for what you are, not for who you are. And some of these sick individuals may be feel it is perfectly acceptable to persecute you because of their hatred.

And if so perhaps you hope, as I do, that if you had uncharitable neighbors like these poor people do, that the rest of the country would rise up and register a small vote of support for you.

6 responses so far

How AAAS and Science magazine really feel about sexual harassment cases in science

Michael Balter wrote a piece about sexual harassment accusations against paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History that was published in Science magazine.

This story has been part of what I hope is a critical mass of stories publicizing sexual harassment in academia. Critical, that is, to stimulating real improvement in workplaces and a decrease in tolerance for sexual harassing behavior on the part of established scientists toward their underlings.

There have been a very disturbing series of tweets from Balter today.

Holy....surely it isn't connected to....

Oh Christ, of course it is....

but they published it so...?

Well THAT should have a nicely suppressing effect on journalists who may think about writing up any future cases of sexual harassment in academia.

UPDATE: Blog entry from Balter.
ETA: I am particularly exercised about this after completing, just this week, a survey from AAAS about what the membership expects from them. The survey did not seem to have a check box item for "Fight against scientific and workplace misconduct".

36 responses so far

How you know NIH officialdom is not being honest with you

Mar 10 2016 Published by under Anger, Fixing the NIH

Continue Reading »

18 responses so far

It's the pig-dog field scientists that are the problem

Mar 10 2016 Published by under Anger, Fixing the NIH, NIH, NIH Careerism

But clearly the laboratory based male scientists would never harass their female subordinates.

Field science is bad.

Lab science is good.

This is what the head of the Office of Extramural Research at the NIH seems to think.

8 responses so far

Capriati is the only one making sense on Sharapova's cheating

Mar 08 2016 Published by under Anger, Doping

Read this.

The question is not about whether Maria Sharapova should have known meldonium was added to the banned list for 2016.

The question is why she has been taking this since the age of 16 for an "abnormal EKG" diagnosed by her personal physician.

MLB players have *astonishingly* high rates of adult ADHD which requires treatment with amphetamines.

Pro cyclists are cursed, apparently, with almost universal asthma, requiring bronchodilator use.

Medical exemptions and dubious diagnoses from personal physicians are severely abused ways to get around doping bans and Rx-only regulations.

It's still cheating.

23 responses so far

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