Archive for the 'Anger' category

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

"omg science is totally brokenz!" always, always comes back to the same thing. always.

Feb 17 2016 Published by under #FWDAOTI, Anger

i.e., "I'm better than the riffraff and now that I feel a tiny tinge of their pain it proves the entire system is broken".

Respected neuroscientist Leslie Vosshall has joined with Michael Eisen in the latest "science needs to be torn down and rebuilt" crusades.

This time it is over pre-print archives. These two think we all should submit manuscripts to some sort of public repository before submitting them to journals for publication.

Whee! Unicorns!

Someone kindly forwarded me a link to a puff-piece / character assassination on Professor Vosshall. I phrase it like that because, well, eye of the beholder, eh?

As a teenager in the early 1980s, Leslie Vosshall spent her summers in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “My uncle is a scientist and he’d rent a lab there,” she says. “He always needed someone to come and do the glassware. It was a plum job, generally handed out via the nepotistic network...

cue privilege...

“I was widely viewed as the most pathetic graduate student. I had no hint of any success for the first 6 years of my PhD..... Two years went by, then three, then four. The more vocal people in and around the lab told me I should just give up and go to law school.” ....“The litany of failures goes on and on.... “I can’t say I was the greatest experimentalist in the world. I made great cDNA libraries and I was really good at manual Sanger sequencing. But these techniques are now extinct. So it’s probably best I’m no longer at the bench.”

umm. okay. so how...?

Then her lab mates identified another mutation, in a gene called timeless, which also alters the flies’ circadian rhythms. Vosshall found that in timeless mutants,....Vosshall joined Richard Axel’s lab ...Then the Drosophila genome was sequenced and we teamed up with some bioinformaticists, also at Columbia. They sifted through the genome looking for all membrane proteins—and that’s how we found them. It was an 11th-hour save. When we went back through our freezers, which were filled with the thousands of clones we’d made, it turns out we actually had two of the receptors in our collection......“There have been maybe three moments in my career when I knew that I personally solved something.

Wow. Like I said, quite the character assassination. From a certain point of view. I mean this paints a picture, true or not, of a person of immense privilege who admits to be a crap scientist who never figured out anything on her own, leveraged just-happened-to-be-there in high-flying and no doubt copiously resourced labs into a few nice papers and BAM, off to a career of Glamourousness. Pretty damning.

This is the relevant part though.

“When I started in this business in 2000, if you wrote a good grant you would be funded. This is not the case now. I deal with it by not writing grants. I know it’s stupid and a bit pouty, but I just can’t stand the rejection.” And she doesn’t care for the current climate of rationing. Vosshall, now an HHMI investigator, had an NSF grant turned down in 2006—despite receiving near-perfect scores. She was later told that grants with lower scores were given priority because she had other sources of funding, where the other labs did not. “That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Is that how we run professional sports? ‘Let’s let this guy pitch. He’s not as good, but he hasn’t had a chance recently.’ This may work well in elementary school. But it is not how it’s supposed to work in science.”

I was in this business in 2000. The part about writing a good grant and getting funded is, in a word, bullshit. It's a lie and a No-True-Scotsman ploy.

We've been through this before. Her success and ease of launch was based on the Glam papers and the Glam pedigree, not her grant writing. Believe me*. All that changed is that finally, at some point, she started feeling the tiniest bit of reality that was faced by most** scientists.

Those other folks.

Over there.

Who must not write "good" grants and so therefore they deserve what they get. But not her, ooooh no. If she has to face a "rejection" she's going to get all pouty. And instead of feeling grateful for a schweeeet HHMI dealio, complain about how she can't get even MORE support from the NSF (which worries about such things even more than does NIGMS or NIH as a whole if I have it right) it is an outrage. The entitlement just bleeds off this page of The Scientist.

And now, Vosshall is joining up with Michael Eisen to push pre-prints because the process of pushing her work into Glamour journals (7 Cell; 8 Nature; 4 Science of 78 pubs) is just too much work. The rejection (10 Neuron; 2 Nat Neuro tch, tch) must be really annoying. How dare anyone hold her to any sort of account for her offerings?

Clearly science is entirely broken and needs to be revolutionized.

I've convinced myself. This WAS a hit job. Nobody could possibly be this much of an asshole about science careers and their unbelievable run of self-described unearned privilege, could they? Right?

well yeah but when you come from a lab that pumps out the Glam...

too good to Edit now? hmmm.

Now, I'm going to address myself to Professor Eisen, who I think mostly has his heart in the right place. He, Bernie-Sanders-like, wishes to start a popular revolutionary conflagration that will bring his fondest desires to pass. He knows, somewhere deep down, that he needs the masses on his side to make this happen. He walks quite a bit of his talk. Great. Love the apparent intention to make science go forward faster, better and more efficiently.

But dude. Mike. For realz here. You alienate the ever loving shit out of the masses of workaday scientists when you cozy up with privileged, selfish, Glam scientists of the realm who have no intention of making science better and are only after making it better for themselves. This hit job in The Scientist on Vosshall (surely it is, right?) describes precisely the kind of person you don't want to hook up with. The image you don't want to hook up with, regardless of the truth in the heart of any particular person (ahem). Because it guarantees you will fail.

Just like hooking up with Glam folks to gain immediate power seduced you into creating PLoS Glams instead of only PLoS ONE guaranteed that particular agenda would fail.

Turn to the Bernie side, Professor Eisen. Do what works for the masses and burn down the entire institution of Glamour science.

It's the only way to achieve your goal.

*Trump voice.

**the riffraff

55 responses so far

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