Archive for the 'Call yer CongressCritter' category

Congress Critters want to reduce the NIH salary cap

from Nature:

The 2012 spending bill would cut the salary cap by 17%, from US$199,700 to $165,300, for extramural scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health...

I was wondering when some Congress Critter would figure out s/he can make some hay out of attacking scientists for their exorbitant salaries.

Here's my question though. Since $250,000 per year is "middle class" according to the last round of political rhetoric which addressed the salary/class issue...by what justification should scientists be under attack?

[bit of a Twittersation going on as well, start here]
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p.s. The vast majority of NIH funded PIs are way, waaaaaay under the salary cap, going by my experience. I would estimate that a disproportionate number of them are MD's as well. The theory on this latter is that they need to be bribed, I mean equivalently compensated, away from purely clinical careers. Agree or not, it needs to be considered.

p.p.s. While this sounds good on paper, in the immediate and medium term, this would roll back on those of us who are not BSD investigators making cap. Why? Because the Uni's would have to come up with the difference. Money being fungible, this means less cash for startup packages, bridging support, faculty senate pilot awards, paying for administrative staff, graduate student salaries....

p.p.p.s. Despite the pain, and the fact that some day I'd love to be at cap as it is right now, I'm actually in support of this. In the abstract. And if there were some way to stave off the immediate pain for junior folks (there isn't) I'd be a lot happier about it.

32 responses so far

For a change, Congress Critter goes after the NSF awardees

Dec 02 2010 Published by under Call yer CongressCritter, Conduct of Science, NSF

There is a long tradition of Congressional members trying to whip up a little support from their base by going after federally funded extramural research projects of the NIH. I have described some of this here and here.

You will note the trend, this has by and large been an effort of socially conservative Republican Congress Critters to attack projects that focus on issues of sexual behavior, drug taking, gender identity, homosexuality, etc. We know this is their focus because despite talking about "waste" of federal money they make no effort to realistically grapple with cost/benefit. No doubt because in their view the only necessary solution to behavioral health issues is "Stop it! If you can't then you must be morally inferior and do not deserve any public concern".

You will also note that they don't really mean it in many cases. You'll see this blather when they know they have no chance of getting the votes. In a prior case I reviewed, the complainers identified cancer as being a "real" concern worthy of funding, and then picked on a cancer-related project. A long while back when I first got interested (and I can't remember the specific details- it was a psychology type grant on beautifying dorm rooms or something), the Congress Critter's amendment specified an existing specific grant year- there was no way that I could see that the funds can be retrieved in such a situation. So you could see where much of this is just naked political posturing with no intent of actually doing anything. But still...it continues the anti-science environment and political memery. So we should address it.

Cackle of Rad has tipped us to a new effort by Rep Eric Cantor (R; VA) and Adrian Smith (R; NE) to invite you, the public, to identify NSF projects that irritate you. One assumes they think the public should be allowed to vote the projects out of funding.

Now, admittedly, I find the specific examples to be refreshing and new

Recently, however NSF has funded some more questionable projects - $750,000 to develop computer models to analyze the on-field contributions of soccer players and $1.2 million to model the sound of objects breaking for use by the video game industry.

Not a sign of a social issue and, gasp, are they really criticizing corporate pork? Admittedly the video game industry is not traditionally an ally of social conservatives (Grand Theft Auto anyone? hmm, maybe this requires some additional thought) but still.

Okay, so what are my two biggest objections to this practice.

First, the basic-science issue. It has been discussed before extensively on blogs. All clinical applications, medical devices, drugs, etc, are rooted in prior basic science that stretches back for decades and in cases centuries. We cannot get to new treatments in the future without laying the groundwork of basic understanding of healthy and diseased function of the human, the mammal, the vertebrate, the animal, the alive, the Earth-ian. Therefore the application of much of the present basic science work cannot be confidently asserted at the time it is being conducted. Sure, we pursue a general idea and can make some predictions about where it might apply but the history suggests that it is often a fortuitous inference, surprising connection or unlooked-for application of existing knowledge that creates a new therapy.

Non-biological research and design differs very little in this regard. Many new products and applications are built on the discoveries and innovations that came from basic (and applied, admittedly) science that came before.

It is a big mistake to allow persons who do not understand this to make the tactical decisions on what should and should not be funded. By tactical, of course, I mean the specific projects. I have less problem with Congress weighing in on general priorities, such as swings from focus on breast cancer to AIDS to Alzheimer's to diabetes or whatever. We have to accept, in the sciences, that there will be some degree of this prioritization that will not respect each of our own parochial research interests.

Just so long as we don't have wholesale prevention of research into major categories of health concern, that is...

My second objection to the democratic approach is the cost/benefit analysis objection. Not that it is my role to do such cost/benefit but the system as a whole should be sensitive to this. To a rational knowledge that, for example, if we create a new drug which lets an Alzheimer's patient live at home for 9 mo longer, stave off the need for in-home professional help for 12 mo and/or transition to low-intensity hospice later..well this is going to save a lot of money on a population basis. Not least because then they might, statistically, die of a stroke or heart attack or some other normal condition more frequently before they go into the intensive phase of managing end stage Alzheimer's.

The argument for corporate welfare for new products of a non-health nature is really no different. Spend money now to reap bigger savings later.

It's called "investment", yo!

And I don't really see where little 'd' democracy at a tactical level helps out with deciding what to invest in for the future.

11 responses so far

Riiiiight NIH. We're just not 'splaining it correctly to these CongressCritters

The NIH Office of Extramural Research has a howler in the recent Nexus.

Application titles, abstracts and statements of public health relevance that are part of your application are read by reviewers, program officers and other NIH staff, but once funded, this information is also available to the public

so therefore

The extramural community has a responsibility to clearly communicate the intent and value of their research to all those interested in learning more—Congress, the public, administrators, and scientists. Take every opportunity to tell people what you do, why you do it, and why they should care.

Well yes, this is true. DM's always going on about the taxpayer being "the boss". Ok. Gotcha there.

But how stupid do they think we are? Why the emphasis on the items that show up in RePORTER?

Right wing wackaloon politicians making hay by bashing peer reviewed and funded scientific projects. That's why.

Like ol' Proxmire

and

Toomey

and

Issa

and

Barton and Walden

and the latest....John McCain and Coburn on supposed ARRA excesses.

Gee, I somehow think that us scientists explaining the importance of our research a little better isn't going to do much good. These dumbasses don't care about the science. Heck, they don't even care about the money- one R01 is a mere dustmote in the Congressional allocation process. This is about drumming up political mouth breathers with anti-science blather, preferably focused on social health issues which run afoul of their moralistic viewpoints on human behavior.

Sex, drugs and HIV.

Work on those topics and all the explaining in the world isn't going to fend of critique from Congress.

I think we can safely ignore this request.

One response so far

CongressCritters, can you please get the left hand talking to the right hand?

Mar 25 2010 Published by under Animals in Research, Call yer CongressCritter

From this Op-Ed.

The Institute of Medicine has recently released a report outlining the ominous public-health threat of chronic hepatitis C, much of which is the result of unwitting infection through medically-necessary blood transfusions, leading to 350,000 deaths worldwide each year and infecting more than three to five times as many people in the United States as HIV.

Narsty isn't it? We should get right on that, don't you think? Any decent models for research?

Currently, chimpanzees are the only experimental animal, except for humans themselves, susceptible to infection with hepatitis C. The Great Ape Protection Act would end the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research, grinding promising studies to a halt and unconscionably delaying the release of anti-viral therapies and a vaccine for chronic hepatitis C.

Whoops.

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27 responses so far

The Politics of Drug Abuse Research Funding

Nov 04 2009 Published by under Call yer CongressCritter, Drug Abuse Science

Our good blogfriend, Scibling and scientist-artist BioE! has a post up discussing the intersection of drug abuse health care, drug abuse science, research funding and the political process. I recommend you start with:

Double standards, politics, and drug treatment research

But there's a huge double standard in the media, and in society in general, when it comes to drug abuse treatment...Maybe it's because these other addicts are meth addicts, or potheads, or heroin addicts - probably not people you relate to or approve of. That makes it pretty easy for the media to take cheap shots at crack, etc. addicts, and question whether we should waste money trying to help them...But here's an even easier target than pot smokers: drug-using Thai transgendered prostitutes!

That last is not a joke.

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15 responses so far

Outreach basics: Calling your Congress Critter

The good Dr. Isis is in the midst of reviewing Unscientific America and she has been striking a plaintive note:

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4 responses so far

More CongressCritter Meddling in the NIH Grant Process

In our last episode of "CongressCritter Meddling", it was Rep. Issa (R; CA) who tried to amend some appropriations bill or other to prevent the funding of three specific NIH grants.
The latest round of heroes are Reps Joe Barton (R; TX) and Greg Walden (R; OR) who are asking the new NIH director, Francis Collins, to come clean about a list of grants.

With that in mind, Barton and Walden are puzzled by some of the grants that were approved: "Impact of Dragon Boat Racing on Cancer Survivorship"; "Substance Use and HIV Risk Among Thai Women"; "The Healing of the Canoe"; "Patterns of Drug Use and Abuse in the Brazilian Rave Culture".
"We do not doubt that there may be some degree of scientific benefit to be gained from these studies," Barton and Walden wrote. "However, given the number of urgent public health issues facing the NIH, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and pandemic disease, we question how peer review panels determined these projects to have 'high scientific caliber' and how they are particularly relevant to the NIH Institute and Center research priorities."

It is the usual blowhard posturing. Want proof?

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13 responses so far

More on the NIH ARRA distribution

ARRAPosterforLabs.jpg
Poster Version
from Research!America
As PhysioProf just posted, we received a note from Heather Benson of the New Voices blog alerting everyone to a new poster created by Research!America. These sources also point us to a nifty web site which allows you to examine the distribution of NIH ARRA funding in the US.
Pretty interesting. In a couple of prior posts I talked about using NIH funding data to enhance your communications with your Congressional Rep I notice that the ARRA tables provided by the Research!America site include a national rank for each Congressional district. I make out the top Congressional NIH ARRA recipient districts as:
1. MA 8
2. NC 4
3. CA 53
4. NY 14
5. PA 2
Hmm, pretty good concordance with the overall NIH allocation, the only outlier seems to be MD 07, which falls to 6th on the ARRA list from 4th overall.
If you have received any ARRA funding I would encourage you to print out the poster and stick it up somewhere. Remember, all those support staff of your institution right down to overnight custodians are taxpayers and voters. It is important to communicate to them that the stimulus is supporting your work (and therefore their jobs) just as much as the new bridge-fixing or pothole-filling projects that impede their commute.

5 responses so far

How would you like some posturing Congress Critter to de-fund your grant?

Apparently Rep Issa (R; CA) has been successful in getting his amendment to prevent the NIH from funding three research projects through the House of Reps (or was it just committee?). We'll have to follow this to see how it goes. The grants are apparently:

(Ed note: RePORTER FAIL! can't figure out how to direct link projects..I'll work on it. Update: CRISP to the partial rescue)
Great isn't it? There you are, fighting to get your project funded, surmounting the usual procedural hurdles in the grant process. Finally, you get the grant funded and can get down to the business for which you are employed- doing good science in the interests of national, nay worldwide, public health. And some politician wants to prevent further funding of your project in the middle of the award period for naked political posturing purposes. Grand.
This is not new. Remember Rep Toomey?

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17 responses so far

Does your NIH-funding drenched CongressCritter support animal research?

Jun 25 2009 Published by under Animals in Research, Call yer CongressCritter

So one thing you can request of your Senator or Congress person is quite simple. Does your delegate believe in these three principles? Has s/he signed the petition yet?


The Pro-Test Petition
We the undersigned believe:

  1. That animal research has contributed and continues to contribute to major advances in the length and quality of our lives. It remains vital to understanding basic biological processes and for the development of new treatments and therapies such as antibiotics, vaccines, organ transplants, and cancer medicines.
  2. That animal research is morally justifiable provided animal welfare remains a high priority and no valid non-animal alternatives are available.
  3. That violence, intimidation and harassment of scientists and others involved in animal research is neither a legitimate means of protest, nor morally justified.

One response so far

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