Archive for the 'Conduct of Science' category

Credit where due: McKnight manages to get one right

Jul 08 2015 Published by under Conduct of Science

Steven McKnight's recent President's Message at ASBMB Today focuses on the tyranny of the hypothesis-test when it comes to grant evaluation.

I lament that, as presently constructed, the NIH system of funding science is locked into the straight-jacket of hypothesis-driven research. It is understandable that things have evolved in this manner. In times of tight funding, grant reviewers find it easier to evaluate hypothesis-driven research plans than blue-sky proposals. The manner in which the system has evolved has forced scientists to perform contractlike research that grant reviewers judge to be highly likely to succeed. In financially difficult times, more risky scientific endeavors with no safely charted pathway to success often get squeezed out.

.... But how should we describe the riskier blue-sky research that our granting agencies tend not to favor?

I agree. All science starts with observation. And most science, even a lot of that alleged to be hypothesis testing or lending "mechanistic insight" really boils down to observation.

If we do this, then that occurs.

Science never strays very far from poking something with a stick to see what happens.

The weird part is that McKnight doesn't bring this back to his "fund people not projects mantra". Amazing!

No, he actually has a constructive fix to accomplish his goals on this one.

Were it up to me, and it is clearly not, I would demand that NIH grant applications start with the description of a unique phenomenon. When I say unique, I mean unique to the applicant. The phenomenon may have come from the prior research of the applicant. Alternatively, the phenomenon may have come from the applicant’s unique observation of nature, medicine or the expansive literature.

This is great. A fix that applies to the project-focused granting system that we have. Fair for everyone.

Kudos dude.

10 responses so far

PhysioProffe on the conduct of science

Jun 25 2015 Published by under Careerism, Conduct of Science, NIH

go read:

Self-interested nepotistic shittebagges constantly assert this parade of horribles that if we don’t fund the right subset of scientists in today’s tight scientific funding environment (coincidentally them, their friends, their trainees, and their family members), then we are going to destroy scientific progress. This is because they are delusional......

No responses yet

Story boarding

When you "storyboard" the way a figure or figures for a scientific manuscript should look, or need to look, to make your point, you are on a very slippery slope.

It sets up a situation where you need the data to come out a particular way to fit the story you want to tell.

This leads to all kinds of bad shenanigans. From outright fakery to re-running experiments until you get it to look the way you want. 

Story boarding is for telling fictional stories. 

Science is for telling non-fiction stories. 

These are created after the fact. After the data are collected. With no need for storyboarding the narrative in advance.

32 responses so far

Stupid CV Tricks: Is a job talk an invited seminar?

May 27 2015 Published by under Academics, Careerism, Conduct of Science

My esteemed colleague says no:

My view is that a job talk is more prestigious than a mere invited seminar due to the focal competition and review.

So sure, put those down in the same CV category as non-job-talk seminar invitations.

42 responses so far

Medical Experiments on Slaves

An article by Dan Vergano at Buzzfeed alerts us:

Electric shocks, brain surgery, amputations — these are just some of the medical experiments widely performed on American slaves in the mid-1800s, according to a new survey of medical journals published before the Civil War.

Previous work by historians had uncovered a handful of rogue physicians conducting medical experiments on slaves. But the new report, published in the latest issue of the journal Endeavour, suggests that a widespread network of medical colleges and doctors across the American South carried out and published slave experiments, for decades.
...
Savitt first reported in the 1970s that medical schools in Virginia had trafficked in slaves prior to the Civil War. But historians had seen medical experiments on slaves as a practice isolated to a few physicians — until now.

to the following paper.

Kenny, S.C. Power, opportunism, racism: Human experiments under American slavery. Endeavour,
Volume 39, Issue 1, March 2015, Pages 10–20[Publisher Link]

Kenny writes:

Medical science played a key role in manufacturing and deepening societal myths of racial difference from the earli- est years of North American colonisation. Reflecting the practice of anatomists and natural historians throughout the Atlantic world, North American physicians framed andinscribed the bodies, minds and behaviours of black subjects with scientific and medical notions of fundamental and inherent racial difference. These medical ideas racialised skin, bones, blood, diseases, with some theories specifically designed to justify and defend the institution of racial slavery, but they also manifested materially as differential treatment – seen in medical education, practice and research.

I dunno. Have we changed all that much?

12 responses so far

Why are you a scientist? 

Apr 27 2015 Published by under Academics, Careerism, Conduct of Science

From the Twitts.....

Me, I think I never got past "I wonder what that does?" 

33 responses so far

The golden rule of peer review

Apr 04 2015 Published by under Conduct of Science, Peer Review

Review as you would wish to be reviewed.

14 responses so far

Someday....

When do I get to that stage where my lab is operated entirely by oppressed trainees who are totally doing the PI job in all ways but name and I get to sit back, eat bonbons and watch my h-index rise? 

30 responses so far

Supplementary Materials practices rob authors of citation credit

This is all the fault of qaz. And long time reader Nat had a blog post on this ages ago.

First, I shouldn't have to remind you all that much about a simple fact of nature in the academic crediting system. Citations matter. Our quality and status as academic scientists will be judged, in small or in large ways, by the citations that our own publications garner.

This is not to say the interpretation of citations is all the same because it most assuredly is not. Citation counting leads to all sorts of distilled measures across your career arc- Highly Cited and the h-index are two examples. Citation counting can be used to judge the quality of your individual paper as well- from the total number of cites, to the sustained citing across the years to the impressive-ness of the journals in which your paper has been cited.

Various stakeholders may disagree over which measure of citation of your work is most critical.

On one thing everyone agrees.

Citations matter.

One problem (out of many) with the "Supplementary Materials", that are now very close to required at some journals and heavily encouraged at others, is that they are ignored by the ISI's Web of Science indexing and, so far as I can tell, Google Scholar.

So, by engaging in this perverted system by which journals are themselves competing with each other, you* are robbing your colleagues of their proper due.

Nat observed that you might actually do this intentionally, if you are a jerk.

So now, not only can supplementary info be used as a dumping ground for your inconclusive or crappy data, but you can also stick references to your competitors in there and shaft them their citations.

Try not to be a jerk. Resist this Supplementary Materials nonsense. Science will be the better for it.

__
*yes, this includes me. I just checked some Supplementary citations that we've published to see if either ISI or Google Scholar indexes them- they do not.

25 responses so far

Wait...the new Biosketch is supposed to be an antiGlamour measure? HAHAHHAHHA!!!!!

A tweet from @babs_mph sent me back to an older thread where Rockey introduced the new Biosketch concept. One "Senior investigator" commented:

For those who wonder where this idea came from, please see the commentary by Deputy Director Tabak and Director Collins (Nature 505, 612–613, January 2014) on the issue of the reproducibility of results. One part of the commentary suggests that scientists may be tempted to overstate conclusions in order to get papers published in high profile journals. The commentary adds “NIH is contemplating modifying the format of its ‘biographical sketch’ form, which grant applicants are required to complete, to emphasize the significance of advances resulting from work in which the applicant participated, and to delineate the part played by the applicant. Other organizations such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have used this format and found it more revealing of actual contributions to science than the traditional list of unannotated publications.”

Here's Collins and Tabak, 2014 in freely available PMC format. The lead in to the above referenced passage is:

Perhaps the most vexed issue is the academic incentive system. It currently overemphasizes publishing in high-profile journals. No doubt worsened by current budgetary woes, this encourages rapid submission of research findings to the detriment of careful replication. To address this, the NIH is contemplating...

Hmmm. So by changing this, the ability on grant applications to say something like:

"Yeah, we got totally scooped out of a Nature paper because we didn't rush some data out before it was ready but look, our much better paper that came out in our society journal 18 mo later was really the seminal discovery, we swear. So even though the entire world gives primary credit to our scoopers, you should give us this grant now."

is supposed to totally alter the dynamics of the "vexed issue" of the academic incentive system.

Right guys. Right.

14 responses so far

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