Archive for the 'Conduct of Science' category

Backstabber? Really?

Sep 04 2015 Published by under Anger, Careerism, Conduct of Science

iBAM is pissed off!

A couple years ago I was applying for personal fellowships ...I talked to a junior groupleader (JG)...we brainstormed about what I would write in my fellowship. I wrote the fellowship and asked JG for feedback because they had experience with said fellowship. I submitted the fellowship and it got rejected. Twice. ....JG told me they were doing one of the experiments that I had proposed in my fellowship. And recently I saw that they had published the results. .......
What is the worst academic backstabbing you have experienced?

Look, I grasp that there are many situations of intellectual theft in this wide world of science.

But for every actual intellectual theft, there are scores of people who are deluded about their own unique special flower contribution and refuse to understand that many, many people probably had the same thoughts they did. People in your field read the same literature. They are interested in what you are interested in when it comes to understanding biology or whatever. How can you be shocked that someone else conducts the same experiments that you plan to conduct?

I have on more than one occasion read a grant proposal chock-a-block full of ideas that I've already thought up. Some of these never escaped the inside my head. Some were expressed to lab members or colleagues during conversations. Some were expressed in grant proposals, either submitted or left on the editing room floor, so to speak. Some of the ideas were of current interest, and some I'd dreamed up years before.

Maybe I have a lot of ideas about what science should be done next. Maybe more than most of you, I don't know. But I rather suspect that most of you also have way more thoughts about cool experiments to run than you can possibly get around to completing. Is it unfair if someone else completes a few of them?

And yeah. There have been cases where I have been unable to get a grant proposal on a given topic funded and lo and behold someone else later gets "my" grant to do the work I thought up...OUTRAGE! There must be a CONSPIRACY, maaang!

um. no.

It sometimes smarts. A lot. And can seem really, really unfair.

Look, I don't know the particulars of iBAM's case, but it doesn't generalize well, in my view. She "brainstormed with" this person. This person told her that they were doing the experiments. Is there maybe a wee hint of a chance that this person thought that the "brainstorming" session meant there was some co-ownership of ideas? That in mentioning the fact that they were starting to work on it this person thought they were giving fair warning to iBAM to assert some sort of involvement iF she chose?

The dangers of going overboard into the belief that the mere mention of a research plan or experiment to someone else means that they have to avoid working on that topic should be obvious. In this case, for example, iBAM didn't get the fellowship and eventually exited academic science. So perhaps those experiments would not have been completed if this sounding board person didn't do them. Or maybe they wouldn't have been done so soon.

And that would, presumably, be bad for science. After all, if you thought it was a good experiment to do, you should feel a little bit of dismay if that experiment never gets completed, right?

76 responses so far

A medium sized laboratory

How many staff members (mix of techs, undergrads, graduate students, postdocs, staff sci, PI) constitute a "medium sized laboratory" in your opinion? 

36 responses so far

Tracking sex bias in neuroscience conferences

Aug 31 2015 Published by under Careerism, Conduct of Science, Neuroscience

A Tweep directed my attention to of which the About page says:

The progress of science is best served when conferences include a panel of speakers that is representative of the field. Male-dominated conference programs are generally not representing their field, missing out on important scientific findings, and are one important factor contributing to the “brain-drain” of talented female scientists from the scientific workforce. As a group, BiasWatchNeuro has formed to encourage conference organizers to make every effort to have their program reflect the composition of their field.

Send information about conferences, seminar series or other scientific programs to

Check it out.

43 responses so far

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

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