Archive for the 'Diversity in Science' category

NIH still doesn't get anywhere close to a response to the Ginther finding.

In case my comment never makes it out of moderation at RockTalk....

Interesting to contrast your Big Data and BRAINI approaches with your one for diversity. Try switching those around…”establish a forum..blah, blah…in partnership…blah, engage” in Big Data. Can’t you hear the outraged howling about what a joke of an effort that would be? It is embarrassing that the NIH has chosen to kick the can down the road and hide behind fake-helplessness when it comes to enhancing diversity. In the case of BRAINI, BigData and yes, discrimination against a particular class of PI applicants (the young) the NIH fixes things with hard money- awards for research projects. Why does it draw back when it comes to fixing the inequality of grant awards identified in Ginther?

When you face up to the reasons why you are in full cry and issuing real, R01 NGA solutions for the dismal plight of ESIs and doing nothing similar for underrepresented PIs then you will understand why the Ginther report found what it did.

ESIs continue, at least six years on, to benefit from payline breaks and pickups. You trumpet this behavior as a wonderful thing. Why are you not doing the same to redress the discrimination against underrepresented PIs? How is it different?

The Ginther bombshell dropped in August of 2011. There has been plenty of time to put in real, effective fixes. The numbers are such that the NIH would have had to fund mere handfuls of new grants to ensure success rate parity. And they could still do all the can-kicking, ineffectual hand waving stuff as well.

And what about you, o transitioning scientists complaining about an "unfair" NIH system stacked against the young? Is your complaint really about fairness? Or is it really about your own personal success?

If it is a principled stand, you should be name dropping Ginther as often as you do the fabled "42 years before first R01" stat.

13 responses so far

Poster solitude

Next time you are at your favorite scientific meeting, take a look at the trainees that are standing forlornly, uncomfortably alone at their posters. Contrast them with the young trainees that have an audience stacked three deep in a semicircle.

Do you notice any differentials in male/female, attractive/unattractive, white/black/asian/latino/etc ?

I think I shall engage in this exercise at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November.

27 responses so far

Visible diversity is first principles, the rest comes along behind.

Oct 14 2013 Published by under Diversity in Science, Underrepresented Groups

A twitter observation from @tressiemcphd [her blog]

reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago that encapsulates my position on underrepresentation in science, affirmative action strategies, etc. It is informed by my participation on diversity-in-academia committees at every level so far from undergraduate, to graduate student and as a faculty member. It is also informed by seeing the nitty-gritty of affirmative action decision making when it comes to the hiring of faculty (the "Dean's Hire", etc), the treatment of said faculty once hired and the outcome (tenure/denied) of such faculty.

It is also a position that I take in reaction to anyone who goes on about how skin-reflectance based affirmative action policies are bad because it may select individuals for whom this is their only apparent handicap in academia. Thereby overlooking people who don't share that particular handicap but otherwise beat out this person in the Oppression Olympics. Also my response to people who think that socio-economic lack of privilege is the only justifiable motivation for affirmative action policies.

This originally went up Aug 29, 2008.

Watching Michelle Obama speak at the Democratic Convention this week was awe inspiring and hope uplifting for many Americans and others worldwide. I was feelin' it myself. But what really hammered home the real message here, for me, was listening to various media interviews with African-American women. They explained in both humble and soaring terms how important it was for their dreams, aspirations and parental hopes that Michelle stood up there, brilliant, black, beautiful, charismatic and, let's face it, just plain fabulous. Her strength and will as an advocate for the downtrodden, her country and her family alike was a big hit for women everywhere who finally, finally see families that are just like theirs making a serious run at the US Presidency.

This reminds me of a phenomenon experienced by a scientist with whom I am familiar.
"The conversation usually ends with 'Thanks Doc, it means a lot'."

It is no news that US research science looks like a little bit of apartheid. White folks are overrepresented in the faculty ranks and overrepresented in the trainee ranks down to the undergraduate level, relative to the general US population. Frequently enough relative to local city or state populations as well. African-Americans and Latino-Americans are considerably underrepresented. [Don't yeah-but me with your favorite allegedly overrepresented group in the comments, it is irrelevant to today's discussion.]

In the service ranks, this is a different story. Visit a few Universities around the country, attend scientific meetings in the usual hotspots of Washington DC, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago and unless you are in complete denial or completely oblivious you notice something. African-Americans and Latino-Americans (and some additional nonwhite ethnic groups) are considerably overrepresented in the service ranks. Administrative assistants, janitors, animal care techs, facilities staff, hotel and convention name it. These national realities are not just anecdotes, of course. Every time we talk about affirmative action issues in the Academy on a national level, the dismal stats are related.

I make my views on casting a wide net and dismantling artificial barriers to success in science pretty clear in my blogging. I argue this both from the perspective of an advocate for my scientific domain who wants progress made and as an advocate for the individual scientist and his/her career.
Michelle Obama and the scientist who receives the "Thanks Doc" conversations remind me of another important, perhaps more important, reason for dismantling artificial barriers to science career success.

It matters that "people who look like me, are like me, have families like me" are a highly visible part of the landscape. It matters a lot. And this is why I will smack down knuckleheads who bleat on about quotas and "taking slots from the more deserving" and crap like that. First, of course, because those types (almost hysterically, unbelievably, overrepresented in the fizzycyst population) display a fundamental intuitive misunderstanding of populations, central tendencies, variance in the distribution and the rarity of extreme talents. Second, because they disingenuously ignore the warm fuzzies, opportunities and biases associated with the vast majority of the Academy looking just like them. Third because these morally shriveled little wankers are just plain fun to tweak and can be tangled up in their inconsistencies and hypocrisy with little effort. But I digress.

Unsurprisingly, the scientist to whom I am referring looks somewhat other than the vast majority of independent scientists at the University in question. Actually, I think people have a fairly difficult time discerning just what ethnic association fits but lets just say "nonwhite", pointedly underrepresented in science. Of a variety with which many people who work in support roles at the University in question identify. Ethnicity pegging is not helped in that this person does not speak, act, associate, recreate, hobby-ate, idea-ate, iPod-ate, etc in any particularly ethnically-specific or stereotypic ways that I can detect. This observation is quite important. Unlike Michelle Obama, for whom many aspects of the identity package are consistent with the women being interviewed on the radio this week, this scientist basically only looks "like them".
My subject scientist relates numerous conversations which follow a common thread. Some staff person will drop by the office to say "Thanks Doc. It's really important to see one of us in this office doing this job."

That is the crux of the issue. Image is important. Identity is important. It matters to the larger issues of diversity that we have readily apparent, quotidian, barebones diversity. It matters to our social fabric of opportunity and fairness. It matters to the fundamental principles of what it means to be an American citizen when we are talking politics. It matters to the fundamental principles of the Academy as well.

Additional Reading:

A post on why NOT to make too much of visible diversity.

Quotas/no quotas

Underrepresented Imposter Syndrome (no, something slightly different).

Major, Jack, Willie and Warren

Take the Money and Run

Three Techs

6 responses so far

Thought of the Day

What "best predicts" the success of a junior scientist is handing her a laboratory and R01 level funding.

The notion that past publication record predicts anything independently from these two factors is arrant nonsense.

40 responses so far

Personalized genomics of affirmative action

Aug 21 2013 Published by under Diversity in Science, Underrepresented Groups

In the 23andOneQuarterMe era of percentiled ancestry, affirmative action policies should score on number of generations in Appalachia, percent of recent ancestors who never left the holla', percent African ancestry, Neandertal and what not.


4 responses so far

Ass umptions in science

Aug 08 2013 Published by under #FWDAOTI, BikeMonkey, Diversity in Science

BikeMonkey Guest-Post
I'm attending a small-ish scientific meeting that includes quite a number of scientists that I do not know very well. So take this with a grain of salt... I would hesitate to blame the person making the screwup for anything beyond that.

As with many meetings this one includes a very overt and obvious attempt to both include a more diverse population that might otherwise be included and to engage the trainees. The former goal is evidenced in part by the specific mention of several travel awards that were designed to diversify the place. The latter goal is evidenced by overt pleas from the organizers for senior faculty to chat up the youngsters and the instructions to the session chairs to prioritize the questions and comments from trainees.

The representation of women in the podium presentations and session chair slots is good, so I'll assume some behind the scenes concern with such factors.

So far, so good.

Admittedly, the attempt to take questions and comments from trainees first during the discussion period after each and every talk is a bit awkward, to say the least. But it comes from a good place and is addressing a worthy goal.

Then a session chair make a small mistake. He identified someone in the audience as a trainee and handed the mike over for the first questions.

The scientist in question was not a trainee.

Mistakes happen, right?

Except this is the only one I've seen happen so far* and there are certainly a number of youthful-ish looking faculty here. Perhaps they are all well known to the session chairs and this particular commenter is not.


It will not surprise you one bit to learn that this person misidentified as a trainee was a woman.

It will not surprise most of you to learn that this person dresses in a rather put-together and more fashionable than average manner.

She also happens to be rather attractive....some might say rather significantly so.

but she's also not by any stretch of the imagination young. In fact this person is at least a scientific generation above me, although I do not know for sure what her age is. Admittedly, and in the session chair's defense, this person looks quite a bit younger than she probably is, particularly on quick glance.

But still. It boggles my mind that anyone would immediately think "trainee" rather than "faculty".

This person is, as it happens, of a very recognizable ethnicity that is underrepresented in science. Of an appearance that might be readily assumed to be the subject of the aforementioned travel awards designed to enhance diversity, not just at this meeting but at numerous others ones.

It's kind of a thing to see a bunch of underrepresented trainees at scientific meetings.

As I said, I don't know everyone here well and I do not know the session chair in question at all.

What I do know is that it looks very bad when some old guy assumes that an underrepresented minority and female member of the audience is a trainee when she is very clearly of an age in which the proportion of trainees is low and the proportion of faculty is high.

*this is most of why I haven't stopped fuming about this.

49 responses so far

We have a lot of parallels in the world of fiction writing and sci/fi, part the eleventeenth

May 29 2013 Published by under Diversity in Science

I guess I mostly just link said parallels on the Twitts these days, but one of my favorite authors, Tobias Buckell, really nailed it in a slightly longer form:

It’s often hard to critique one single work of fiction, as I pointed to a friend once when complaining about race in SF. There’s always a *reason* inside the hermetic environ of the art for the lack of representation. Defenders can always point to world building reasons the work ‘has’ to be the way it is. But when you list title after title that does the same exact thing, it becomes a larger apparent trend.

I'm sure you can see where to replace certain words with the science/academia equivalents......

3 responses so far

Kington calls out one of the thousand cuts

Kington, as in Raynard Kington (PubMed), senior author of the Ginther et al. (2011) report that identified poorer NIH Grant success for African-American applicant Principal Investigators. Also as in previous Principal Deputy Director of the NIH Kington and current President of Grinnell College Kington.

He had an observation in The Scientist recently, responding to their coverage of him in context of Ginther et al, which included this bit:

And so I was dismayed by a recent news story on about our report that seemed to prove our point about the existence of such unintentional bias. The story identified me as an “African-American scientist,” as have other stories I’ve read over the years.

Is that who I am? And if yes, is it relevant to my research?

Let me answer the second question first. The Scientist article to which I refer mentioned four scientists—and I was the only scientist who was identified by race. Moreover, the article didn’t mention any other demographic characteristics about me—not my age, my gender, my ethnicity, my sexual orientation, my geographic location, not even my current job as president of one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. Nor did it include demographic information about the three other scientists mentioned in the story.

Go Read. Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Faces of Drug Abuse Research: Jean Lud Cadet, M.D.

Jean Lud Cadet, M.D. [ PubMed, GoogleScholar, DepartmentalPage ] is the Chief of the Molecular Neuropsychiatry Research Branch in the Intramural Resarch Program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Within this branch he heads the Molecular Neuropsychiatry section which has maintained major interests in dissecting the toxic effects of methamphetamine, cocaine and MDMA on the brain using rodent models. He has a recent review article Epigenetics of Methamphetamine-Induced Changes in Glutamate Function that you might find of interest.

PhotoCredit: ASBMB

PhotoCredit: NIDA IRP

According to an interview with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Dr Cadet received his MD degree from Columbia University and completed residencies in Psychiatry at Columbia University and in Neurology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Cadet indicates in the interview that it was chance notice of an announcement for a fellowship in Pharmacology at the NIMH IRP (which he secured and spent time as a Neuropsychiatry Fellow) that cemented his interest in research. Going by the PubMed record, it was during this time that Dr. Cadet became interested in movement disorder related to dopamine disruptions which foreshadowed his eventual interest in damage to dopaminergic functions caused by stimulant drugs. After the Fellowship, Dr. Cadet became Assistant Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University and then subsequently moved to the NIDA IRP in 1992.

Dr. Cadet is also the Associate Director for Diversity and Outreach within the NIDA IRP and, per an interview with the ASMBM Dr. Cadet states:

As the Associate Director for Diversity and Outreach, my greatest passion is the recruitment of young scientists from under-represented populations into various NIH programs. I have been in charge of recruiting summer students into the NIDA-IRP since 1995. I am also the chair of the Diversity and Outreach Committee (DOC) that is actively recruiting young scientists from under-represented groups. This committee has recently reached out to Patterson High School, a neighborhood high school. Two Patterson junior students are now serving internships in basic science laboratories at the NIDA-IRP. Using funds that were recently provided by the Scientific Director of NIDA-IRP, the DOC has also established a competitive application process that has helped to recruit 6 post-baccalaureate and/or post-doctoral fellows within the NIDA-IRP. I am relentless in my pursuit of Diversity within the NIDA-IRP and my activities together with those of DOC members are helping our intramural program to serve as a beacon to be followed by others.

I thank you Dr. Cadet for both furthering our understanding of the ways in which exposure to stimulant drugs of abuse can disrupt the brain and your efforts to extend opportunities within science to those who are of underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Post-baccalaureate program at NIDA IRP

Prior entries in this series overview the contributions of Yasmin Hurd, Carl Hart, Chana Akins and Percy Julian.

6 responses so far

New study concludes no bias in NIH grant review

via Bashir-

A new paper has been published that purports to refute the conclusion of the Ginther report (also see this, this, this, this) that there exists substantial bias in the awarding of NIH grants to white versus black PIs.

Jiansheng Yang, Michael W. Vannier, Fang Wang, Yan Deng, Fengrong Ou, James Bennett, Yang Liud, Ge Wang A bibliometric analysis of academic publication and NIH funding Journal of Informetrics 7 (2013) 318– 324 [ journal link ]

My biggest concern here has to do with the sampling...otherwise I guess we should view it as data that contributes to the overall picture. Much as Ginther et al drew a host of "oh it must really be..." alternative explanations, so should this.

The authors targeted 92 medical schools (1) and selected 31 odd-number-rank schools (2). They identified white and African American faculty members (from, ah, web page pictures and, um "names". also "resumes as needed".(3)) They then did a 1:2 pairing of black with white faculty in the same discipline, with the same degree and within the same medical school (4), same sex and title/academic rank.

So. They were able to identify 130 black professors of which only 14 were funded by the NIH from 2008 to 2011(5). Two were excluded because they couldn't find matching white faculty and one for failing to have any SCI/Web of Science presence (this was used to generate h-index, citations etc).

Eleven. Eleven faculty (out of 130) members, plus an additional 22 matched white faculty, comprise the sample for the correlation of scientific productivity with grant award. Kinda thin.

They took the rankings of the medical schools from US News and World Report and divided the institutions into thirds "Tiers". Ten of the grant sample pairs came from the top third of medical schools and one from the second tier (6)

In Table 2 the paper lists the mean (7) papers, citations and a couple of productivity indices they made up (8). Black investigators had fewer papers (but not significantly different), significantly fewer citations (9) and significantly lower Pc-index.

Second, the productivity measure in terms of peers’ citations, or the Pc-index, is the sum
of the numbers of citations to one’s papers weighted by his/her a-indices respectively. While the Pr-index is useful for
immediate productivity measurement, the Pc-index is retrospective and generally more relevant.

There was no difference in the PcXImpactFactor index. Interesting how they describe the one that identified a difference as "most relevant" isn't it?

Then we move on to tables 3 and 4 in which the authors show that if you "normalize" the PIs' award funding by the various performance measures (10) there is no difference between black and white professors.

There are a few more complaints about the earlier part of the study but that isn't really focused on the grant-getting so I'll leave it for now. It reflects the entire 130 pair sample and examines the productivity measures. There are interesting tibits in the fact that they only had significant differences in the Asst professor ranks. In the larger NIH-grant picture, perhaps their excuse of too few black Full and Associate professors for analysis is highly meaningful for the overall disparity of grant award? Then there was the observation of differences only in the Assistant professors at the top one-third of medical schools but not in the bottom two thirds.

I'll end with my observations:

1) why not academic departments? what proportion of the NIH PI population is at medical schools versus regular academic departments? what about non-University institutions?

2) why not all of them?

3) really? like they never heard of passing. Also "white"? What sort of "white" are we talking here? How do we know their sample of white medical school faculty matches the overall NIH sample of white PIs?

4) so the sample had to be really narrow here because they had to find disciplinary descriptions broad enough that they even had an AfricanAmerican professors represented. This will not be the case everywhere.

5) isn't the whole issue that is at the heart of Ginther those investigators who were NOT funded by the NIH? That's what assessing the disparity is about....figuring out if there are "missing" investigators who should have been funded by were not. Right? Determining whether those funded black investigators are as good as a sample of white investigators is beside the point. I really need to chase down the exact quote but one of the ERA era leaders said something to the effect that women will enjoy true equality not when they can succeed by being better than all the men but when all they have to do is be as good as the worst men in a given workplace. The same logic applies here. The focus should be on the whole distribution of funded investigators. It is irrelevant if, say, black investigators who "should" be at Tier 2b Med school are really employed at Tier 1c Med schools. What matter is if there are black scientists who are just as good as Tier 3f Med school white investigators but are not getting the funding their counterparts are enjoying.

6) ok, whut? why this skew for the top end? if they sought to focus on the elite, why not just sample all of the schools in the top third? or once you get past this the NIH grants are few and thin on the ground? particularly for black investigators perhaps? or for both white and black professors?

7) all of a sudden the white sample is down to 11, should have been 22. I can't figure out what they did here.

8) the a-index they base much of this on seems to be an attempt to parse author credit depending on position in the author list, number of authnors, etc. yeah....that's not resting on a bunch of subfield(9) practice equivalencies, is it?

9) yeah, the disciplinary "matching" isn't working for me here. if the pairs were within Medical School and within discipline presumably this means within Department. This is almost certain to mean that the pairs differed in subdisciplinary issues like model, technical approaches, etc. Differences that can be even more significant contributors to citations than are the broad disciplinary labels. Now true, we'd want to know if there was any evidence that black investigators were more likely to be in lower citation, slower pub rate subfields...

10) This also depends on their being a direct and positive correlation between funding and "productivity". As one example, human imaging research is really expensive, generates papers slowly, rarely ends up in CNS journals and probably isn't cited that highly. People who do such work are living in the same pharmacology, psychiatry and neuroscience departments that contain bench jockey labs shiving each other in the back to race to the latest CNS scoop job. Same title, same department but....comparable? please. oh yeah, see 9) again.

156 responses so far

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