Archive for the 'Diversity in Science' category

This doesn't belong in science. At all.

Mar 21 2014 Published by under Academics, Anger, Diversity in Science

When I first started noticing the opportunity to submit a "Graphical Abstract" for my papers I was initially perplexed as to why I would bother. Then I realized that the Graphical Abstract (at Elsevier titles anyway) could be a way to get the primary data figure out in front of the paywall. So I thought maybe we should do that.

Some joker has apparently concluded that he should use the Graphical Abstract space for being a sexist jerk.

via Dr. Isis, via this article. Elsevier has promised to pull the image so it may not last at the journal link.

Hur, hur, dudes, hur, de-hur, de-hur.

As detailed by Dr. Zen, Pier Giorgio Righetti is an author on at least four articles with highly sexualized Graphical Abstracts. Professor Righetti apparently responded to a query about the wisdom of one of these images with:

I wonder if you have been trained in the Vatican. As you claim to be a professor of Physiology, let me alert you that this image is physiology at its best!

This sounds remarkably like Dario Mastripieri who famously lamented the lack of attractive "super-model type" women at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on his Facebook page. This sexualization of women in a professional scientific and/or academic context has to stop. This is harassment of women in science. It lets all women in this job sector know that these dudes, senior figures with some influence mind you, see them as nothing other than potential sexual conquests. It is unfair, it is rude, it is detrimental to science and it is utterly unacceptable.

Professor Righetti  is on the Editorial Board of several journals, including the offending Journal of Proteomics where he is listed as the expert under the heading of "Proteomics of Body Fluids and Proteomic Technologies". Eww.  And it gets better. @Drew_lab queried the Journal's EIC Juan Calvete and received a dispiriting response.

At least it wasn't a complete brush off such as Professor Righetti gave. But it isn't a whole lot better.

I hope to settle the case as soon as possible to devote to the lab, which is what should take me up most of the day.

...this translates in my ear to "this is some absolute triviality and sure, sure, we'll take down the images but really don't you people have better things to worry about?"

Not really, no. The EIC Calvete has himself identified why this is the case. All scientists would prefer to use their time and energy in ways that are devoted to lab business. Unfortunately, reality intervenes. And when male scientists are hitting on, slavering over, disrespecting, leering at, joking about and generally treating female scientists as property, this takes away from the energy the women (and indeed other men who have to witness this crap) have available to devote to science.

So what would really be great is if an EIC like Calvete identified this sort of inappropriate image (hint: it IS inappropriate, not "may be inappropriate") in advance and prevented it from being published in the first place. It would be great if authors such as Righetti avoiding submitting these things. It would be great if Professors like Mastripieri kept their nasty little observations locked up tight inside their own heads.


Now go read Isis' post. Reason #140 Why Sexist Bullshit in Academia is Not Okay

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Guest Post: BUILDing Diversity with Dollars: Can Grants Change Culture

This guest post is from @iGrrrl, a grant writing consultant. I think I first ran across her in the comments over at writedit's place, you may have as well. She brings a slightly different, and highly valuable, perspective to the table.

iGrrlCartoonThere was an old New Yorker cartoon of two people at a party, and one tells the other, "I'm a fiction writer in the grant-proposal genre." I hate putting fiction in grant applications, especially the type that will be due shortly in response to the Ginther report.

For those who have been worrying about their own grant applications, the Ginther report detailed the relationship of race and ethnicity to NIH grant funding at the R01 level, and NIH has created a few initiatives to try to change the pattern of lower success rates for African American applicants. In early April, the applications are due for the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Initiative, which would fund large-scale projects within individual institutions, and the NIH National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), which is designed to build a network of mentors. In other words, diversity interventions writ large, with millions of dollars behind them.

The NSF ADVANCE program started in a similar way, and some of the early ADVANCE projects included programs with a limited evidence base. The successes of components of these programs were variable, and the recent RFA included a social science research component to complement the required evaluation of ADVANCE-funded activity. It started with good intentions, and eventually became clear that more than good intentions were needed. Part of the NRMN announcement calls for pilot programs, but I would argue that in the first year, the network should do the social science work to consolidate the anecdotes African Americans tell about their mentoring experiences into hard data, so that the pilot programs can be based upon addressing the needs identified by African Americans who have been through, or training right now in, the current system.

At the recent AAAS meeting in Chicago there were sessions on building diversity in science. At one I learned that explicit bias has reduced in the last 30 years, but implicit bias hasn't. We think we have made progress, and that our conscious intentions are enough. But they clearly are not. Expecting trainees to overcome biased behaviors (to which the actors are blind) places an undue burden on those who are discriminated against. There are studies showing that education about implicit bias helps to reduce such biased behavior, but education attempts can also be done badly and backfire. As pointed out in a recent piece in Science by Moss-Racusin, et al., there is an evidence base now for doing intervention well. If NIH is putting money into large-scale intervention, I hope the existing science will be part of the applications, and expected by the reviewers.

I've spent a lot of my professional life working on exactly the kind of large, infrastructure-based grant application represented by the BUILD and NRMN programs. It is easy for PIs to make assumptions that interventions that sound good on paper will actually have any impact. My concern is that what will be proposed by the applicants to BUILD and NRMN may miss the strong social science work that exists, and that still needs to be done. In fact, some of the best research on effective mentoring is the business literature, a place where few biomedical scientists would think to look.

Grant applications shouldn't be pure fiction, but based on solid evidence. Every grant application represents a possibility, a reality, that could come to pass if the funds are awarded. In the mentoring literature, practices that improve the success for African Americans are often shown to improve the climate for everyone. There is an opportunity here for those in biomedicine to learn from other fields, to consider an evidence base that is outside their usual ken, and to improve the entire biomedical enterprise by improving the overall environment. I hope that those applying for BUILD and the NRMN include the social sciences, and even more importantly, include the voices and ideas of the very people these programs are meant to serve.

NIH has a long history of using dollars to encourage cultural change, with mixed results, because applicants can have varying levels of commitment to the NIH vision while being happy to take NIH dollars. The ADVANCE program at NSF had some hiccups as they worked out what worked to improve the climate for women in STEM. The leadership teams for BUILD and NRMN should include people with a deep knowledge of the research and scholarship on bias and on mentoring, and who can do the rigorous analysis of the current state of affairs for African Americans in biomedical science. I hope I'm wrong here in worrying that such people won't be included, but I've seen fiction in grant applications a few too many times.

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Faces of Neuroscience: Jean A. King, Ph.D.

JeanKing Dr. Jean A. King [webpage] is Vice-Chair of Research and Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School [PubMed; CV]. She completed her PhD in 1988 at NYU in Neurophysiology and conducted postdoctoral training at Emory. Dr. King's research record is diverse but can be characterized as focusing on neuroendocrine systems, stress, aggression, fear and substance abuse. Her work has also focused on advancing noninvasive imaging techniques in animal models using magnetic resonance imaging, in addition to the papers she has credit on three patents for neuroimaging advances. Professor King is the Director of the Center for Comparative Neuroimaging within the UMass Medical School. A recent paper from her laboratory (open access) applies imaging techniques to investigate white matter structural integrity in the brains of nicotine addicted human subjects that are associated with measures of physical dependence.

Over the years Dr. King's work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (a RePORTER search illustrates her NIH funding history as a Principal Investigator).

As you would expect for a scientist of this caliber, her expertise has been sought by an array of journals to provide peer review of manuscripts and by the NIH to serve on many grant review panels. I can confirm that Professor King is an excellent and insightful reviewer of grant applications with a persuasive and often humorous demeanor. Her comments were invariable informative, particularly for noob-ish grant reviewers (ahem). Similarly, Dr. King has supervised numerous trainees, participated on many service committees for her University, for the NIH and for multiple academic societies or entities. She has additional service in nonacademic settings. In this record there is a strong addition of service on issues important to women in science and in careers, generally.

I thank you, Professor Jean A King, for your long commitment to advancing our understanding of the brain and of affective disorder.


Disclaimer: I am professionally acquainted with Dr. King.

picture borrowed from

Series Note: The Diversity in Science Blog Carnival was created by D.N. Lee of the Urban Science Adventures! blog. In early 2009 she issued a call for a new blog carnival celebrating diversity in science and hosted the inaugural edition. The Diversity in Science Carnival #2 was hosted at Thus Spake Zuska under the theme Women Achievers in STEM - Past and Present. Prior entries from me have focused on Laura O'Dell, Carl Hart, Chana Akins, Percy Julian, Jean Lud Cadet,  and Yasmin Hurd.

One response so far

Maybe the problem in NIH grant award is in topic diversity?

Jan 29 2014 Published by under Diversity in Science, Uncategorized

I had a thought occur to me over the past few days. It's been growing along at the back of my mind and is only partially crystallized.

What if PIs of a given class of interest, whether that be sex, ethnicity, nation of origin or whatever, are not randomly distributed across the various topic domains supported by the NIH? What if a PI of characteristic X tends to work on Topic B using Model M whereas a PI of characteristic Y tends to work on Topic A using Model H?

What if the funding rates for Topic X differed from those for Topic Y? Or if applications using Model M consistently succeeded differently compared with applications using Model H?

I didn't see any covariates for topic domain or even the funding IC in the Ginther report.

Surely someone at NIH is thinking about this. Surely?

I have two anecdotes for your consideration.

First, as with many areas of science, the ones dear to me suffer from a sex bias. There is a huge tendency to do the animal studies in male animals. Any study using female animals is very frequently a sex comparison study and is proposed explicitly or implicitly as a comparison with the default, i.e. male. I've talked about this before. The NIH also takes pains to fix the generalized reluctance via their most functional technique, the call for applications for a dedicated pool of money. In theory, the awarding of grants on sex-differences or on issues specific to women's health will then spur additional work. Perhaps create a sustained program or even a career of work on this topic.

My anecdote is that I've noticed over the years (possible confimation bias here) that women in my field have a greater representation than men in these sorts of studies. Sex-differences models and womans' health issues in my fields of interest seem to have women as the driving investigators more often than their overall representation.

If this generalizes, then we will want to know if the competitive success of such grant applications because of topic is contaminating our estimation of women PI's success.

The second anecdote is older and comes from my long history participating on the "Diversity" committees of various academic institutions. Back in the dark ages I recall an incident where a Prof in the experimental sciences had to go to war with a Dean who was in charge of undergraduate summer research funds for underrepresented individuals. The Prof had a candidate who wanted to work in the experimental science, but the awards were generally being made to kids who wanted to work on academic topics related to underrepresented groups. The Dean thought this was the most important thing to do. In this case the prof won his battle in the second year of trying, over the objections of the Dean. I keep in touch with some of my undergraduate professors and I can say that said undergrad went on to become a NIH funded investigator (who still fails to work on issues directly related to underrepresentation). I have no idea if any of the other underrepresented summer research students went on to glorious academic careers in their respective disciplines, perhaps they did. But this is not the point. The point is that perhaps I am a little too glib about the pipeline implications of Ginther. Perhaps the grooming of underrepresented minority undergrads for a career in academics is itself not topic neutral. And the shaping and shifting from that very early stage may dictate field of study and therefore the eventual success rate at the NIH game.

Assuming, of course, that Topic X enjoys differential success rate from Topic Y when the grants are under review at the NIH.

Doctoral Degrees to African Americans by topic

36 responses so far

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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