The latest in the NIH/science focused series from Richard Harris is:
Patients Vulnerable When Cash-Strapped Scientists Cut Corners
It hits on some of the expected themes. Including:
Most of the experimental ALS drugs, it turns out, undergo very perfunctory testing in animals before moving into human tests — based on flimsy evidence.
In hopes of figuring out why, scientists went back to take a second look at the mouse experiments that were the basis for the human study, and found them to be meager. Additional, more careful tests found no compelling reason to think the experimental drug would have ever worked.
Stefano Bertuzzi, the executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology, says that's partly because there is little incentive for scientists to take the time to go back and verify results from other labs.
"You want to be the first one to show something," he says — not the one to verify or dispute a finding, "because you won't get a big prize for that."
and then the former head of NINDS, Story Landis checks in:
Landis has thought a lot about how those last-chance patients ended up in this untenable situation. There is no single answer, she says, but part of the explanation relates to a growing issue in biomedical science: the mad scramble for scarce research dollars.
"The field has become hypercompetitive," she says.
Many excellent grant proposals get turned down, simply because there's not enough money to go around. So Landis says scientists are tempted to oversell weak results.
"Getting a grant requires that you have an exciting story to tell, that you have preliminary data and you have published," she says. "In the rush, to be perfectly honest, to get a wonderful story out on the street in a journal, and preferably with some publicity to match, scientists can cut corners."
So. The offending comment came from Story Landis. I am shaking my head with dismay.
Remember, SHE is the one who has made the decision on which grants get funded at the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke since 2003. Specifically and personally.
All that peer review of science and Program Officer priority and National Advisory Council concurrence? That is all process advisory to the Director who makes the ultimate decision on what to fund.
So, if there are any fingers to be pointed about what is driving particular aspects of scientist behavior in their attempts to stay funded merely so that they can work on thorny problems like ALS, well that finger goes right at Story Landis.
It's really simple, Directors of ICs. Simple as pie.
If you want to prioritize meticulously replicated and extended scientific investigations, you fund those proposals that are planning just that with urgent priority. When you are evaluating PIs to support with the usual spectrum of Programmatic priority handouts, select those with a history of meticulous replication instead of those who hit the hot highlights and never flesh out the story.
I'm telling you, this would snap a lot more PIs right into line in this current environment.
We are just exactly like everyone else. We respond to the contingencies under which we operate. When HawtEleventyGlamourScience and InstantlyTranslational is seen as the route to funding, guess what. We are going to "oversell weak results". When meticulous and incremental advance is seen as the province of irrelevant plodders who do not deserve grant funding, nobody in their right mind* is going to propose a project which mentions any such thing.
So, you want my advice? Find projects in your funded portfolio that meet the meticulous replication standard- give them a R37 MERIT extension and say why. Publicly. Next, find some of these type of proposals in your just-missed pile and fund them. Also brag on that.
Look up the PLoS ONE pubs that are associated with your grants.....presumably they are going to be enriched in negative results, confirmational findings and all the good stuff Story Landis seems to be seeking. Put out a press release on THOSE results. Particularly the negative ones.
In short, put your money where your mouth is, NIH. Don't engage in this double speak when you, yourselves, are a major contributing factor. Don't put this on your extramural investigators and pretend that you played anything other than a central role in their behavior.
*I may possibly have proposed** a grant which was dedicated to replication and sorting out failures-to-replicate with the explicit expectation of a lot of essentially negative or pedestrian results.
**and received funding for***
***yes, I would have been, assuming that this indeed transpired, as amazed as you are****.
****should such a thing have occurred, I have absolutely no explanation for how such a feat was accomplished*****. Really, none.
*****I mean, the 2%ile priority score, if such had been the result, only begs the question, right?