— Drug Monkey (@drugmonkeyblog) June 25, 2015
Archive for the 'Tribe of Science' category
Some scientists prefer to occupy scientific meeting space as the proverbial fly on the wall.
Rarely, if ever, comment at the microphone. They are not to be found gesticulating wildly to a small group of peers around the coffee table.
Others loom large. Constantly at the microphone for comment. Glad handing their buddies in every room before and after the session. Buttonholing POs at the slightest opportunity.
Someone just pointed this out to me, so I've been thinking about it.
Obviously nobody wants to end up being seen as a narcissistic blowhard who can't shut up and never has anything useful to say.
But it is good to be known in your field*. And meeting visibility is part of that.
*Cause and effect may not be simple here, I will acknowledge.
one of the fantasy vibes I like at scientific meetings is the sense we're all pulling together towards the same ends. In harmony. As a team.
We have the same mountain to climb, the same dragons to slay and we're all just happy to play our part.
The science is the thing.
We're not in competition and we aren't seething mad about the grant or paper review this peer right in front of us is suspected of writing.
We even pretend to think all of our peers' models, questions, theories and findings are highly valuable.
It's a good feeling to pretend, if only for a little while.
Kumbaya, My Lord. Kumbaya.
The following is a guest post from Namaste. Ish. Previously known as the bluebird of happiness, My T. Chondria. Stuff happened. The kitten walked away. Deal with it.
For those who have never had the unique experience of visiting a high security prison and the opportunity to meet @drugmonkeyblog in real life….he’s an asshole. Earlier this week, this sentiment ran thru parts of science Twitter and Ted’s blog comments following his kicking the academic ‘nads of one Andrew Hollenbach after he had the misfortune of posting his story about having to close his lab when his funding ran out.
Ted gets in a twist that Andrew Hollenbach says he was ‘trying’ and rails for paragraphs about how Hollenbeck efforts should not be construed as ‘trying’. In his own bit of MDMA-fueled cyber sleuthing, @drugmonkeyblog took the poor doods CV to task. Not enough pubs. Gaps in funding. Unclear appointments. Ted stood at a tree in the forest, found a leaf and chopped that thing up.
If you were that hacked up bit of leaf, how well would you do? You need to know the answer to this. Look at your CV. Be brutally honest. Ask others to be brutally honest. Get a mentoring committee you trust. Find IRL or cyber peers who will hold your feet to the fire and know people who won’t blow smoke up your arse when you fail.
Hollenbach talks about his love of science and teaching yet now has no idea what his next step is because can’t find an adult job as scientist. I don’t personally care about his CV. At my core, I am upset that this is someone who could be anyone I know. Throw in a personal tragedy, an experimental disaster (check your -80 lint screen lately?) and you can go from independent academic scientist to sadsack sitting in a pile of dried out samples in no time.
We are in a diminishing forest of people and this is not how we honor those in our profession. He’s leaving academics and this is sad. And it is scary. And I’m not going to kick him in the arse on the way out the door. Doing science is noble and anyone who does it with passion should be able to find a place. We have invested too much in scientists and have too few highly educated people to not mourn when they have clear no future in mind after closing a lab.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not handing out cookies. But if you played well with others, did your job by other accounts, and were not a cheatfuckking, harassing, credit stealing fucknuts, I will always be sad we lose an academic scientist. I don’t know if he should have been a PI. But I sure won’t be the one that suggests he be an investment banker.
Ted is an asshole but he evaluated his CV. And until there is another way to measure scientist’s impact honoring all the things we can bring to academia and society, you will be at the hands of assholes like Ted.
This is about the cognitive dissonance involved with realizing your part in a collective action.
It is about the result of a slowly evolving cultural hegemony.
It is about the tragedy of the commons and the emergent properties of systems that depend on the decisions of individual self-interested actors.
It is not all about Snidely Whiplash figures intentionally committing egregious, knowing acts of thievery and sabotage.
We need to be very clear about this or it devolves into useless fighting about personal responsibility for things that are not the direct result of highly specific individual acts.
The winter "ski meeting" is about as junkety as it gets in science. It looks bad to spend the Federal grant dollars attending an academic meeting at a ski area. Especially when sessons are planned in a way to carve out plenty of daylight hours for skiing.
And yet your standard GRC does the same thing. Except you replace skiing the Rockies with hiking in the Appalachians.
Somehow the latter seems less like an elite and frivolous activity.
But really, it is about the same thing.
H/t: a certain troll
Well, for some perspective I offer three older posts that addressed a different issue but tend to apply.
Once a person has convinced him or herself that s/he is correct, or has a pretty good take on the world, the notion that s/he is a sap, fool, tool of advertising, subject to the laws of behavioral conditioning, biased, mistaken, illogical and the like is outside of the Overton window. Consequently, anything that suggests to them that they are mistaken, etc, must be flawed, illogical, unfair, below-the-belt, not-cricket, uninformed and/or meaniepants.
This is when it is occasionally necessary to call someone a nasty name and attack their person, as opposed to their argument.
Okay, okay, calm down knickers-knotters and sphincter-ratcheters. We are not talking about the tactics of a specific venue and whether it is in fact better to call someone an asshat straight out (dorm room bullshit session, pub, etc) or elocute around it semi-politely in such a way as they know exactly what you mean. I still maintain that tactically the best approach is to address the act, rather than the person but I allow for exceptions. Nevertheless you need to make some things explicitly clear.
You do not agree that the two of you are on the same side, that you are working for the same goods and that this person is one of the good guys. Rather, you believe that this person is on the bad side and in your estimation closer to the people you both agree are on the bad side, than s/he is to the people you both agree are on the good side of an argument.
So why get in these fights? Is it a moral flaw? Some might see it that way. A bullying personality? Perhaps, although I'll return to this in a minute. A variance in entertainment preference (sure) similar to those who enjoy boxing, hockey or dogfights (ummm....)? Blowing off steam? Cry in the wilderness? Staking a claim? Street theater?
Happy reading. Make sure to check out the comments from my always perspicacious readers.
We recently discussed a President's column at ASBMB Today by Steven McKnight in which he claimed that NIH grant review panels are contaminated with "riff-raff" who are incompetent to properly review proposals.
A Nature News piece published today notes that McKnight 'was “saddened” by suggestions that he has any gripe with young researchers or with diversity. He meant to criticize review committees as a whole, not just young scientists, he added.'
Very interesting. He was saddened, apparently, that not enough scientists understood he was calling them riff-raff! It is not only the junior scientists, it is also everybody else that he despises.
“A level of mediocrity has crept into the grant-review system,” he said. He recalled that earlier in his career, grant-review committees were packed with well-known scientists with established credentials. “Now when I look at the list, I’ll know zero names. Five or six of them will be people from fly-by-night biotech companies.” He said that he hasn’t done any quantitative research on this trend, “but I think I’m probably right”.
Let's just unpack that "I'll know zero names" business. There is an alternative hypothesis here, which is that perhaps McKnight doesn't "know" the names of people that he should.
Leaving aside whether or not McKnight actually performed any review of scientific quality per se, let us recall what happens in any age graded social situation. For my US readers in particular, I will remind you of who you "knew the names of" when you were a Freshman in High School or College versus who you "knew the names of" when you were a Senior in those respective environs. I submit to you that, as was my experience, when are looking up the social ranks, you know a heck of a lot more people than when you are looking down the social ranks.
This squares entirely with my direct experiences with my older peers in science. It is not infrequent that I refer to someone I think of as a hot Young Gun of science and the oldster has no idea who I am talking about. Even when the oldster has been impressed by the work that person has done in OtherOldster's lab but still mentally tags it to the OtherOldster. It is only with time, repetition and further excellence from the Young Gun that my acquaintance oldsters come to "see" the name of the Young Gun.
Note, this can be well into said Young Gun's independent career as an Assistant Professor.
I am not trying to excuse McKnight's snobbiness here at all. I am mentioning a common social experience that has to do with the accident of age and relative stature and has essentially nothing to do with relative merits of the people one "knows the name of".
Given that this is so common, however, you might think one would be hesitant to bray on about people's merits as a scientist based on whether your rapidly aging (and clearly not the most socially tuned) brain happens to recognize their name.
Note: Just for grins I'm reviewing the panel rosters in the
Integrative, Functional, and Cognitive Neuroscience IRG [IFCN]. These eight panels review a lot of Neuroscience grants. Admittedly I scanned quickly, and did not review the meeting rosters for ad hoc members, but I found zero individuals from biotechs. I also note that the Universities are heavily dominated by the R1s and the non-University Institutions represented are very well known Med schools and Research Institutes. I don't think I am even above the mean (or 25th percentile, frankly) in being able to recognize names across all of neuroscience.....but even scanning quickly I saw some big names all across these groups.
This may not be comprehensive data either but it sure as heck overmatches McKnight's "I think I'm probably right" comment.
Since many of you are AAAS members, as am I, I think you might be interested in an open letter blogged by Michael Balter, who identifies himself as "a Contributing Correspondent for Science and Adjunct Professor of Journalism at New York University".
I have been writing continuously for Science for the past 24 years. I have been on the masthead of the journal for the past 21 years, serving in a variety of capacities ranging from staff writer to Contributing Correspondent (my current title.) I also spent 10 years as Science’s de facto Paris bureau chief. Thus it is particularly painful and sad for me to tell you that I will be taking a three-month leave of absence in protest of recent events at Science and within its publishing organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Yet in the case of the four women dismissed last month, no such explanation was made, nor even a formal announcement that they were gone. Instead, on September 25, Covey wrote a short email to Science staff telling us who the new contacts were for magazine makeup and magazine layout. No mention whatsoever was made of our terminated colleagues. As one fellow colleague expressed it to me: “Brr.”
Four staff dismissals that he blames on a newcomer to the organization.
I think that this collegial atmosphere continued to dominate until earlier this year, when the changes that we are currently living through began in earnest. Rob Covey came on board at AAAS in September 2013, and at first many of us thought that he was serving mostly in an advisory capacity; after all, he had a reputation for helping media outlets achieve their design and digital goals, a role he had played at National Geographic, Discovery Communications, and elsewhere. I count myself among those who were happy about many of the changes he brought about, including the redesign of the magazine, the ramping up of our multimedia presence, etc. But somewhere along the way Covey began to take on more power and more authority for personnel decisions, an evolution that has generated increasing consternation among the staff in all of Science’s departments.
New broom sweeps?
(In addition, according to all the information I have been able to gather about it, Covey was responsible for one of the most embarrassing recent episodes at Science, the July 11, 2014 cover of the special AIDS issue. This cover, for which Science has been widely excoriated, featured the bare legs [and no faces] of transgender sex workers in Jakarta, which many saw as a crass objectification and exploitation of these vulnerable individuals. Marcia McNutt was forced to publicly apologize for this cover, although she partly defended it as the result of “discussion by a large group.” In fact, my understanding, based on sources I consider reliable, is that a number of members of Science’s staff urged Covey not to use the cover, to no avail.)
Remember this little oopsie?
This will be interesting to watch, particularly if we hear more about the July 11 cover and any possible role that the individuals Balter references in this statement, "The recent dismissal of four women in our art and production departments", had in the opposition or approval argument.
This one is directed at my Readers who have supervised graduate students through the PhD in their laboratory.
Have you ever, at any point, thought that you should not train more than replacement value (n=1)?
If not, why not? What influences in your life have shaped your decision to train graduate students? What is YOUR purpose here?