Drugmonkey http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org Grants, research and drugs Mon, 02 May 2016 17:21:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Entitled to a Grant: What is fair? http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/05/02/entitled-to-a-grant-what-is-fair/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/05/02/entitled-to-a-grant-what-is-fair/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 17:21:13 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/?p=8997

@JimJohnsonSci We’re talking about one grant. Not the third. This is the difference. @MHendr1cks @jwoodgett @drugmonkeyblog @TriggerLoop

— Andrew Pruszynski (@andpru) May 2, 2016

I am genuinely curious as to how you people see this. Is there any particular difference between people arguing that that acquisition of the first major grant award should be protected versus multiple award and the people arguing that acquisition of the first and third concurrent awards should be on an equal footing?

If we agree that NIH (or NSF or CIHR or whatever) grants are competitively awarded, it follows that nobody is actually entitled to a grant. And as far as I am aware, all major funding agencies operate in a way that states and demonstrates the truth of this statement.

Specifically in the NIH system, it is possible for the NIH officials to choose not to fund a grant proposal that gets the best possible score and glowing reviews during peer review. Heck, this could happen repeatedly for approximately the same project and the NIH could still choose not to fund it.

Nobody is entitled to a grant from the NIH. Nobody.

It is also the case that the NIH works very hard to ensure a certain amount of equal representation in their awarded grants. By geography (State and Congressional district), by PI characteristics of sex and prior NIH PIness, by topic domain (see the 28 ICs) or subdomain (see Division, Branches of the ICs. also RFAs), etc.

Does a lean to prioritize the award of a grant to those with no other major NIH support (and we're not just talking the newcomers- plenty of well-experienced folks are getting special treatment because they have run out of other NIH grant support) have a justification?

Does the following graph, posted by Sally Rockey, the previous head of Extramural Research at the NIH make a difference?

This shows the percentage of all PIs in the NIH system for Fiscal Years 1986, 1998, 2004 (end of doubling) and 2009 who serve as PI on 1-8 Research Project Grants. In the latest data, 72.3% had only one R01 and 93% had 1 or 2 concurrent RPGs. There were 5.4% of the PIs that held 3 grants and 1.2% that held 4 grants. I just don't see where shifting the 7% of 3+ concurrent awards into the 1-2 grant population is going to budge the needle on the perceived grant chances of those without any major NIH award. Yes, obviously there will be some folks funded who would otherwise not have been. Obviously. But if this is put through in a systematic way*, the first thing the current 3+ grant holders are going to do is stop putting in modular grants and max out their allowable 2 at $499,999 direct costs. Maybe some will even get Program permission to breach the $500,000 DC / y threshold. So there won't be a direct shift of 7% of grants back into the 1-2 grant PI population.

There has been a small trend for PIs holding more grants concurrently from 1986 to the late naughties but this is undoubtedly down to the decreasing purchasing power of the modular-budget grant.

I"ve taken their table of yearly adjustments and used those to calculate the increase necessary to keep pace with inflation (black bars) and the decrement in purchasing power (red bars). The starting point was the 2001 fiscal year (and the BRDPI spreadsheet is older so the 2011 BRDPI adjustment is predicted, rather than actual). As you can see, a full modular $250,000 year in 2011 has 69% of the purchasing power of that same award in 2001.

Without that factor, I'd say the relative proportions of PIs holding 1, 2, 3 etc grants would be even more similar across time than it already is.

So I come back to my original question. What is fair? What policies should the NIH or any broad governmental funding body adopt when it comes to distributing the grant wealth across laboratories? On what basis should they do this?

Fairness? Diversity of grant effort? PR/optics?

*and let us face it, it is hugely unlikely that the entire NIH will put through a 2-grant cap without any exceptions. Even with considerable force and authority behind it, any such initiative is likely to be only partially successful in preventing 3+ grant PIs.

DISCLAIMER: As always, I am an interested party in these discussions. My lab's grant fortunes are affected by broad sweeping policies that the NIH might choose to adopt or fail to adopt. You should always read my comments about the NIH grant game with this in mind.

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The last resort of the empowered http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/05/02/the-last-resort-of-the-empowered/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/05/02/the-last-resort-of-the-empowered/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 16:30:50 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/05/02/the-last-resort-of-the-empowered/ They know they are wrong. The arguments on both sides have clarified the discussion and pointed the finger clearly at the powerful, the entitled, the entrenched and the beneficiaries. 
In desperation they pull their imagined trump card.

 "We can agree to disagree"

No, we really can't. 

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Open Grantsmanship http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/27/open-grantsmanship/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/27/open-grantsmanship/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 19:40:35 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/?p=8987 The Ramirez Group is practicing open grantsmanship by posting "R01 Style" documents on a website. This is certainly a courageous move and one that is unusual for scientists. It is not so long ago that mid-to-senior level Principal Investigator types were absolutely dismayed to learn that CRISP, the forerunner to RePORTER, would hand over their funded grants' abstract to anyone who wished to see it.

There are a number of interesting things here to consider. On the face of it, this responds to a plea that I've heard now and again for real actual sample grant materials. Those who are less well-surrounded by grant-writing types can obviously benefit from seeing how the rather dry instructions from NIH translate into actual working documents. Good stuff.

As we move through certain changes put in place by the NIH, even the well experienced folks can benefit from seeing how one person chooses to deal with the Authentication of Resources requirement or some such. Budgeting may be helpful for others. Ditto the Vertebrate Animals section.

There is the chance that this will work as Open Pre-Submission Peer Review for the Ramirez group as well. For example, I might observe that referring to Santa Cruz as the authoritative proof of authentic antibodies may not have the desired effect in all reviewers. This might then allow them to take a different approach to this section of the grant, avoiding the dangers of a reviewer that "heard SC antibodies are crap".

But there are also drawbacks to this type of Open Science. In this case I might note that posting a Vertebrate Animals statement (or certain types of research protocol description) is just begging the AR wackaloons to make your life hell.

But there is another issue here that I think the Readers of this blog might want to dig into.

Priority claiming.

As I am wont to observe, the chances are high in the empirical sciences that if you have a good idea, someone else has had it as well. And if the ideas are good enough to shape into a grant proposal, someone else might think these thoughts too. And if the resulting application is a plan that will be competitive, well, it will have been shaped into a certain format space by the acquired wisdom that is poured into a grant proposal. So again, you are likely to have company.

Finally, we all know that the current NIH game means that each PI is submitting a LOT of proposals for research to the NIH.

All of this means that it is likely that if you have proposed a 5 year plan of research to the NIH someone else has already, or will soon, propose something that is a lot like it.

This is known.

It is also known that your chances of bringing your ideas to fruition (published papers) are a lot higher if you have grant support than if you do not. The other way to say this is that if you do not happen to get funded for this grant application, the chances that someone else will publish papers related to your shared ideas is higher.

In the broader sense this means that if you do not get the grant, the record will be less likely to credit you for having those ideas and brilliant insights that were key to the proposal.

So what to do? Well, you could always write Medical Hypotheses and review papers, sure. But these can be imprecise. They describe general hypotheses and predictions but....that's about all.

It would be of more credit to you to lay out the way that you would actually test those hypotheses, is it not? In all of the brilliant experimental design elegance, key controls and fancy scientific approaches that are respected after the fact as amazing work. Maybe even with a little bit of preliminary evidence that you are on the right track, even if that evidence is far too limited to ever be published.

Enter the Open Grantsmanship ploy.

It is genius.

For two reasons.

First, of course, is pure priority claiming. If someone else gets "your" grant and publishes papers, you get to go around whining that you had the idea first. Sure, many people do this but you will have evidence.

Second, there is the subtle attempt to poison the waters for those other competitors' applications. If you can get enough people in your subfield reading your Open Grant proposals then just maaaaaybe someone on a grant panel will remember this. And when a competing proposal is under review just maaaaaaybe they will say "hey, didn't Ramirez Group propose this? maybe it isn't so unique.". Or maybe they will be predisposed to see that your approach is better and downgrade the proposal that is actually under review* accordingly. Perhaps your thin skin of preliminary data will be helpful in making that other proposal look bad. Etc.

*oh, it happens. I have had review comments on my proposals that seemed weird until I became aware of other grant proposals that I know for certain sure couldn't have been in the same round of review. It becomes clear in some cases that "why didn't you do things this way" comments are because that other proposal did indeed do things that way.

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On writing a review http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/26/on-writing-a-review/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/26/on-writing-a-review/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 11:38:19 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/?p=8984

Isn't the point of a review to summarize the data, rather than the claims? https://t.co/OHvOYEPzDt

— Drug Monkey (@drugmonkeyblog) April 26, 2016

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Review unto others http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/25/review-unto-others/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/25/review-unto-others/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 17:30:46 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/25/review-unto-others/ I think I've touched on this before but I'm still seeking clarity.

How do you review?

For a given journal, let's imagine this time, that you sometimes get manuscripts rejected from and sometimes get acceptances.

Do you review manuscripts for that journal as you would like to be reviewed?

Or as you have perceived yourself to have been reviewed?

Do you review according to your own evolved wisdom or with an eye to what you perceive the Editorial staff of the journal desire?

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Sunday Sermon http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/24/sunday-sermon/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/24/sunday-sermon/#comments Sun, 24 Apr 2016 14:06:40 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/24/sunday-sermon/ I just want you to think about that which you do. 

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Labor http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/22/labor/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/22/labor/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 15:23:21 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/?p=8976 If you have a laboratory that has one postdoc, one grad student and on average has two undergrad volunteers most of the time, you don't run a two person lab. You run a four person lab.

Reflexively appealing to how they have to be trained in a ploy to pretend you aren't using their labor is nonsense.

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Shorthand http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/22/shorthand/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/22/shorthand/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 14:16:18 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/22/shorthand/ Storyboard

Pretty data


Prove the hypothesis

Representative image

Trend for significance

Different subcultures of science may use certain phrases that send people in other traditions into paroxysms of critique.

Mostly it is because such phrasing can sound like bad science. As if the person using it doesn't understand how dangerous and horrible their thinking is. 

We've gone a few rounds over storyboarding and representative images in the past. 

Today's topic is "n-up", which is deployed, I surmise, after examining a few results, replicates or subjects that look promising for what the lab would prefer to be so. It raises my hackles. It smells to me like a recipe for confirmation bias and false alarming. To me.

Apparently this is normal phrasing for other people and merely indicates the pilot study is complete? 

How do you use the phrase?

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Genius, musician, showman and one hell of an axeman. RIP. http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/21/genius-musician-showman-and-one-hell-of-an-axeman-rip/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/21/genius-musician-showman-and-one-hell-of-an-axeman-rip/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 18:25:39 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/?p=8969

He'll be missed.

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Abortion is more humane than child neglect http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/20/abortion-is-more-humane-than-child-neglect/ http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/2016/04/20/abortion-is-more-humane-than-child-neglect/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 00:45:36 +0000 http://drugmonkey.scientopia.org/?p=8964 jmz4 asks:

DM, what's your reasoning behind advocating for reducing grad student numbers instead of just bottlenecking at the PD phase? I'd argue that grad students currently get a pretty good deal (free degree and reasonable stipend), and so are less exploited. Also, scientific training is useful in many other endeavors, and so the net benefit to society is to continue training grad students.

My short answer is that it is more humane.

The long answer is....

I'd argue that grad students currently get a pretty good deal (free degree and reasonable stipend), and so are less exploited.

I'll point out that as with most labor exploitation, there is always an argument that the worker gets something out of the arrangement. And yes, we have been through this before about how graduate student stipends are better than minimum wage and the working conditions can be pretty decent in most cases. However, the simple fact is this.

Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

Let's set up some basics with Fuhrmann et al, 2011.

Two prior studies have looked at doctoral student career preferences and how these career preferences change over time (Golde and Dore, 2001 blue right-pointing triangle; Goulden et al., 2009 blue right-pointing triangle; Mason et al., 2009 blue right-pointing triangle). In a 1999 national survey of doctoral students in 11 arts and sciences fields, Golde and Dore found most students entered graduate school strongly considering a faculty career, but students reported a change in interest for this career path during their training: 35% of students reported becoming less interested in this career path and 21% reported becoming more interested

Yep. Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor. The authors continue on to report their own study.

We surveyed all basic biomedical sciences doctoral students at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to determine what career paths they are strongly considering, whether these preferences are different from when they started their training, and, if so, why....

Respondents initially identified all categories of careers they were strongly considering. As expected, the vast majority of students (92.3%, n = 432) were strongly considering careers in scientific research (i.e., in academia, industry, government; Figure ​Figure1).1). Seventy-two percent (n = 338) of students included a traditional academic career path (i.e., as faculty with a significant portion of their time spent on research) among the career paths they were considering.

Yep. Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

And the fact that disillusionment sets in during the course of graduate training....

When asked to choose a single career path, confidence in the chosen career path depended on the stage of graduate training (p = 0.006). A large change in confidence occurred between the first and second year in graduate school, with the number of students “still considering a range of options” increasing from 48.8% (n = 40) to 66.7% (n = 52; see Figure S2 in Supplemental Material 2). Uncertainty in career choice remains high (61.4%, 61.8%, and 55.2% for third, fourth, and fifth years, respectively) until students approach the expected time of graduation (sixth or later years, 33.3%, n = 23). How do we explain the drop in career choice confidence during the second year of graduate school?

makes no nevermind to the simple fact that most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

So when jmz4 asserts

Also, scientific training is useful in many other endeavors, and so the net benefit to society is to continue training grad students.

and Comradde PhysioProffe reminds us that unemployment rates for PhD holders in the US are pretty low, this only nibbles around the edges of the exploitation issue.

Graduate students work their tails off compared with the average Bachelor's degreed technician. Longer, harder with more responsibility, effort and overall input to the job. On average. They do so because most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor and the system tells them that they have to bust ass to achieve that goal.

The people telling them this, i.e., their supervising Professors in labs, on their Committees and running their graduate programs, understand, or should understand, that most of the graduate students are not going to reach that goal. And they benefit professionally from the extra hard effort that is expended by the graduate students. Again, the graduate students do not put this effort in because of their extra awesome salaries, they do it because most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

Inducing people to work in part for a reimbursement that you know they will never get is exploitation. Cynical and evil from a certain point of view.

The fact that we have evolved all sorts of TrueBelief about how graduate education MustBe to cover up the system of labor exploitation does not impress me in the slightest. Don't fall for it. Notice how the monolithic dissertation has been replaced by de facto or explicit requirements for three first author papers? or for publishing papers in certain high JIF journals? All the while bleating at the poor sucker graduate student "well if you want to be competitive for a faculty job...". It's a scam.

Postdoctoral "training" is more of the same. The following graph is handy to illustrate the central issue underlying all of this, namely that the essential research force for the NIH extramural grant apparatus is....the trainee.

taken from RockTalk blog


That is all that the vast majority of the graduate students and postdocs working on NIH-funded scientific research are there for. Not for their own training. Not so that they can become the future Principal Investigators. For their labor.

And the system is set up to create this huge backlog of highly selected and "trained" experienced individuals who now want very badly to obtain the schweet, schweet life of the Professor. Or at least some reasonable facsimile thereof as a PI in a soft money appointment. Some of them manage to get in a position to apply for NIH grants. Increasing the number of mouths at the trough. While budgets stay fixed and their supervising Professors (remember them? look up) do not retire to make way for their several-times greater doctoral progeny than replacement value. That would be one*, for the slower members of the audience.

So. Why shut off the tap at the entry to graduate school?

Because it is the most humane thing to do. Most people enter PhD training programs in the US because they want the schweet, schweet life of a Professor. The Fuhrmann et al study shows that it is possible to beat this out of people in the course of graduate training but I see this as a terrible, horrible outcome. They change their minds because they think they cannot reasonably attain their goal. I do not believe it is some natural and organic process of deciding that other things are more attractive (although this must be true for many). That Fuhrmann thing showed that these poor students wanted to get as far away from academic science as possible. Now sure, UCSF may be a particularly horrible environment but I think we will find things not too terribly different in most of the high energy doctoral programs that pump out most of the science PhDs.

The realization that the schweet schweet life of a Professor isn't going to materialize comes with a lot of emotional pain for a lot of people. If you deny this you have your head up your ass and I can't even discuss it with you. I was there at one point. I know a lot of people who were there in my approximate scientific generation. I've listened on the Internet for years now to the various brands of disgruntledoc. People go so far as to commit suicide.

There is something deeply wrong with leading people down the rosy career path into their mid 30s or later and then saying, in essence, "see ya! good luck with that alt career-y thing!". After we, as a business, have profited handsomely from the extra effort they put out in hopes of obtaining the, say it with me now, schweet, schweet life of a Professor.

It is far better to head these people off in their early twenties, fresh out of their Bachelor's education and have them try some other pursuit.
*Oh sure. Someone has to staff the SLACs and teaching Universities. I realize. But we're still way, way over producing PhDs, people. Let's not lose sight of that.

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