Professor fired for misconduct shoots Dean

(by drugmonkey) Aug 31 2016

From the NYT account of the shooting of Dennis Charney:

A former faculty member at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine... , Hengjun Chao, 49, of Tuckahoe, N.Y., was charged with attempted second-degree murder after he allegedly fired a shotgun and hit two men

why? Presumably revenge for :

In October 2002, Mr. Chao joined Mount Sinai as a research assistant professor. He stayed at Mount Sinai until May 2009, when he received a letter of termination from Dr. Charney for “research misconduct,” according to a lawsuit that Mr. Chao filed against the hospital and Dr. Charney, among other parties, in 2010. He went through an appeals process, and was officially terminated in March 2010.

As you might expect, the retraction watch blog has some more fascinating information on this case. One notable bit is the fact that ORI declined to pursue charges against Dr. Chao.

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) decided not to pursue findings of research misconduct, according to material filed in the case and mentioned in a judge’s opinion on whether Chao could claim defamation by Mount Sinai. Part of Chao’s defamation claim was based on a letter from former ORI  investigator Alan Price calling Mount Sinai’s investigation report “inadequate, seriously flawed and grossly unfair in dealing with Dr. Chao.”

Interesting! The institution goes to the effort of firing the guy and manages to fight off a counter suit and ORI still doesn't have enough to go on? Retraction watch posted the report on the Mount Sinai misconduct investigation [PDF]. It makes the case a little more clear.

To briefly summarize: Dr. Chao first alleged that a postdoc, Dr. Cohn, fabricated research data. An investigation failed to support the charge and Dr. Chao withdrew his complaint. Perhaps (?) as part of that review, Dr. Cohn submitted an allegation that Dr. Chao had directed her to falsify data-this was supported by an email and a colleague third-party testimony. Mount Sinai mounted an investigation and interviewed a bunch of people with Dr. titles, some of whom are co-authors with Dr. Chao according to PubMed.

The case is said to hinge on credibility of the interviewees. "There was no 'smoking gun' direct evidence....the allegations..represent the classic 'he-said, she-said' dispute". The report notes that only the above mentioned email trail supports any of the allegations with hard evidence.

Ok, so that might be why ORI declined to pursue the case against Dr. Chao.

The panel found him to be "defensive, remarkably ignorant about the details of his protocol and the specifics of his raw data, and cavalier with his selective memory. ..he made several overbroad and speculative allegations of misconduct against Dr. Cohn without any substantiation"

One witness testified that Dr. Chao had said "[Dr. Cohn] is a young scientist [and] doesn't know how the experiments should come out, and I in my heart know how it should be."

This is kind of a classic sign of a PI who creates a lab culture that encourages data faking and fraud, if you ask me. Skip down to the end for more on this.

There are a number of other allegations of a specific nature. Dropping later timepoints of a study because they were counter to the hypothesis. Publishing data that dropped some of the mice for no apparent reason. Defending low-n (2!) data by saying he was never trained in statistics, but his postdoc mentor contradicted this claim. And finally, the committee decided that Dr. Chao's original complaint filed against Dr. Cohn was a retaliatory action stemming from an ongoing dispute over science, authorship, etc.

The final conclusion in the recommendations section deserves special attention:

"[Dr. Chao] promoted a laboratory culture of misconduct and authoritarianism by rewarding results consistent with his theories and berating his staff if the results were inconsistent with his expectations."

This, my friends, is the final frontier. Every time I see a lower-ling in a lab busted for serial faking, I wonder about this. Sure, any lab can be penetrated by a data faking sleaze. And it is very hard to both run a trusting collaborative scientific environment and still be 100 percent sure of preventing the committed scofflaws. But...but..... I am here to tell you. A lot of data fraud flows from PIs of just exactly this description.

If the PI does it right, their hands are entirely clean. Heck, in some cases they may have no idea whatsoever that they are encouraging their lab to fake data.

But the PI is still the one at fault.

I'd hope that every misconduct investigation against anyone below the PI level looks very hard into the culture that is encouraged and/or perpetrated by the PI of the lab in question.

28 responses so far

NIH sued for promotion bias against women in the Intramural Research Program

(by drugmonkey) Aug 29 2016

via Lenny Bernstein at the Washington Post:

What Bielekova doesn’t have, at age 47, is tenure, the coveted guarantee of recognition, job security and freedom to pursue controversial ideas that is critical to long-term success in an academic career. She was not put forward as a candidate for the second time last year, despite a positive recommendation from a panel of outside experts who reviewed her qualifications.

To me the kicker is this part. NIH intramural is weird the way they have big deal lab heads and a lot of career scientists under them that would be standard tenure rank folks elsewhere. So when the big deal head dies or retires it is always a little weird. Do they hand the lab to one of the folks already there? And boot the rest? Or do they spawn off a couple of new jobs? or find homes for people in other big-deal groups?

Bielekova alleges retaliation and discrimination based on gender after what she describes as a “power struggle” following the retirement of her mentor, who was chief of the neuro-immunology branch. She said male scientists were provided numerous advantages in the aftermath and that she has been harmed by groundless accusations from male colleagues of unprofessional conduct. A male colleague from her branch, she said, was nominated for tenure at the same time that she was held back.

Yep.

Amazingly Story Landis, prior NINDS Director, gave the full reveal quote:

While tenure awards are supposed to be based largely on merit, it is widely acknowledged that personality conflicts, budget constraints, internal politics and other factors affect them.

“Tenure decisions are complicated, and not just about what you’ve published,” Landis said.

In this, the NIH IRPs are no different than anywhere else, eh? It isn't about objective merits but about the subjective views of your colleagues, when it comes right down to it.

And lets in a whole lot o' bias.

Bielekova, ..has filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against her institute’s director and two others,

Twill be interesting to watch this play out.

13 responses so far

Great lens to use on your own grants

(by drugmonkey) Aug 26 2016

If your NIH grant proposal reads like this, it is not going to do well.

9 responses so far

Your Grant in Review: Throwing yourself on the mercy of the study section court

(by drugmonkey) Aug 24 2016

A question and complaint from commenter musclestumbler on a prior thread introduces the issue.

So much oxygen is sucked up by the R01s, the med schools, etc. that it tends to screw over reviews for the other mechanisms. I look at these rosters, then look at the comments on my proposals, and it's obvious that the idea of doing work without a stable of postdocs and a pool of exploitable Ph.D. students is completely alien and foreign to them.

and extends:

I personally go after R15 and R03 mechanisms because that's all that can be reasonably obtained at my university. ... Postdocs are few and far between. So we run labs with undergrads and Masters students. Given the workload expectations that we have in the classroom as well as the laboratory, the R15 and R03 mechanisms support research at my school. Competing for an R01 is simply not in the cards for the productivity level that we can reasonably pursue...

This isn't simply fatalism, this is actual advice given by multiple program officers and at workshops. These mechanisms are in place to facilitate and foster our research. Unfortunately, these are considered and reviewed by the same panels that review R01s. We are not asking that they create an SEP for these mechanisms - a "little kids table" if you will - but that the panels have people with these similar institutions on them. I consider it a point of pride that my R15 is considered by the same reviewers that see the R01s, and successfully funded as well.

The point is that, the overwhelming perception and unfortunate reality is that many, many, many of the panelists have zero concept of the type of workload model under which I am employed. And the SROs have a demonstrably poor track record of encouraging institutional diversity. Sure, my panel is diverse- they have people from a medical school, an Ivy League school, and an endowed research institution on the West Coast. They have Country, and Western!

I noted the CSR webpage on study section selection says:

Unique characteristics of study sections must be factored into selection of members. The breadth of science, the multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary nature of the applications, and the types of applications or grant mechanisms being reviewed play a large role in the selection of appropriate members.

It seems very much the case to me that if R15s are habitually being reviewed in sections without participation of any reviewers from R15-eligible institutions, this is a violation of the spirit of this clause.

I suggested that this person should bring this up with their favorite SROs and see what they have to say. I note that now that there is a form for requesting "appropriate expertise" when you submit your NIH grant, it may also be useful to use this to say something about R15-eligible reviewers.

But ultimately we come to the "mercy of the court" aspect of this issue. It is my belief that while yes, the study section is under very serious constraints these days, it is still a human behavior that occasionally lets real humans make rational decisions. Sometimes, reviewers may go for something that is outside of the norm. Outside of the stereotype of what "has" to be in the proposal of this type. Sometimes, reviewers may be convinced by the peculiarities of given situation to, gasp, give you a break. So I suggested the following for this person who had just indicated that his/her R15s do perfectly well in a study section that they think would laugh off their R01 application.

I think this person should try a trimmed down R01 in this situation. Remember the R01 is the most flexible in terms of scope- there is no reason you cannot match it to the budget size of any of the other awards. The upside is that it is for up to five years, better than AREA/R15 (3 y) or R03 (2 y). It is competitively renewable, which may offer advantages. It is an R01, which, as we are discussing in that other thread, may be the key to getting treated like a big kid when it comes to study section empanelment.

The comments from musclestubmler make it sound as if the panels can actually understand the institutional situation, just so long as they are focused on it by the mechanism (R15). The R15 is $100K direct for three years, no? So why not propose an R01 for $100K direct for five years? or if you, Dear Reader, are operating at an R03 level, ask for $50K direct or $75K direct. And I would suggest that you don't just leave this hidden in the budget, sprinkle wording throughout everywhere that refers to this being a go-slow but very inexpensive (compared to full mod) project.

Be very clear about your time commitment (summers only? fine, just make it clear) and the use of undergrads (predict the timeline and research pace) in much the same way you do for an R15 but make the argument for a longer term, renewable R01. Explain why you need it for the project, why it is justified and why a funded version will be productive, albeit at a reduced pace. See if any reviewers buy it. I would.

Sometimes you have to experiment a little with the NIH system. You'd be surprised how many times it works in ways that are not exactly the stereotypical and formal way things are supposed to work.

27 responses so far

Continuous Submission Eligibility

(by drugmonkey) Aug 23 2016

New thing I learned is that you can check on your continuous submission* status via the Personal Profile tab on Commons. It lists this by each Fiscal Year and gives the range of dates.

It even lists all of your study section participations. In case you don't keep track of that but have a need to use it.

I have been made aware of an apparent variation from the rules recently (6 study sections in an 18 mo interval). Anyone else ever heard of such a thing?

I've used continuous submission only a handful of times, to my recollection. TBH I've gone for long intervals of eligibility not realizing I was eligible because this policy has a long forward tail compared to when you qualify with 6 services / 18 mo.

How about you, Readers? Are you a big user of this privilege? Does it help you out or not so much? Do you never remember you are actually eligible?

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*As a reminder, continuous submission isn't really continual. You have to get them in by Aug 15, Dec 15 and Apr 15 for the respective Cycles.

23 responses so far

Generational Wealth

(by drugmonkey) Aug 17 2016

In the midst of the Milwaukee unrest this week, a young man on the scene was interviewed (Orlandis Jackson, interviewed by local NBC affiliate). He said something along the lines of how "the rich people have all the money and won't give us none."

This immediately went viral on the Tweeters as unsympathetic voices howled over his seeming entitlement. 

This bothers me.

This young man may not understand the full scope of wealth disparity. He may not realize the causes. And/or he may not have the rhetorical skills to express his understanding fully. 

But he was right

In a deeply fundamental way. The "rich" of this country got that way, and stay that way, by stealing from the poor. The problem of inner city unrest is not that we (and for today the "rich" are the moderately well off, that includes most of my audience. Yes, you.) won't "give" other people money. It is that we build our wealth at their expense.

I twittered a link to a study showing black communities paid more per dollar of insurance coverage, despite lower company loss rates, compared with nearly identical white communities. 

The aftermath of Ferguson MO unrest illustrated very clearly how  municipalities have shifted to nuisance summons as a way to make up for the powers that be refusing to tax themselves. Guess who gets the tickets?

And even in a general sense, tax schemes have become increasingly regressive. Taxes and fees on consumption replace progressive income / wealth taxes. Wages for labor are  taxed more highly than is investment income. Etc. All designed to shift the burden of society away from the rich. 

Our DonorsChoose drives show how we (the rich) refuse to pay to educate all and have shrunk school funding in poor communities. Education isn't everything but it does help some people to escape the poverty they were born into. 

Which brings us to redlining (still a thing) and neighborhood unspoken compacts and other things that prevent black people from buying homes in slightly better neighborhoods. Interesting comment here:

Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000.

Real estate ownership is a huge wealth tool. Huge. Increasing property value becomes a financial cushion if nothing else. Reduces housing costs overall, with good use of the mortgage income tax deduction. Permits one to obtain loans (or at more favorable rates) for other wealth enhancing purposes. Such as higher education. Launching sonny-boy's hi tech startup company. 

And from there we can drill right back down to Costco shopping. It's cheaper to be rich. We buy in bulk and store the stuff in our big houses. Toilet paper, extra milk in our second fridge, tampons and toothpaste. All cheaper when you are wealthy. 

So stop sneering at the young man in Milwaukee. He may have phrased it inelegantly. But he was speaking a fundamental truth. 

[interlude]

Getting back around to the generational part of this post. Redlining was the policy of the Federal Housing Administration from 1934-1968. Federal policy. From the administrative entity that was supposed to help Americans afford to buy homes. Some Americans, apparently, but not other Americans. See Josh Begley maps here for a few key cities in our largest State. This discrimination is just for the availability of mortgages.

There is also the kind of discrimination that prevented minorities from purchasing houses in certain neighborhoods even if they had all of it in immediate cash money.

As far as I am aware, minorities did not enjoy special tax exemptions to account for their treatment at the hands of the FHA. Meaning, correspondingly, the FHA discriminatory redlining activity was transferring wealth from minority citizens to white citizens. The lack of fair opportunity to build wealth, particularly when that opportunity is buttressed by taxes, is stealing from Peter to pay Paul (the families that were able to use such opportunities).

Note that if you are unable to buy a house, the odds are that you are paying rent to the person who owns the property. Who is enjoying the leverage of you paying down the loan while their property values (wealth) inflate over time. This is yet another way in which wealth is transferred from the less well off to the more well off. Home ownership rates in Milwaukee are lower than in the state of Wisconsin as a whole. Home ownership rates for black Americans lag those of white Americans.

The wealth of property ownership in particular locations can be transferred generationally in many ways. First, it may confer indirect benefits in school quality, peer associations and vocational connections. Second, there is direct inheritance of the wealth later in life. There are a few people in my neighborhood who inherited houses. Given the amount we pay for our mortgage, well, that's a substantial jump ahead for the standard model American Dream family, let me tell you.

In between we have the transfer of the ability to purchase a first house. When my wife and I were looking to buy our first house we ran across a stat that some 30% of first time buyers had some sort of family assistance. (I can't find anything on that right now so if you have links, drop them in the comments.) Loans for downpayments and co-signing (with later relinquishment of ownership rights) for the loan are common. Helping to fix the new purchasers' credit. Etc.

A subtle effect is timing. Real estate markets cycle, as you know. And mortgage rates can vary tremendously, which affects affordability. As it happens, my now-spouse and I were looking to co-habitate during a fortuitous set of real estate conditions. Despite one of us being a postdoc and one a graduate student in a fairly pricey real-estate market, the conditions were ripe. We'd be paying about the same for a mortgage that we were facing for rent. The only issues were the usual. Credit? decent. Debt to income, decent. Income to price....hmmmm, not great but those were the bubble days so...maybe. This left the downpayment. We didn't have it. And wouldn't have been able to save it for years (which, as it happened, would have been well into the peak of the housing bubble. And we'd still be short of the now-increased amount.). Generational wealth to the rescue.

It isn't only the cash, it's also about when that cash is available to you. Whether that be for housing, for emergency loans for something now that will save you money longer term, paying for education...the scenarios go on and on.

Our generational wealth stretches back several generations in our family. Home ownership, decent jobs and relatives who moved up in economic class relative to their upbringing, in many cases through education. All of my kids' four grandparents ended up as educators, three of them for career length. Three have advanced degrees. They started when education careers meant a decent stable job with benefits and pensions. Some of their parents were educated, some not, but all were eventually middle class. Two of them were raised by single mothers (who were born over 100 y ago so think of that generation!), one of which had a sibling have to go to work to support the family instead of furthering education. So right there within family, generational privilege available more to one than the other. And I don't mean to imply it was ever easy. But they were all able to take advantage of an environment in which there was not systematic discrimination against them. (Possible ethnic discrimination of three generations upstream due to an immigrant wave but that had subsided certainly by my parents' generation.)

This post isn't designed to recommend Harrison Bergeron solutions or to criticize those of you with immense generational privilege and wealth. It isn't to beat my breast about how lucky I had it.

This post is about thinking a little deeper about why a young man in Milwaukee might complain that the rich never give the poor any money. And what that really means beneath the words.

And, y'know, maybe for those of you who habitually think that you never had any special privileges so why should anyone else...maybe you could think about your generational advantages?

43 responses so far

First and second class postdocs

(by drugmonkey) Aug 17 2016

Potnia has some thoughts on how not to manage trainees in your lab if they have different compensation levels.

This may be important come December if your University decides to create a time-clock 40 h per week category of postdoc. Dealing with the new overtime rules may induce some Universities to try to make that work.

Potnia points out that effective management will be needed for the different classes of trainees at the same nominal level.

Go Read.

2 responses so far

Simone Manuel Swims Really Fast

(by drugmonkey) Aug 12 2016

via sbnation:

With the win, Manuel became the first black woman in Olympic history to earn an individual swimming gold medal and the first African-American woman to win an individual medal.

No responses yet

A couple of concerned citizens

(by drugmonkey) Aug 12 2016

First there was this lovely* gentleman from a Trump rally in Florida:

A rally which featured this equally delightful** example of RealAmericanism***

Then there was the guy (h/t @neuromusic) who you would think was just a garden variety dimwit who doesn't understand the law and hates cyclists. Until he gets to the part where he threatens to "pull a Trump on you". I don't think he was talking about scamming this poor cyclist out of a real estate investment and filing Chapter 11 to walk off with the money either, but I'm sure our conservative commenter friends BV and N-c will be right along to explain how this was a joke. Or that it is a complete coincidence that out of control, raging violent homophobic road rage jerks reference Trump.

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*for the Trump apologists, who seem to be perplexingly dimwitted on the topic lately, this is what sarcasm looks like.

**also sarcasm.

*** ____________ (fill in the blank exercise)

11 responses so far

Fascist demagogues, gaslighting and the good Germans

(by drugmonkey) Aug 10 2016

We have a standard issue GOP apologist, longterm commenter Neuro-conservative, trying to gaslight the Trump comments on 2nd Amendment people.

No offense, DM, but you are seriously imagining things.

I also recently had an extended discussion on politics relating to Trump and so-called main stream Republican values with my so-called main stream not-crazy Republican neighbor.

I have been pondering a related issue.

History has many examples of totalitarian horribleness emerging with the acquiescence of "normal" people who would never agree to the (eventual) orgy of violence and repression if it had been raised at the start. They get there, presumably, in small steps.

I assume part of this process is an active disbelief that the fascist demagogue "really believes" his most extreme comments. These good Germans*, sorry mainstream Republicans, must surely delude themselves about the direction in which things are heading. So gaslighting critics is the only possible option.

And the truth is, most nascent fascist demagogues *don't* gain ultimate power. So it is easy to gaslight any concerns that may be expressed in any particular case. To say, as Neuro-conservative does, that any critic is merely overreacting. To pursue false equivalency claims with some other lesser perceived offense of someone who is not the fascist demagogue in waiting.

After all, these are early days. And even when they start with the really horrible stuff, even totalitarian states tend to keep the full reality out of the public view. It is very easy for the supposedly well-intentioned average normal person to ignore the signals. Until it is far, far too late.

A comment from @ShmoF16 brought up The Dead Zone awhile back. In this movie, the totalitarian charmer politician is revealed by the actions of a desperate critic who sees him for what he truly is, and tragedy is averted. Reveals, as in, on national teevee. Trump is being revealed daily on national teevee and it does seem to help, a little. His polling numbers are continuing to head downward and Hillary Clinton's campaign is competing in new swing states that used to lean Republican.

This is not enough yet, in my view. Life doesn't follow fiction I guess. People of the main-stream Republican bent are so dedicated to their ideology of demonization of the opposing camp that they are unable to see what is right in front of their face. Unable. I believe this because the alternative is to think they know full well what is coming and the welcome it.

I'm not there yet. I like my neighbor. I think people like Neuro-conservative are mostly just deluded and not actively evil.

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*Another interesting ponder I had. The accusation of following Godwin's Law is itself a form of gaslighting. The law sort of implies that since reductio ad Hitlerum occurs, that all mentions of National Socialist Germany automatically invalidate** any argument as obviously absurd. This fascinates me since I'm smart enough, unlike many Internet discussants apparently, to understand that similarities, metaphors, parallels or comparisons need not be identical in quality or extent to be of value.

**Godwin himself argued that his Law was not a fallacy.

In December 2015, Godwin commented on the Nazi and fascist comparisons being made by several articles on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying that "If you're thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician."[citation]

69 responses so far

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