McKnight: "Wait whut? There are data? Really? Maybe I'd better cool it..."

Dec 05 2014 Published by under Fixing the NIH, NIH, NIH Careerism

The sidebar to McKight's column at ASBMB Today this month is hilarious.

Author's Note

I’ve decided it’s prudent to take a break from the debate about the quality of reviewers on National Institutes of Health study sections. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology governing council met in mid-November with Richard Nakamura, director of the NIH’s Center for Scientific Review. The discussion was enlightening, and the data presented will inform my future columns on this topic.

HAHAHHAA. Clearly it is news to McKnight that his opinions might actually be on topics for which there are data in support or contradiction? And now he has to sit down and go through actual facts to try to come up with a better argument that study sections today are populated with riff-raff who are incompetent to review science.

Never fear though, he still leaves us with some fodder for additional snickering at his....simple-minded thinking. He would like his readers to answer some poll questions...

The first question is:
Should the quality of the proposed research and researcher be the most important criteria dictating whether an NIH-sponsored grant is funded?

The response item is Yes/No so of course some 99% of the responses are going to be Yes. Right? I mean jeepers what a stupid question. Particularly without any sense of what he imagines might be a possible alternative to these two considerations as "the most important criteria". Even more hilariously since he has totally conflated the two things that are actual current items of debate (i.e., project versus person) and tie directly into his two prior columns!

The next question:
The review process used to evaluate NIH grant applications is:

has three possible answers:
essentially perfect with no room for improvement
slightly sub-optimal but impossible to improve
suboptimal with significant room for improvement

Again, simple-minded. Nobody thinks the system is perfect, this is a straw-man argument. I predict that once again, he's going to get most people responding on one option, the "suboptimal, room for improvement" one. This is, again, trivial within the discussion space. The hard questions, as you my Readers know full well, relate to the areas of suboptimality and the proposed space in which improvements need to be made.

What is he about with this? Did Nakamura really tell him that the official CSR position is that everything is hunky-dory? That seems very unlikely given the number of initiatives, pilot studies, etc that they (CSR) have been working through ever since I started paying attention about 7-8 years ago.

Ah well, maybe this is the glimmer of recognition on the part of McKnight that he went off half-cocked without the slightest consideration that perhaps there are actual facts here to be understood first?

17 responses so far

  • Philapodia says:

    I think the meeting in November with the other members of the governing council is the key point here and Nakamura is secondary. They probably told him to stop acting like an arrogant asshat or he was going to start driving away members (who probably pay membership fees).

  • Kevin. says:

    God, I would have loved to have been in that meeting where Nakamura (presumably) laid out, slide-by-slide, how completely full of shit McKnight was, with nodding approval of the rest of the council.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Nakamura seems like a nice and gentle man so I doubt that he laid into the McKnightster very hard....

  • mytchondria says:

    McKnutter is probably rubbing his hangy ballsack with his newly purchased Watson Nobel. I may add more visuals later. You're welcome.

  • Anonymous kibitzer says:

    Nakamura does seem like a nice, gentle man, and IME, having your ass handed to you nicely is the only way people like McKnight can take it. If you argue back as aggressively to someone like McKnight does, that type tends to dig in their heels and defend their positions, finding ways to discount the data. But when Nakamura is handing you data--nicely, gently, with a discussion of the study design--it's really hard to argue with him.

  • Philapodia says:

    Poking the McKnight on ASBMB Today I see. Be interesting to see if there will be a response to the riff-raff. My guess is not...

  • Eli Rabett says:

    As a taxpayer

    Should the quality of the proposed research and researcher be the most important criteria dictating whether an NIH-sponsored grant is funded?

    Gets the answer N,O ASSHOLE, because NIH is a mission driven agency and there are a whole lot of great materials science proposals that NIH should not fund. Also some health science issues are more important to me than others.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Philapodia- but did you notice how I restrained myself from pointing out that there is a science to creating a useful human survey? And that much of what we know about that was funded by NIH grants to riff raff.

  • Philapodia says:

    I'm glad you piped up and was quite impressed by your restraint while still managing to politely tell him he's an assehat. I wonder if he'll let you hold his Watson Nobel in gratitude. If so, I would sanitize it first.

  • Philapodia says:

    What I want to know is why there (apparently) isn't any ASBMB board oversight with these President's Message posts. Surely it was obvious that these posts would be inflammatory and putting up silly polls useless. Is there no PR aspect to ASBMB that helps control message? A lot of societies have rotating presidents who were there for a year or two, while having permanent board members that help with continuity and to ensure that not too much damage can happen during a president's term. I would think that brand messaging would be an important part of a societies efforts.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Why do you assume the society is not top-heavy with people who are cheering McKnight on?

  • Philapodia says:

    Because it would be suicidal for a society to explicitly cheer on this kind of behavior. There may be a subconscious elitism within the Elders of ASBMB, but no society can survive without fresh blood. There are lots of scientific societies to be members of, so it would be stupid to cheer on these kinds of remarks and drive away paying riff-raff members to other more friendly societies.

    Or perhaps they just want a scapegoat. Knowing that McKnight will be a sacrificial lamb who will say these things in his bare-fisted style and get their thoughts out without sticking their own necks out. Could be. Seems conspiracy-ee to me.

  • odyssey says:

    1) I'm well aware of an ASBMB Elder who thinks McKnight hasn't gone anywhere near far in enough with his vilification of the riffraff.
    2) You're assuming there are mechanisms in place at ASBMB for reining in "rogue" presidents. Do we know that's really the case?

  • Philapodia says:

    1) It IS a conspiracy! Does this Elder of ASBMB want to take the plebeians out and have them shot?

    2) You're right, I'm assuming there would be mechanisms in place for something like this. Seems like it should be SOP. Perhaps there hasn't been a need in the past, but it seems there is now.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It isn't a "conspiracy". It is just that McKnight is FAR from alone in his opinions.

  • datahound says:

    The ASBMB President receives editorial advice about the President's Column but s/he has final editorial control.

    The ASBMB Council did have a rich discussion prior to, during, and following Dr. Nakamura's presentation. These discussions focused on what could be done to enhance the performance of the NIH peer review system in general and in these tough budget times. As is typical in any group of scientists, a wide range of opinions about what the key issues are and potential solutions are were expressed.

  • Philapodia says:

    Dagnabit datahound, why did you have to go and be rational and politically astute about everything? Where's the fun in that?

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