The attitude “I’m happy to debate” should be replaced with “I’m happy to explain”.
and there it is.
The attitude “I’m happy to debate” should be replaced with “I’m happy to explain”.
and there it is.
Harvard has decided not to seek to renew NIH support for their New England National Primate Research Center, established by Congress in 1962. The Center has operated with a so-called "base grant" from the National Institutes of Health underpinning the not-inconsiderable costs of housing thousands of nonhuman primates and the usual grab bag of investigators' independent sources of funding. The NENPRC site lists an impressive series of accomplishments.
First unambiguous evidence that AIDS is caused by a virus.
Discovery of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) and development of first animal model of AIDS.
Original demonstration that vaccine protection against AIDS is theoretically possible.
Discovery that a gene product of the AIDS virus activates lymphocytes necessary for disease progression.
Identification of therapeutic genes that can prevent infection of cells by the AIDS virus.
First demonstration that protective genes introduced into blood stem cells can block HIV or SIV infection.
Discovery of primitive blood stem cells lacking CD34 and their implications for bone marrow transplantation
Isolation of type-D retroviruses as major causes of illness and death in macaques.
Discovery of the oncogenic herpesvirus, Herpesvirus saimiri.
Discovery of a nonhuman primate virus closely related to the human Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus.
First nonhuman primate models of colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
Evidence leading to the use of hydroxyurea to treat sickle cell anemia.
Discovery of stunned myocardium and its role in myocardial ischemia.
Discovery of cellular organization and critical period for development of the visual cortex.
First unambiguous evidence for the addictive properties of nicotine.
Identification of major risk factors in self-injurious behavior.
First animal model for progressive neurodegeneration in Parkinson's disease.
Development of improved brain imaging techniques for early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
Development of novel cellular and pharmacological strategies for treatment of Parkinson's disease.
First survey of distribution of cocaine binding sites in primate brain.
Identification of the dopamine transporter as a principal target for cocaine in the brain.
First nonhuman primate model of drug relapse.
Development of novel drug classes to treat cocaine addiction and other brain dopamine disorders.
Most of the news reporting has focused on a series of lapses in the care of nonhuman primate subjects, leading to several deaths. I cannot comment on the degree to which this situation reflected lapses in the system, but clearly Harvard was undergoing major corrective measures. The news accounts describe situations which seem to me to be procedural lapses that have relatively straightforward fixes. Nothing appears to be systematically unfixable...again, going by the news accounts.
The Harvard Medical School press release is slightly more instructive, however.
The decision to conclude NEPRC operations follows a two-year period during which the Center leadership successfully addressed operating issues with input from the NIH and other governing agencies. The process resulted in new procedures that have significantly strengthened the Center’s day-to-day activities and that can serve as a model for other institutions throughout the country. Many of those changes carried additional costs, and HMS will continue to make investments in the Center to ensure ongoing compliance with all federal regulations.
Right? So the problems were fixable and they'd been investing in fixing them for two years. "Additional costs", eh? Well, no biggie if the investment is good.
But what has happened in the past several months, hmm? The sequester. The Continuing Resolution for FY2013. Obama's budget request for FY2014. None of this is good news. If you look at the NENPRC as effectively a small, soft-money research institute funded in large extent by federal grants (and let's face it, partnering with for-profits isn't going that well for academia right now either) then its prospects are pretty dim. Look at the situation through the lens of Return on Investment and everything becomes clear.
As they weighed whether to renew the base grant from the NIH, HMS leaders made a strategic decision based on a review of the long-term academic benefits and the financial cost of continuing to operate the NEPRC.
“Deciding how to best assign our limited resources is not unique to HMS,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Harvard University,
Driving the decision was the fact that the external funding environment for scientific research has become increasingly challenging over the past decade. Recent funding pressures have added uncertainty to this already-challenging fiscal context. As Harvard Medical School leadership evaluated the long-term need to use its resources in the most effective manner across all of its missions, they came to the conclusion that winding down the operations of the NEPRC was more beneficial to the School than investing further resources in maintaining and renewing the NEPRC grant.
So yeah, this looks from the outside like a small, specialized research institute closing down due to the NIH funding situation to me.
Maybe I have NIH grant myopia but this is the way it looks.
I am reviewing some of the claims made about their listed accomplishments and going back to the original papers, where I can deduce them. In a few areas that I am familiar with....man. Straight up. These are valid claims, even if we recognize that no science breakthrough arrives entirely by itself. And more importantly, particularly when it came to the early days of AIDS, I am having trouble imagining how progress could have been made so rapidly without one of the National Primate Research Centers. They really do seem to serve a unique function in the NIH / US Federal extramural research enterprise and it would be a shame if this was merely the lead indicator in shuttering the whole program.
Disclaimer: I have professional acquaintances that work at NENPRC. I am disturbed that they are losing their jobs and I do hope that they get snapped up by some other University.
While we should all continue to explore and discuss questions about the scientific direction, it is important that our community be perceived as positive about the incredible opportunity represented in the President’s announcement. If we are perceived as unreasonably negative or critical about initial details, we risk smothering the initiative before it gets started.
This is the kind of thought enforcement that should send academics and scientists round the bend, and graduate student Justin Kiggins of UCSD has offered up an excellent rejoinder, which reads in part:
To summarize your request, you think that we should disagree only in “our scientific communications channels” while ensuring that, to the taxpayers who will be funding this initiative, “our community be perceived as positive” about it. Not only do I find it offensive and patronizing that you would ask us to be disingenuous to the very public which supports our efforts, but I think that your request is short-sighted and undermines the work of neuroscientists who seek to cultivate a public that is informed and literate in matters of the brain.
The debate has already begun in the public sphere, whether you like it or not. And the public is looking to neuroscientists to make sense of the vague official announcements that have happened thus far. Will we actually fix Alzheimer’s in five years? Will we record from every neuron in the human brain? Why do we want to do this? Without our informed input to the debate, “we risk smothering the initiative before it gets started” due to bad reporting. While you ask us to stick to “our” channels of scientific discourse, like the paywalled journals and exclusive conferences that the public cannot access, it was only 4 days after the New York Times story broke that this gem of fear-mongering claimed that the Brain Initiative would allow Barack Obama to read people’s minds. If we don’t talk about the Brain Initiative, bad reporters will. And if bad reporters talk about the Brain Initiative, we risk creating a public which is fearful of the very work that we do.
Now, I didn't read the part about official communications channels quite in the same way, although I don't know what Swanson intended when he wrote:
SfN encourages healthy debate and rigorous dialogue about the effort’s scientific directions. Testing of assumptions, methodological debate, and constructive competition are central to scientific progress. I urge you to bring all this to the table through our scientific communications channels and venues, including the SfN annual meeting in San Diego this fall and The Journal of Neuroscience.
I'm going to choose to read the "our" as "anything available to the membership" as opposed to "SfN's". And my blog is my primary venue for discussing matters of my professional life. So "Cheers", Executive Committee! Bravo for encouraging us, the membership of the Society for Neuroscience to engage in a healthy debate and rigorous dialog.
First up, what is the NIH's skin in this particular game? All the newsmedia reports this as a $100M effort. The NIH site on the BRAIN Initiative provides a partial clue.
In total, NIH intends to allocate $40 million in FY14. Given the cross-cutting nature of this project, the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research—an initiative spanning 14 NIH Institutes and Centers—will be the leading NIH contributor to its implementation in FY14.
There's some blah-blah there about DARPA and NSF so presumably some other outlay will be going in their direction (UPDATE: The infographic from Obama's Whitehouse says $50M to DARPA and $20M to NSF....so they need some math lessons). It remains unclear to me (perhaps a Reader knows?) if these agencies will be making up the rest of the $60M for FY2014, let's assume that for now.
$40M for the NIH Brain-related institutes to divvy up. To be administered by the Blueprint which has been in operation since 2004 and has produced this sort of outcome.
Blueprint Grand Challenges
- The Human Connectome Project
- The Grand Challenge on Pain
- The Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network
- Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse (NITRC)
- Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF)
- Blueprint Resources Antibodies Initiative for Neurodevelopment (BRAINdev)
- NIH Toolbox for Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function
- Cre Driver Network
- Gene Expression Nervous System Atlas (GENSAT)
- Blueprint Non-Human Primate Brain Atlas
- Blueprint Training Programs
- Blueprint Science Education Awards
So you can see that the BRAIN Initiative is really only $40M for more of the same. Right? Back to the NIH site on the BRAIN Initiative.
Despite the many advances in neuroscience in recent years, the underlying causes of most of neurological and psychiatric conditions remain largely unknown, due to the vast complexity of the human brain. If we are ever to develop effective ways of helping people suffering from these devastating conditions, researchers will first need a more complete arsenal of tools and information for understanding how the brain functions both in health and disease.
"A more complete arsenal of tools and information" is the operating concept here. Just like has already been produced.....
We have witnessed the sequencing of the human genome, the development of new tools for mapping neuronal connections, the increasing resolution of imaging technologies, and the explosion of nanoscience. These discoveries have yielded unprecedented opportunities for integration across scientific fields. For instance, by combining advanced genetic and optical techniques, scientists can now use pulses of light in animal models to determine how specific cell activities within the brain affect behavior. What’s more, through the integration of neuroscience and physics, researchers can now use high-resolution imaging technologies to observe how the brain is structurally and functionally connected in living humans.
Very true. Some of it funded by the Roadmap, no doubt. But read this history of the development of optogenetics, one of the hottest tools going at the moment. It is a classic weaving together of scientific information and techniques developed by many labs over an extended period of time. Not, I will note, from labs that set out to make optogenetics work. Different parts of the puzzle came together, yes, in an interval of single focus. In laboratories that were very well funded in the absence of any particular grants to develop optogenetics. This particular story is merely the latest in a long line of major innovations that were cobbled together around the edges of existing (robust) funding. The common denominator is well funded laboratories that managed to use the NIH project based funding system to sustain what is in essence a de facto program based funding reality.
And this passage from the NIH site has a really embarrassing confession of the bait and switch of basic science's interaction with the people who control the purse strings, right? The TIME IS NOW! Yes, we've done all this AWESOME stuff with your money but it isn't ENOUGH! We need MORE money to develop more AWESOME TOOLS (a veritable arsenal) and then we promise we'll solve
Neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression, and traumatic brain injury, [which] exact a tremendous toll on individuals, families, and society.
Head of the NIH OER Sally Rockey posted another set of data on the extramural research population, this time focused on the applicant institution, aka, Universities, Med Schools, Research Institutions, etc.
my staff and I took a look at the number of institutions that submitted competing research project grant (RPG) applications each fiscal year, going back to 1995. In addition to looking at all RPGs, we also looked at data for R01s only.
At least with respect to RO1s it would seem to argue against the "a bunch of middling non-research intensive institutions jumped on the extramural bandwagon during the doubling" theory that's occasionally been floated here.
I don't agree that these data "argue against" at all. Not in the least. Unique Research Project Grant applicant* institutions went up 80%, if you limit the analysis only to R01s, 40%. This was the maximum effect of the doubling and numbers have subsequently subsided from the peak. Still, the most pertinent observation is that RPG seeking institutions remain 50% more numerous than they were in the late 1990s. As we've previously discussed, the unrelenting pace of inflation has resulted in an effective Un-doubling, putting the NIH budget back on the trendline established in decades prior to the doubling (and again, inflation means it never really doubled, 50% more purchasing power at best) interval. That un-doubling analysis is a bit old (2008) so we could be in quite a bit worse shape right now, following a few more years and the sequester.
Any way you look at it, seems a significant increase in competition from the *institutional* perspective to me.There are half again as many institutions fighting over what is very likely less than 150% of the purchasing power of the late 1990s budgets.
Is there anyone out there that believes that the pool of NIH-seeking institutions that existed in the late 1990s have shrunken the number of PIs that they each have applying?
*awardee RPG institutions went from 600 to 800 during the doubling. R01 *awardee* institutions went from about 450 to 55o. 33% increase versus 22% increase. Not much better than the applicant-institution numbers. I argue that the applicant institution number is more relevant to the low paylines, increased grant churning and overall dismality of the NIH situation at present.
from a self described newProf at doc becca's digs.
Last week, the first NIH proposal I wrote with PI status was rejected... I knew things were bad, but it still hurts...Problem is, I don't know how to allocate my time between generating more preliminary data/pubs and applying for more grants. How many grants does the typical NIH- and/or NSF-funded (or wannabe-funded) TT prof write per year before getting funded?
It is not about what anyone else or the "typical" person has done.
It is about doing whatever you possibly can do until that Notice of Grant Award arrives.
My stock advice right now is that you need to have at least one proposal going in to the NIH for each standard receipt date. If you aren't hitting it at least that hard, before you have a major award, you aren't trying. If you think you can't get out one per round.... you don't really understand your job yet. Your job is to propose studies until someone decides to give your lab some support.
My other stock advice is take a look at the payline and assume those odds apply to you. Yes, special snoflake, you.
If the payline is 10%, then you need to expect that you will have to submit at least 10 apps to have a fighting chance. Apply the noob-discount and you are probably better off hitting twice that number. It is no guarantee and sure, the PI just down the hall struck it lucky with her first Asst Prof submission to the NIH. But these are the kinds of numbers you need to start with.
Once you get rolling, one new grant and one revised grant per round should be doable. They are a month apart and a revision should be way easier. After the first few, you can start taking advantage of cutting and pasting a lot of the grant text together to get a start on the next one.
Stop whining about preliminary data. Base it on feasibility and work from there. Most figures support at least a half dozen distinct grant applications. Maybe more.
I never know for sure how hard my colleagues are working when it comes to grant submissions. I know what I do...and it is a lot. I know what a subset of my other colleagues do and let me tell you, success is better correlated with effort (grants out the door) than it is with career rank. That has an effect, sure, but I know relatively older investigators who struggle to maintain stable funding and ones who enjoy multi-grant stability. They are distinguished to some extent by how many apps they get out the door. Same thing for junior colleagues. They are trying to launch their programs and all. I get this. They have to do a lot of setup, training and even spend time at the bench. But they also tend to have a very wait-and-see approach to grants. Put one in. Wait for the result. Sigh. "Well maybe I'll resubmit it next round". Don't do this, my noob friends. Turn that app around for the next possible date for submission.
You'll have another app to write for the following round, silly.
Kington, as in Raynard Kington (PubMed), senior author of the Ginther et al. (2011) report that identified poorer NIH Grant success for African-American applicant Principal Investigators. Also as in previous Principal Deputy Director of the NIH Kington and current President of Grinnell College Kington.
And so I was dismayed by a recent news story on www.the-scientist.com about our report that seemed to prove our point about the existence of such unintentional bias. The story identified me as an “African-American scientist,” as have other stories I’ve read over the years.
Is that who I am? And if yes, is it relevant to my research?
Let me answer the second question first. The Scientist article to which I refer mentioned four scientists—and I was the only scientist who was identified by race. Moreover, the article didn’t mention any other demographic characteristics about me—not my age, my gender, my ethnicity, my sexual orientation, my geographic location, not even my current job as president of one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. Nor did it include demographic information about the three other scientists mentioned in the story.
from someone on the Twitts going by @ilovepigenetics
Annoyed that PIs prefer to cut positions vs. experiments. #sciquester #dotherightthing #shortsighted Fewer jobs=less taxes=less funding
this was followed with an interesting response to YHN:
@drugmonkeyblog Do the right thing. You have a responsibility to your trainees.
and the lunacy goes on (reverse chron):
There are two main problems here. The first one is related to whom the PI owes "responsibility".
The NIH Grant funded PI typically has a number of responsibilities in my view.
She has a laboratory of employees and trainees with a good bit of smear between who is an employee and who is a trainee. On the one end is the straight-up employee who is a technician and on the other end an undergraduate "volunteering in the lab for experience". The former might have a reasonable expectation of life-time employment (within the confines of normal variation and the grant cycles). In between there are the postdocs who are on for a 2-3 year training stint without explicit expectation of a life-time job and graduate students who are there to achieve a semi-defined task (the doctorate). The PI has a responsibility to do well by these people, there is little doubt. But there is also little doubt that perfection cannot be achieved for everyone. Not everyone is going to have an outcome commensurate with their expectations. This is reality, not evidence of a PI who is uncaring, irresponsible or insufficiently "creative".
The PI also has a laboratory. This is the edifice built by and for the prior trainees, the current trainees, the future trainees, the PI herself...and her University. Sometimes this laboratory has been inherited from a prior investigator (or a chain of investigators). It may be a laboratory that will obviously be passed down to subsequent investigators. It may be a laboratory that has enjoyed considerable University support over the years. It may have enjoyed considerable support from a specific Institute or Center of the NIH. The PI may have to compromise on other responsibilities to service her responsibility to the laboratory, from time to time.
The PI has a career. She has to continue to publish papers, secure funding and supervise research to keep this career going. You may view this as a selfish responsibility but hey, if you are complaining about the fact that another person is taking a career hit by the PI not being "creative" enough...you need to explain why one person's selfish goals are to be prioritized over another's.
The PI has a life. Just like you do. Sure they may be further along in years, stage(s) or whatnot than you are. They may have some things that you cannot see yourself ever attaining (like a mortgage, twopointseven kids and even a stay at home spouse. perhaps college bills for offspring). And their salary is clearly higher. It looks to you like they are totes moneybags and should just forgo 25% of their salary so that someone else can stay in their job for another 6 months. Guess what? It's time to get real. NIH grant supported investigators do make a lot more than postdocs do, mostly, but they are by no means insanely compensated. And just like you, they went through a period of training and fell into debt, behind the mortgage curve, behind the 401K explosion, they came along post-pension, etc, etc. Just like you they nursed ancient cars through postdoc and into the first years of faculty. They ate pasta. They did all that and got lucky to get a job. And started a life. And now they have people who depend on them to maintain that life. My sympathies are limited for those who claim that the people farther down the path just aren't responsible or creative enough to ensure that each and every person to come through their lab achieves the same outcome as they have.
There is another big one, this one related more to "what" the PI owes responsibility. I might suggest this is even the first priority of the NIH funded Principal Investigator.
The PI has a responsibility to the grant. You know, the tax payer funded money that has been dropped on the laboratory, under the PI's guidance, in expectation of some sort of return. A return of information, otherwise known as published papers. Yes, the PI has a HUGE part of her creativity and responsibility tied up in making sure that some science actually occurs. Published science. It is very easy for the trainee who has just been told that they have two months to find a new job to overlook this. The PI should be a good steward of the public purse. And sometimes that role is going to conflict with the above mentioned responsibilities to staff members. This is why the salvo from @ilovepigenetics about prioritizing salary lines over experiments drew my attention, btw.
If you keep people employed "over experiments" this means that the experiments aren't getting done. Or aren't getting done efficiently. Then where are we? If you can't buy reagents, can't analyze all the samples in the freezer, can't support cage costs, can't maintain mouse lines, can't buy rats, can't recruit human subjects, can't afford scanner time... then everything in the above list crashes down. Because eventually productivity suffers, no new grants come in, no new trainees can be afforded, the dollars eventually run out and everyone needs to be fired.
Just to avoid firing one postdoc today.
postscript: This Twitt is also spectacularly clueless about the fact that the current extra good news of the sequester comes after a good 5-8 years of serious squeezing and pressure on the NIH budget and NIH funded scientific labs. PIs have been scrambling like crazy to be creative about funding, maintaining trainees salary lines as far as possible and to get the most work done that they can. Like crazy. For years now. And believe you me, this ain't news to any postdoc with half a brain. They've known about how bad things are for ages. If they've been burning the midnight St. Kern oil to write fellowships and papers and assist the PI with grants (so that s/he can get one more out per cycle) then hey, I'm a bit sympathetic. Somehow I suspect not all of them have been doing this though....
If you look around a bit on the NIH funding data at RePORT, you will find the following definitions.
Research Project Grants: Defined as R00, R01, R03, R15, R21, R22, R23, R29, R33, R34, R35, R36, R37, R55, R56, RC1, RC2, RC3, RC4, RF1, RL1, RL2, RL5, RL9, P01, P42, PN1, UA5, UC1, UC2, UC3, UC4, UC7, UF1, UH2, UH3, UH5, UM1, U01, U19, U34, DP1, DP2, DP3, DP4, and DP5 . Research projects were first coded to NLM in fiscal year 2007.
R01-Equivalent Grants: Defined as activity codes R01, R29 and R37.
The R29 was the FIRST award program and the R37 is MERIT, generally an extension of the noncompeting interval for a continuation R01 that scored really well. So...basically these are all R01s.
A post from Steven Salzberg begs to "Please save the unsolicited R01s" which includes this graph sourced from FASEB.
Making the same leap of considering these the "real" investigator initiated awards, we can see that the number of new awards in the past two Fiscal Years is lower than it has been since 95-96, *prior* to the doubling.
Everytime the NIH officialdom chooses to respond to criticism and concern about how their latest initiative will hurt the traditional strength (investigator initiated R01 equivalents) they try to claim that these are not paying the price. In various ways and with various incomplete analyses they try to give the impression that despite the invention of RC this and DP that, the failure to dismantle boondoggle Ps and the increased use of U-mechs...that the R01 remains sacred.
This graph gives you a retort.
It is a little known #truefact of the NIH that every 500 logins or refreshes on your eRA Commons account improves your eagerly anticipated grant score by 1 percentile point.