What is #reviewdouchery?  The short answer is that reviewdouchery are the comments and habits of reviewers that we love to hate. A few random examples (not in order of douchiness):

1. “It would be ‘nice’ if the authors would do these 25 (very expensive and unnecessary to the thesis) experiments.”

I mean, WTF people. I don’t give a rats’ ass about what a reviewer thinks would be “nice”- what I do care about is whether or not a given experiment is essential to proving or disproving the hypothesis that is addressed.

2. 3 page and 30 point reviews accompanying a decision to reject.

Double WTF. If you think a paper should be rejected- a skillful reviewer shouldn’t need 3 pages and 30 detailed points to justify that decision. You should be able to find the fatal flaw and lay that out in a brief single paragraph. Sometimes I think that we have evolved reviewing into proving to the author, the other reviewers, the editors and ourselves that we really ARE smart. And well, that’s just messed up, as my 15 year old would say.

3. Asking for the next obvious experiment.. that might make FIGURE 14.

Data inflation people, I mean do we really think the authors who are living and breathing that work didn’t think of that?? How much data do we REALLY need in a single paper? Do I need to say more. Not a substantive comment.

4. Why don’t you JUST repeat this experiment in elephants!

I mean- the use of the word “just” coupled with what is REALLY REALLY difficult to do- is well, ‘just’ kind of frustrating.

5. Picky comments about terminology that are actually incorrect.

K. If you are going to be type A about terminology- at least get it right. No one likes a know-it-all, and know-it-alls that reek of authority but don’t know shit from shinola… just kind of bothersome… albeit easy to rebut.

I’m sure I’ve done many of these myself… please add your particular favorite bit of #reviewdouchery in the comments…

Adding to the Indirect Cost Chatter

Mike the Mad has a post up this morning in response to a post by Proflikesubstance regarding overhead... aka ‘indirect costs’. In this time of shrinking budgets I think that this is an important conversation to be having… but something caught my eye in PLS posts that I think is worth mentioning.

First, what are ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ costs and what are they to be used for? From the NIH Grants policy statement (Part II: Terms and Conditions of NIH Grant Awards) we find this:

On direct costs:  A direct cost is any cost that can be specifically identified with a particular project, program, or activity or that can be directly assigned to such activities relatively easily and with a high degree of accuracy. Direct costs include, but are not limited to, salaries, travel, equipment, and supplies directly benefiting the grant-supported project or activity.

On indirect costs:  See facilities and administrative costs definition.

On facilities and administrative costs: Costs that are incurred by a grantee for common or joint objectives and that, therefore, cannot be identified specifically with a particular project or program. These costs also are known as indirect costs.

So, Proflikesubstance starts out like this….

Among many things, overhead has two major functions: 1) pay for the research enterprise, 2) fund start-up packages. Point 2 is pretty straight forward – a research career isn’t going to get off the ground without funds to create data prior to the first grants rolling in. The first point, however, is where many people seem to have a blind spot. (bold is mine)

Say WHAT? I hate to be disagreeable, but I feel like PLS has it kinda upside down. Based on NIH’s own definitions, its just obvious to me that $$ earmarked for facilities and administrative costs,  running the building (paying for the building, paying janitors, keeping the lights on etc) and the administrative infrastructure necessary to carry out research (compliance, HR, grants administration and whatever else you can think of), should be used for that purpose. And although I’ll grouse privately and maybe not-so-privately about the huge hulking disparity in the IDC return for different institutions (some institutions get near 100%, while others get only 50%)- I recognize that some institutions have a budget from the taxpayers of their fair state to defray some of the cost of keeping the lights on, while private institutes generally do not (we can start a whole different argument here).

But holy cow- I don’t get that #2 is “pretty straight forward”. I’m not sure that that is even allowable by NIH rules to use NIH IDCs for start-up packages for new faculty.  I agree that it is probably happening in many institutions- via some indirect route that is not totally transparent. YIkes!

#Impactfactorwarz (updated)

This morning I was multitasking during a seminar and came across some tweets from my esteemed colleague Dr. Isis with the hashtag #Impactfactorwarz, and I started reading the associated conversation that revolved around use of impact factor in important decisions like promotion. The conversation could apply equally, however, to academic hiring, and other important career makers or breakers like grant review.

Let’s just focus for a minute on the following bit of Isis fact:

It means when my promotion committee looks at IF>5 papers, that’s where I have to publish.

Indeed, but this is a dirty little fact that we all know is true. Go ahead- wave your hands and protest that it is all about the scienz- but know that you are living in an alternate reality lying to yourself when you do that. Search committees, promotion & tenure committees, and review panels DO care about impact factor, and whether or not you publish in the ‘single word journals’ as another esteemed colleague of mine (Dr. Casadevall, I do adore you) is fond of calling them. But here is the deal- these committees and review panels are made up of individual scientists, living, breathing, flawed, busy, lazy, worried, idealistic, distracted, competitive scientists. So while we can point fingers and vilify this committee and that committee- remember also that it is us as working academic scientists that are perpetuating this culture. Uh huh, that’s right- its YOUR fault. That’s the second dirty little fact we don’t want to admit to ourselves.

And these #Impactfactorwarz are killing science. OH- I hear you cry, that’s bold DrdrA. Really, why? Let’s just agree that you don’t are so much less likely pass the search committee, the P&T committee or receive a score on your grant without the ‘single word journal’ pub. You don’t get an interview in this tight academic market without such a pub. No interview = No job. Our work takes longer and longer to get into press as you attempt to jump the moving target that is the high bar at the ‘single word journal’.  This lost time is just unnecessary, it slows the pace of progress, and costs junior people precious time producing the reims of data in the revision requested by the reviewers… for that sparkly glamormagz pub that you are going to get a rejection notice from anyway. And we have become afraid to show our data to each other.

You know what else- that ‘single word journal’ publication has become so overwhelmingly important- that people cheat their way into it. Yes, CHEAT. I know that sounds kind of dirty and we cringe a little inside when we read those words. But remember that scientists are not, as a rule, operating on some higher moral plane than the rest of society- even though we like to imagine that to be true. We know from some fine recent work- that misconduct is to blame for the majority of paper retractions, and that the number of retractions due to fraud has risen dramatically in recent years. We also know, from the same work, that the higher the impact factor the greater the incidence of a retraction due to fraud.… and if you don’t believe me, have a look at the data in Figure 3.

Now comes the hard part though. Let’s recognize that we, as working academic scientists, have created and perpetuate this system Every.Single.Day. We’ve leaned on impact factor as a proxy for quality and for influence in a given field, and we use that  honestly just out of laziness for the most part. Ask yourself, each of you- what can we do to change this system before it chokes us off- and before we end up with only a few funded scientists who have cheated their way to the grant money.

Updated: Drugmonkey just put up a post on the same topic

Pink Sheets

Yeah, I got mine yesterday. I’m allowing myself to be frustrated for 24 hours- and writing in frustration is often very cleansing.

So, first the good news. We got a score and thus got discussed on the first submission. That’s a good thing, and not all that common these days from what I see going on around me.

But the bad news is always more voluminous than the good news, right? What I do is essentially discovery- discovery of new genes important in a given process. We identify these genes by the phenotype of a mutant and then work backwards to function and mechanism. I like doing things this way because no one can argue with me that I’m spending time working on something that may be totally unimportant in the actual biological process in question. I know that we are laying the groundwork for many productive years to come. The problem with this approach though, should be obvious. Its tremendously difficult to go from discovery to mechanism of function in a single grant- and thus one always runs up against the ‘you didn’t show us the mechanism’ criticism, which, as we all know by now- is deadly.

Here is the other risk with discovery- you often end up with things that are totally novel. That doesn’t sound like a problem right? I mean, you already showed that they are clearly important in XYZ biological process, and going off on uncharted territory is how we make the fundamental discoveries that drive change in the big paradigms in biology. Right now we have a factor in hand that we show to be important in the process we study, and it has gone 30 years without us (biologists in general) having the faintest clue about its function. I’m totally jazzed by that. Let me say that again-maybe in all caps this time- I’M WILDLY EXCITED ABOUT THIS PROJECT.

But I fear that reviewers won’t get it. I fear that because this discovery is outside the mainstream set of factors  that the field accepts as important- that we’ll get the: what the hell is that weird molecule-YOU DON’T HAVE A MECHANISM-incremental advance- I see the data but I don’t believe it- bla bla bla review. I fear that because I’m not taking the road that ensures maximum boredom safety, we will not be able to get this project funded. And these days- all it takes is one reviewer to say- I don’t get it, TRIAGE- to put the brakes on something that has waited 30 years to be assigned a function.

I know, I know- that’s the way the system works, the funding line is so low, safe is best right now, etc. I know. I can’t stand it. Something is terribly wrong when we’ve retreated to taking ONLY the avenue of maximum safety to the exclusion of all other avenues.

Link of the day… Aetiology

I just ran across this post at Aetiology …. An open letter to my dad… in which Tara explains to her dad why perpetuating the anti-vax talking points is a bad, bad, bad idea…. I’ll just quote a wee bit…

Know the results of this vaccine backlash? Research dollars are diverted away from real causes of autism and other conditions. And kids are dying. Just in the U.S., there have been more than 1000 vaccine-preventable deaths in the last 6 years, and over 100,000 vaccine-preventable illnesses. Freaking whooping cough has made a huge comeback in the U.S. A big reason for the resurgence of these diseases is because anti-vaccine myths and scares spread so easily between acquaintances–in person, and on social media; scares that you’re now perpetuating with your own posts. Sure, it’s a free country and you have every right to share these pictures and memes, but have you thought about the possible harm it might do to others when you click “share”?

AMEN. Can I just say that this is the most eloquent take-down of the anti-vax mindset that I think I have ever read. WTG Tara- you are superwoman!

I’m not one of the guys.

It will come as a surprise to no one that my work universe is very male dominated.  I frequently find myself in meetings or business type dinners where I’m the only girl. I generally do fine with that, being the token, and usually the youngest, one and all that. There are so many ways that I have to go along and get along by just being ‘one of the guys’.

But wow- will someone just answer me one question… WHY, I say, WHY do the men at the table feel it is appropriate to chat about the effects of Viagra, tell the odd off color joke, and use slang that refers to female anatomy or sexual encounters in these situations? WHY. They just carry on as though I’m not even sitting there- apparently never giving a thought to the appropriateness or lack thereof of such conversation. And right when I convinced myself that we are in 2013 and shit like this doesn’t happen anymore. Do they wonder what I’m thinking… do they even realize when they have veered too far off into the belief that I’m one of the guys? Y.I.K.E.S.

So guys- here is a news flash- we may be sitting at the same table now, but I’m not one of you.  I don’t want to hear about Viagra, and all those other details that you talk about with your guy friends and colleagues. Keep it classy, ok?