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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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December 16, 2010

Science Jobs Roundtable - Day Four

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Posted by Derek

The Thursday installment of the science jobs roundtable is up over at ScienceGeist. This time the topic is how to fund research so that it has a greater chance of generating new employment - a tough topic, and I'm not sure I agree with all the possible cures proposed, but check it out and see what you think.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on December 16, 2010 4:06 PM writes...

Cut the salaries of post-docs and graduate students so that the same amount of money can fund a greater number of workers. Skip the healthcare, since they are young, they don't need any. If they are too sick to work, just hire new people. You can find Ph.D.'s bagging groceries or working at Best Buy.

The purpose of the Ph.D. education in organic chemistry is so that the pharmaceutical industry to be able to hire a 6th year post-doc and put them right where he is needed anytime the industry requires it. (Paraphrased from a pharmaceutical VP in C&EN.)

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2. dearieme on December 16, 2010 4:45 PM writes...

Suppose that what the Pharma industry needs is some advances in the science, of the sort that might be pursued in University labs. Then reform the system of research funding so that it's less dominated by bandwagons, and there's more room for people to pursue wild guesses. So distribute some research funding by lottery.

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3. Anonymous BMS Researcher on December 16, 2010 6:36 PM writes...

@dearieme: I have long felt the current system of making ever-finer distinctions among grant applications to be nonsense at best. For at least 20 years I have thought the best approach would be first decide which applications genuinely appear to merit funding. Suppose that comes to 25% of the applications for a specific program, and there is enough money in the budget to fund 6% of the applications. Well, instead of attempting the intellectually dishonest task of determining which of those 25% are the absolute best, I favor picking by lot from among the 25%.

Then TELL everybody who did not get funding, "sorry, we thought you deserved funding but since there wasn't enough money for all the deserving applications we made a random selection."

Yes this would be painful, but so is any other way to allocate funds when applications so tremendously exceed resources.

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4. bad wolf on December 16, 2010 6:46 PM writes...

Actually i really like dearieme's idea. If you want pie-in-the-sky, novel work, then put aside say 10% of the grant agency's budget and pick the winners by lottery. Then the incremental stuff could continue but there would also be a chance of something really breakthrough coming along. (This would almost be like the 'academic freedom' tenure is supposed to endow.)

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5. Diocletian on December 17, 2010 2:57 AM writes...

Look pharma...

People don't trust you, realistically or politically.

You keep trying to HTS a delicate process. Dude: slow down: it's not working. No, you're not smart by playing the me-too outsourcing game; you're just a sorry poseur without a clue.

If you can get over that, then return to valuing your people. Hire more, here in America, your true friends who have the experience of decades.

Still, must attend to market skepticism. Higher FDA standards only a reaction to failure of research quality and scope. Real science, by your neighbor. New York, California, Florida or Maine, what more honest and dependable value could you invest in? America is in back to basics mode, as is right.

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6. Matt on December 17, 2010 6:59 AM writes...

Thanks for commenting on this everyone!

I really like dearieme's suggestions.
It's one of the reasons why I wrote about index investing and getting the public involved. If we can't decide between the top 25% and were just going to pick at random, why not let the public decide right now. It would be a really easy and valuable way to increase engagement.

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7. student on December 17, 2010 9:43 AM writes...

Matt, are you psychotic? Letting the public decide is about the stupidest idea I've ever heard.

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8. Matt on December 19, 2010 7:50 PM writes...


There are MANY instances (reported and annecdotal) where review panels have said that distinguishing between the proposals (10th thru 20th or so percentile) is not something they can easily do.
If a review panel decides to fund the proposals in the top 10th percentile and still have money to fund some of the proposals in the 10th thru 20th percentile, why not let the public (or some subset) of the public decide. The original review board has already said that they're good. They just don't distinguish between them. There is a lot to be gained from getting the public in on something like that. @anonymousBMS suggests just doing it by random. If that's not psychotic, why would you consider letting the public decide psychotic.

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9. student on December 20, 2010 6:53 PM writes...

Matt, I don't doubt that 10th and 20th percentile are indistinguishable. But tHe public couldn't tell a benzene ring from a hole in the ground. THey couldn't possibly be a judge of quality, and would, in essence, be a random selector, except insofar that all new grants would morph into providing a cure for cancer and solving the energy problem in a single step.

"People eat blood sausage...people are morons!" Bill Murray, Groundhog Day.

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10. Matt on December 21, 2010 8:21 AM writes...

So what if you think that they are morons. A panel of scientists have already judged the proposals as sound. The public would have NO role in judging the sound-ness of the science. That would already be done. Their knowledge of the benzene ring would be entirely irrelevant. Their role would be to decide what project sounds the most interesting. There is too much to be gained in terms of engagement to NOT consider this possibility. 1)It may increase public interest. 2) It will give PIs incentives to develop their ability to communicate with a wider audience (something that is needed anyway).

And, if we can't communicate the importance of our work to a broader section of society, then we are all in big trouble.

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11. Hap on December 21, 2010 10:34 AM writes...

Those "morons" do happen to fund lots of science in our country. Some of them may someday be scientists, and the remainder will help determine how many of those there are in the future (because if science isn't valued and has a negative social stigma, well, then people aren't going to spend themselves working in it, or at least fewer people will). In addition while I don't think most people have the technical knowledge to deconstruct most proposals, I would have said that about some of the more questionable publications in recent journals. In many of those cases people who should have known less about the work than the reviewers, editors, or authors were effectively able to cogently analyze the work, at least more so than the people "qualified" to do so. Logic is a relatively powerful tool for manipulating ideas, and scientists aren't the only ones who have access to it.

I've got plenty of contempt for people's stupidity, but it does no good here. People as a whole pay for what we do, and if they don't see the point in it, they won't anymore. Telling them they're not smart enough to understand isn't going to help anyone, particularly since it might not be true, anyway.

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12. bookemdeno on December 29, 2010 10:32 PM writes...

This may be something to consider with regard to Nativis the idea that words have power, even if they are only written as it the case of the cooked rice, you try it "bright lights" it works! (if you can do it as true scientist)

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13. bookemdeno on December 29, 2010 10:32 PM writes...

This may be something to consider with regard to Nativis the idea that words have power, even if they are only written as it the case of the cooked rice, you try it "bright lights" it works! (if you can do it as true scientist)

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