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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: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 12, 2012

A Federation of Independent Researchers?

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Posted by Derek

I've had an interesting e-mail from a reader who wants to be signed as "Mrs. McGreevy", and it's comprehensive enough that I'm going to reproduce it in full below.

As everyone but the editorial board of C&E News has noticed, jobs in chemistry are few and far between right now. I found your post on virtual biotechs inspiring, but it doesn't look like anyone has found a good solution for how to support these small firefly businesses until they find their wings, so to speak. Lots of editorials, lots of meetings, lots of rueful headshaking, no real road map forward for unemployed scientists.

I haven't seen this proposed anywhere else, so I'm asking you and your readership if this idea would fly:

What about a voluntary association of independent research scientists?

I'm thinking about charging a small membership fee (for non-profit administration and hard costs) and using group buying power for the practical real-world support a virtual biotech would need:

1. Group rates on health and life insurance.

How many would-be entrepreneurs are stuck in a job they hate because of the the health care plan, or even worse, are unemployed or underemployed and uninsurable, quietly draining their savings accounts and praying no one gets really sick? I have no idea how this would work across state lines, or if it is even possible,but would it hurt to find out? Is anyone else looking?

2. Group rates on access to journals and library services.

This is something I do know a bit about. My M.S. is in library science, and I worked in the Chemistry Library in a large research institution for years during grad school. What if there were one centralized virtual library to which unaffiliated researchers across the country could log in for ejournal access? What if one place could buy and house the print media that start-ups would need to access every so often, and provide a librarian to look things up-- it's not like everyone needs their own print copy of the Canada & US Drug Development Industry & Outsourcing Guide 2012 at $150 a pop. (But if 350 people paid $1 a year for a $350/yr online subscription . . . )

Yes, some of you could go to university libraries and look these things up and print off articles to read at home, but some of you can't. You're probably violating some sort of terms of service agreement the library and publisher worked out anyway. It's not like anyone is likely to bust you unless you print out stacks and stacks of papers, but still. It's one more hassle for a small company to deal with, and everyone will have to re-invent the wheel and waste time and energy negotiating access on their own.

3. How about an online community for support and networking-- places for blogs, reviews, questions, answers, exchanges of best practices, or even just encouragement for that gut-wrenching feeling of going out on your own as a new entrepreneur?

4. What sort of support for grantwriting is out there? Is there a hole that needs to be filled?

5. How about a place to advertise your consulting services or CRO, or even bid for a contract? Virtual RFP posting?

6. Would group buying power help negotiate rates with CROs? How about rates for HTS libraries, for those of you who haven't given up on it completely?

Is there a need for this sort of thing? Would anyone use it if it were available? How much would an unaffiliated researcher be willing to pay for the services? Does anyone out there have an idea of what sort of costs are involved, and what sort of critical mass it would take to achieve the group buying power needed to make this possible?

I'd be happy to spark a discussion on what a virtual biotech company needs besides a spare bedroom and a broadband connection, even if the consensus opinion is that the OP an ill-informed twit with an idea that will never fly. What do you need to get a virtual biotech started? How do we make it happen? There are thousands of unemployed lab scientists, and I refuse to believe that the only guy making a living these days from a small independently-funded lab is Bryan Cranston.

A very worthy topic indeed, and one whose time looks to have come. Thoughts on how to make such a thing happen?

Comments (59) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Drug Development | General Scientific News | The Scientific Literature


COMMENTS

1. DJ DrZ on April 12, 2012 7:04 AM writes...

Huzzah! I am in, where do I sign up? A very similar phenomenon is occuring for consultants, where they are banding together to encourage synergies and become one stop shops. As a consultant, my major problem right now is accessing journals and the most recent research. This would be great.

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2. Rick Wobbe on April 12, 2012 7:24 AM writes...

Thank you "Mrs. McGreevy" for taking the time post this idea and Derek for sharing it! Definitely not the idea of a twit, it has the bones of a good idea that deserves a good brainstorming, to which I'd be delighted to contribute. Even if it doesn't lead to a venture that would have me as a member, helping set it up would be time well-spent.

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3. SP on April 12, 2012 7:33 AM writes...

I think massbio does some of that for startups in new england, at least some of the purchasing things.

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4. A Nonny Mouse on April 12, 2012 7:35 AM writes...

Strangely enough, I had a meeting last week in Cambridge about a similar scheme here in the UK which we are trying to start; a mixture of small labs with independent areas of expertise coupled with various consultants with their specialised areas. Together we hope to be able to offer a full range of chemical services at extremely competitive prices with sufficient number of people of the right calibre to attract the larger players who might otherwise go to China for their services.

We have another meeting at the end of this month to firm things up further with one very big player in the UK biotech field having expressed his interest to join.

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5. Chemjobber on April 12, 2012 7:58 AM writes...

I think the journal access idea is fantastic.

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6. Rick Wobbe on April 12, 2012 8:01 AM writes...

In the interest of sparking discussion of the practicalities, I'll throw out two items you would need to clarify early:

1. What would differentiate this from other initiatives that might offer clients something similar? e.g. disease/patient organizations (like CF), big CROs (like Quintiles), nascent in-house programs (like screening and animal facilities some universities are building), and other consulting groups formed by "early-retirees" from big pharma (you find these in NJ and NC, for example).

2. What's the critical mass of associates (or "employees") you need to get the buying power you need with CROs etc. and how will you achieve that critical mass?

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7. Anonymous on April 12, 2012 8:04 AM writes...

This is the foundation of the Guild we chemists (and biologists) should have formed years ago. I would gladly pay 2X the cost of ACS dues for the privilege to join such a guild.

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8. RD on April 12, 2012 8:16 AM writes...

Sign me up.

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9. Luysii on April 12, 2012 8:16 AM writes...

I really don't want this to sound snotty, but people in my entering class in chemistry grad school 52 years ago at Harvard had no trouble finding and keeping academic positions (not sure about industrial positions as it was assumed back than that newly minted PhD's would research and teach).

I'm well aware of the cries of pain on this site and elsewhere as big Pharma downsizes R&D (particularly chemists). I've got a whole series of posts on why this is happening (essentially because drug discovery is very hard). Basically we are very far from understanding the nuts and bolts of the system we're trying to manipulate with drugs. For 22 posts on the subject see https://luysii.wordpress.com/category/aargh-big-pharma-sheds-chemists-why/

For reasons known only to themselves the Harvard Chemistry Department is having an alumni day on Friday the 13th (when else?) for anyone who ever received a graduate degree from them. I'm planning to go. Hopefully I'll be able to find out how the recent Masters and PhD's from fair Harvard are doing in the wider world and if their experience is the same as those reported here.

Stay tuned

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10. RD on April 12, 2012 8:23 AM writes...

More...

I hate to say this, but we should have a meeting about it. Either online or in person. Appoint some a temporary governing body, project teams and project team leaders.

One other are that needs attention is the high cost of proprietary modeling software. Can we propose an alternative business model to software vendors?

One other thing, can we encourage researchers to move back to the Midwest to minimize costs? I mean, do we really need to be located in Massachusetts and New Jersey when it's much cheaper to live and work in Michigan or the Ohio River valley? There's this thing called the Internet...

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11. bbooooooya on April 12, 2012 8:26 AM writes...

Though decreasing, rapidly, in size there are similar organizations today that bring together groups of scientists to perform research in the hope of creating useful drugs---and also cures for scourges like indigestion (which sounds more serious if you give it a fancy name and acronym like GERD), restless leg syndrome, erectile dysfunction, and micro-narcolepsy (those split seconds where you fall asleep while awake when your eyes close involuntarily). These organizations provided healthcare, access to journals, lab supplies, and even a pay check.

The guild idea likely has merit, but hard to say if it would have the size and scope to get potential drugs to a stage where actual companies are interested. Sounds like a great opportunity for pharms to pay even less for R&D, though that seems to be how the world is going.

Amazing that Instagram was bought for $1 billion 2 years after starting....Now that's a business!

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12. Ellen Clark on April 12, 2012 8:46 AM writes...

With all the brain power out there amongst the scientists it would seem that an idea like this might just work. Here on Eastern Long Island our local farmers belong to such a group. They can get group health insurance, cheaper gasoline, equipment,seeds,fertilizers and even clothing. They receive help with government red tape and tax issues. Contractors have similar models. So why not scientists? Sounds like a great plan and I hope something comes of it.

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13. Dr Jimbo on April 12, 2012 8:56 AM writes...

Sounds interesting. As a scientist in a small CRO with limited lab facilities, this could be very useful. And the journal access aspect would be a good starting point to see how it works.
@ A Nonny Nouse - if you can stretch to including members from Ireland, I would be interested in talking to you about this.

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14. exGlaxoid on April 12, 2012 8:58 AM writes...

I would love to see something like this as well. It would be nice is the ACS was actually a place to find/start/support such a group, but I haven't seen much of that there. I know a number of independent scientists, some of which had small companies, but the market has beaten all but a few into submission.

It used to be possible to start a small company in the US, but now the regulatory burden is very tough. If you think getting journals is tough, try finding a way to dispose of waste that meets all rules and laws.

But I would welcome such an opportunity. There is a similar concept for machine shops that are open to independent inventors, hobbiests, and tinkerers, we just need to find a way to help scientists. It would be nice if universities took better advantage of this resource, but they are all broke right now, so you would have to have funding.

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15. A Nonny Mouse on April 12, 2012 9:24 AM writes...

Dr Jimbo

One of the BD people trying to pull this together is from NI, so it would not be too much of a stretch given that that there are some US consultants interested. Pity we are not in Wales as a certain well known biotech man from that country has managed to get £50m from the assembly to fund biotech start-ups there!

I'll pass your company details on to the organisers.

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16. AnonChemist on April 12, 2012 9:25 AM writes...

Suggestion: call the organization "Society for Chemistry in America" (SCA) = the opposite of ACS.

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17. Biotechtranslated on April 12, 2012 9:37 AM writes...

I agree with #6, this needs to be fleshed out somewhat.

1. Buying power with CROs? From what I know, they have pretty thin margins to begin with, so you would likely not have much wiggle room.

2. I like the idea of the journal access, HOWEVER, you'll pay handsomely for such access. It's no different than a large corp or large library. You have 300 people in your organization? You need to buy a group license.

This also seems similar to a lot of the start-up incubators out there. Get some entrepreneurs and support them. How would you compete with that?

Mike

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18. pc on April 12, 2012 10:11 AM writes...

As a small US CRO mainly doing catalog/custom synthesis, we'll be glad to join such a consortium. But just don't expect us to get close to the rate that Chinese CROs offer, even with group rate. We have to make a living here too ^_^. And there's the saying that you get what you pay for.

Though we do see some comeback from US customers for our services, those oversea companies still put great pressure on us. The projects we see coming back are mainly technically difficult and/or really urgent ones so I guess maybe sometimes these clients are fed up with the delivery problems with these kinds of projects.

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19. Dr Jimbo on April 12, 2012 10:31 AM writes...

A Nonny Mouse
Great!

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20. ICanHasStartUp? on April 12, 2012 10:36 AM writes...

I'd be in. RD's concerns are seconded. It would be nice to have a physical home base (s?) that does not require a 6 figure salary to survive.

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21. Laura on April 12, 2012 10:46 AM writes...

The former science collections librarian in me agrees with #17- publishers will charge large amounts of money to license their products especially since the group will be commericial in nature (or the end use of the materials will be).

A better bet would be to negogiate a group agreement with DeepDyve (http://www.deepdyve.com/). "You can rent the article and view it at DeepDyve for 24 hours or more" for $1. The catch? No printing- you have to read it online (hence the renting not purchasing model).

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22. qetzal on April 12, 2012 10:53 AM writes...

I'm not a chemist, but I do work for a very small biotech (~10 people). Journal access is a huge impediment. There is a biomed library where I can access all their online journals for free(!), but only if I go there in person. I'd pay them a membership fee for full remote access but they don't allow that. Does anyone know of a library that does?

One other point of possible interest. At our company, we're all co-employed by Insperity (used to be Administaff). We get full heath benefits through them at decent rates. They also handle payroll. I don't know what's required to be in their network, but thought I'd throw that out there.

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23. MoMo on April 12, 2012 11:00 AM writes...

Capital Ideas McGreevy! Break away from the Status Quo here and go Guerrilla!

Let's take it a step further.
1. Lets publish all articles funded by the Taxpayer in a an underground website.
2. Enlist graduate students, post-docs and other exploited scientific workers with a Union-tried many times but failed.
3. Fund low-cost health insurance through dues in the this new "SCA"- Just like the ACS tries to do but actually make it affordable.
4. Blacklist companies and CROs, managers, executives that have bad business practices-Why give them talent and business? And reward good companies with a Seal of Good Science Approval. Anybody know any?


There are many other ideas that come to mind but this could work!

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24. MoMo on April 12, 2012 11:08 AM writes...

And Luysii, Please let us know that all at Harvard are OK in these desparate times! I spend all of my free time worrying that Harvard alumni have enough to eat!

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25. Take down the man on April 12, 2012 11:09 AM writes...

I don't know if this the inner "screw the man" coming out in me, but does anyone know of a site similar to Napster in file sharing capabilities? The difference being file sharing of scientific journals PDFs instead of MP3s music files. If no, how hard would it be to set up a bank of servers in BFE where the laws of copyright are nonexistent? I'm sure there are a few grad students with some free-time and access to a wide array of journals.

This seems immoral but so does a $4500/yr subscription rate.

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26. billswift on April 12, 2012 11:10 AM writes...

You might want to read Ron Gross's The Independent Scholar's Handbook. It is more oriented towards humanities, but has some good ideas for the sciences, too. It is also pre-Web, but the Web makes a lot of the ideas he presents easier now.

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27. josh on April 12, 2012 11:19 AM writes...

i really like the idea of bidding on contracts. i dont have a ton of experience in that area, but i have to imagine it works like any other economic situation. there would have to be some safeguard against the lowest bidder giving subpar work though... being a Massachusetts native we know all to well what happens when contractors underbid

excellent idea McGreevy, and excellent avenue to get it noticed.

how about a linkedin/facebook page to get some more input?

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28. Laura on April 12, 2012 11:32 AM writes...

#25- I used to watch millions of dollars worth of ejournal and ebook archives that I bought for the university library I worked at appear on Demonoid.

#22- I'm guessing that you are accessing a university library that allows walk-in traffic. They don't allow remote access since that violates their license agreements with publishers. Most likely, so does allowing walk-in traffic for commerical use.

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29. Chemjobber on April 12, 2012 11:47 AM writes...

To Mrs. McGreevey: thanks for the great idea! Also, I'm in.

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30. DCRogers on April 12, 2012 11:51 AM writes...

The negative selection problem squashes the possibility of health care coverage. Members with major malfunctions can cost more than 6 figures each per year -- spreading that around the healthier members gives them crappy rates so they drop out. Said another way, any individual-choice pool will always have members who can get a better price leaving the pool, so they do; rinse and repeat until there is no pool.

Having struggled on the individual market for years, these chimera 'free market' solutions are well-meaning but empty. The numbers never add up.

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31. Roland Haroutiounian on April 12, 2012 12:20 PM writes...

It's a great idea. Where to sign ?

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32. bluefoot on April 12, 2012 12:33 PM writes...

I was just having a discussion like this with a former colleague. Even just getting journal access would be a big plus. Every time I get to interview stage with a company, I want to read up on their work and familiarize myself with the people who are going to interview me. I have shelled out a pretty penny on articles. Journal access is also a problem at a lot of small biotechs. A consortium is a great idea.

RD @10 I'd be happy to participate in a meeting.

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33. anon on April 12, 2012 12:45 PM writes...

@Luysii--yes, pray tell us how members of the most highly (self-)regarded school in history that went into medicine or chemistry during the postwar boom managed to survive. the relevance to the struggling hoi polloi of today is sure to be revelatory!

by the way, anything following "I really don't want this to sound snotty" should really leave out references to Harvard unless you're being completely obtuse.

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34. Rob on April 12, 2012 12:49 PM writes...

Take a look at what the IEEE does for consulting engineers. It is very similar and has worked for a hundred years or so.

(this time I'll enable scripts on my browser so it doesn't double post)

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35. San Diego on April 12, 2012 12:55 PM writes...

We're trying to do very much what your suggesting here in San Diego through a group we started called the San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange (sdentrepreneurs.org). The goal is to help startups launch and succeed through information sharing, resource sharing, pooling networks, and simply building relationships. One thing that we've done that is particularly helpful is working as a group to get supplies and equipment from companies that are downsizing and shutting down. We've had truckloads of free glassware, plastics, reagents donated and distributed to our companies. It really makes that SBIR grant go a lot further. We share equipment - need a shelf on a -80? Need to take a look at some cells with a fluorescence microscope? Why buy one when you can use a friends for a few minutes. Need to borrow a cup of glucose? Sure stop by and we'll give you some.

The only way we will dig ourselves out of this is through a community approach led by scientists, not MBAs

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36. adme chemist on April 12, 2012 1:24 PM writes...

I really like the idea. I'm in.

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37. Jack H. Pincus on April 12, 2012 1:32 PM writes...

I think this is a geat idea but the devil is in the details. The challenge is in building,maintaining, and managing a community. I'd been intrested in learning more from "Mrs. McGreevy". She can reach me at jack.pincus(at)selican.com.

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38. qetzal on April 12, 2012 2:03 PM writes...

#28 Laura,

Yes, it's a university library, and yes I understand why they can't provide free remote access. My point is I'd *pay* for full remote access, depending on price of course, but it's not even an option.

What I hardly ever do is pay $25-45 for an individual article. If the publishers would let the biomed libraries offer remote memberships for a fee, they could probably make some decent extra money off folks like me and others in this thread. But since that option apparently doesn't exist, they get squat from me. If I really want a paper, I make the effort to go to the library in person. I pay for some gas and give up a chunk of time, but the publisher gets nothing. If it's not worth that effort, I live without it. Lose-lose, unfortunately.

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39. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on April 12, 2012 2:51 PM writes...

I'm intrigued by the idea relating to computational chemistry software and finding a way for small companies, particularly startups, to get access to sophisticated modeling and docking software. In fact, I was just telling a colleague of mine the other day that I'd like to see an open source initiative develop a free, open source drug discovery package. Why not, all the underlying force fields and QM models have been published. Look at other open source products (Linux, Gimp, Foxfire, etc). The model is there, the required functions are all known, it would just take a team of dedicated programmers and computational chemists time and passion to create it. I'd love to do it, but I have none of the requisite skills. Any takers?

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40. tuky tuky on April 12, 2012 3:12 PM writes...

Sounds like a brilliant idea. We need more ideas and people like Mrs. McGreevy. I'm in!

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41. An unemployed biochemist on April 12, 2012 3:30 PM writes...

This Idea is very very good. Count me for this kind of projects, though I don't need insurance. I guess 'Innocentive, Inc.' is doing something similar.... though they don't have universal library but the provide some kind of challenges...

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42. JasonP on April 12, 2012 3:31 PM writes...

The IP lawyers are licking their chops at the chaos about to ensue. :)

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43. luysii on April 12, 2012 3:50 PM writes...

The affair starts off the with a 45 minute meet and greet with the current grad students and post-docs. It will be interesting to see what their expectations, hopes and anxieties are. Also I hope to get a handle on how the groups getting out 10, 20, 30 years ago have done. My guess is that they'lll be as anxious as the readership here due to the present Zeitgeist.

It isn't a question of self-regard, and I did note that our group was quite fortunate (probably because Sputnik in '58 was a huge wakeup call). Our group was the beneficiary of the massive effort to expand our scientific enterprise back then, (very unlike today) to respond to the Russians.

Sorry if I raised hackles, but we're all corks swept along on huge socioeconomic tides totally out of our individual control.

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44. MoMo on April 12, 2012 4:20 PM writes...

That's OK Luysii! Thats too bad all of you Harvard Alumni are all made of cork! That's good though, you won't drown in the bathtub! Your heads will float!


Lets schedule a meeting at the Fall ACS for the new SCA. Given the history of Philadelphia its the perfect place for an uprising!

I will request to schedule a workshop for new business "Alternatives to the ACS, the Dinosaurs on the Run!"

If that doesnt catch we can hold a meeting at 7 pm on the 19th of August in the hold of the Moshulu in dock on the Delaware and I'll get some sponsors to support refreshments of hearty ales.

All good revolutions start with Hearty Ales, as New Englanders know too well!

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45. MIMD on April 12, 2012 6:24 PM writes...

Sounds like a good idea for chemists, if just from the standpoint that there's strength in numbers.

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46. RD on April 12, 2012 7:01 PM writes...

MoMo: Some of us can't afford the ACS meeting. Also, fall is a loooooong way off. Sooner would be better.

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47. Patrick on April 12, 2012 7:06 PM writes...

OK, allow me to play devil's advocate for a bit.

1. "Group insurance rates"

Is the insurance mandatory? Non-mandatory? How substantial is the fee to join?

What you begin to run into here is the risk of a cycle of increasing costs, where only high cost people sign up for the pool, as the low cost people can get the insurance for cheaper on the individual market. With an organization that is "easy in, easy out" and the consumer responsible for the costs, it may become less an organization for researchers, and more an organization to get health insurance at group rates.

2. Group access to journals.

OK, how you going to limit access? Is it just single, non-employed people who can get access? Perhaps you'd like to expand it to small companies? What size cut off? 10? 100? 500? Perhaps the mid-size biotechs should join up, and drop their own subscriptions. And maybe the smaller colleges?

It's a very large question you need to answer. And then get the journals to agree to.

3,4,5. Sure, plenty of that out there already. ACS supposedly does a lot of this.

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48. Rail, rail against the dying of the chemistry on April 12, 2012 7:34 PM writes...

This sounds great for journal access. I don't know if the health insurance aspect would be viable or not, but I would hope so.

I see more than modeling software being needed. Things like Laboratory Information Management Systems (I think that's what LIMS is, or whatever one would call networking lab equipment, offering remote control, remote access, automatic backup and extending to e-notebooks), spectroscopy software (take remote NMR processing: ACD labs has a nice free academic version that handles 2-D data, but it is academic only, I believe), mass spec libraries, IR libraries, gc/ms libraries, etc. These things can all cost a lot of money. Just like journal libraries...

How about if we all stop using Word etc. and go with Open Office or something similar? I hate Word but it is too common to drop at present. If we all do this at once, say on the count of three, we'd be golden.

IP could be problematic: need to sort out ownership that the organization would or would not try to claim, and do this up front, as well as clarifying members' IP rights.

Anyway, an excellent idea. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Love those comments about ACS- talk about too many special interests running the show, and the rank and file members aren't one of those special interests...

Not for profit sounds ideal; we would need to make sure that belonging to such a large organization wouldn't disqualify people from SBIR and STTR grants.

I just spent 7 years living off STTR grants, and am still heavily involved with the company, but just took an academic position with health benefits. I had paid about 35K in health care costs last year... the private insurance route is terrible, especially if someone has problems, or has a child with problems. Of course the University library (and all other parts of the University) has had major budget cuts every year for at least 5 years, so even academic journal access can be crummy, and inter-library loan can provide a lot of illegible documents if the papers contain high res photos like micrographs or autoradiograms.

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49. ThirdWind on April 12, 2012 8:34 PM writes...

Most posts seem to follow a let's have the best of academia and free enterprise, money will follow. Great, I'm in of course and for good reason. I've worked (no meetings about meetings about meetings, work) in academia, large companies, and small CROs. Academia (grad school and postdoc) was my dream job, all the tools were there and work got done. The small CROs don't have the tools and the lack of focus is even worse, short-order cooking day after day, no knowledge accruing. Large corporations are apt to squander time and money for absolutely nothing, tools catch dust and work is ignored or punished. Which is where I don't see who the customer of our inevitably coming guild is. Sell to the same monseigneurs who downsized you? I believe it has to be us. If we are rightly confident that a new community can create new science, what's so esoteric about manufacturing and selling?

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50. Anonymous BMS Researcher on April 12, 2012 8:41 PM writes...

One possibilty for journal acccess might be sign up for one course per semester at a local college, obviously you'll want to pick a subject that would be worth your time and money. I took a couple work-related classes a few years ago, and had full remote acces to the campus network including the library. I didn't use their biomedical journals since I could get those at my workplace, but I did occasionally use some humanities stuff out of personal interest because my work does not have those!

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51. Anonymous BMS Researcher on April 12, 2012 8:42 PM writes...

One possibilty for journal acccess might be sign up for one course per semester at a local college, obviously you'll want to pick a subject that would be worth your time and money. I took a couple work-related classes a few years ago, and had full remote acces to the campus network including the library. I didn't use their biomedical journals since I could get those at my workplace, but I did occasionally use some humanities stuff out of personal interest because my work does not have those!

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52. Mrs. McGreevy on April 12, 2012 9:45 PM writes...

Wow. I am amazed at what a response this email has received from Derek and his readership. I had expected something more along the lines of "Yes, a lot of this is already happening elsewhere and being done by competent professionals who have spent years doing just this sort of thing." I'm somewhat dismayed that it isn't the case.

I learned quite a bit, though. I wasn't aware that ACS offered health insurance, for one thing. Deep Dyve article rental? What a great idea-- and news to me. The San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange sounds like a model to be emulated, and it's the first I've heard of it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that it's been over ten years since I worked in an academic research institution, and almost fifteen since leaving the Chemistry Library. Quite frankly, a search committee interviewing candidates to form an independent library consortium for small biotech businesses would have *many* better candidates to choose from than me, but none of them are here on this blog offering suggestions and asking questions.

It would be great to offer unaffiliated researchers full remote access to subscription journals. It would also be great to have a lollipop bush in my back yard, and it is quite possible that those two things are equally untenable. I honestly don't know. At the very least, someone should be out there trying to answer the question. If the answer turns out to be "yeah, that's not going to work," it might be the start of an idea that could be more successful.

Perhaps a better answer lies through the library of whichever university your degree is from. Many university libraries offer access through affiliated scholar programs or Friends of the Library programs. Perhaps the alumni office is the best place to start lobbying for library access. Not too many alumni offices would want to risk alienating potential donors, so it could be worth a try.

Alternatively, if enough people think this is something the ACS should be doing, and start demanding it loudly and frequently, perhaps the ACS will get around to doing it. Maybe they don't know what to do, either. Cheaper access to ACS publications? That would be nice. Perhaps even negotiating group payment rates or even (*gasp*) subsidies for access to other publishers' papers? I wonder if that's even possible, but I'll bet the ACS hasn't even considered it up until now. Perhaps there wouldn't need to be an independent library if the ACS were willing to take on the job. We should ask them. (In fact, why stop at the ACS? Maybe the unemployed biologists would be willing to pony up some time, money and lobbying power as well.)

Another idea would be to subsidize journal access with website ads as well as membership dues. Perhaps start a paid online directory of consultants or CROs, sort of the Ye Olde Yellowe Pages model. Perhaps there could be a small fee for posting an RFP or a project up for bid, sort of a classified ad business model to help clients, CROs and consultants find each other. Various small fees for various small services ==> money for subsidized journal access.

All just ideas, all just talking points for now. Okay, so who wants to take it from here? What's next?

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53. Anonymous on April 12, 2012 10:44 PM writes...

How about a union for medicinal chemists! Anyone want to volunteer to be the Jimmy Hoffa and stand up for the future of all med chemists??? We are taking applications....

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54. gippgig on April 13, 2012 12:23 AM writes...

Would this be an "association of independent research scientists" in general, specifically for virtual biotech, or somewhere in between? Would it be just for those starting/running a business or would it include others (i.e., biohackers)? Define exactly what is it that you're trying, and not trying, to do.
By the way, there's already an SCA (#16) - the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a medievalist group. (Alchemists are presumably welcome.)
#21 - "No printing" can't work - if you can display it you can print it.
#39 - define just what an open source drug discovery package should include (the computer whizzes don't know). There are presumably web sites where people post ideas for open source programs they'd like to be developed.

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55. Mayhem on April 13, 2012 6:20 AM writes...

With regards the sophisticated modelling tools - do they have to be locally installed?

How do the big pharma companies deploy the software now? I would be very suprised if it wasn't easily packaged, although I guess the number of people using it is limited.

I'm thinking of some kind of virtual server, or remote desktop style operation. Your individual contractor can connect from whereever, and have full access to a range of tools, then transfer their data back to their own location for safekeeping. Local drive mapping to remote servers is trivial these days, and almost any broadband link is adequate. It would also help with the licencing issues, as you would be able to see metrics on what users need what software and bill accordingly.
You would need some kind of central server farm somewhere, but this could probably be hosted on one of the increasing number of cloud services floating around the net these days.

You would probably run into scaling issues, but clustering and adjusting usage patterns would help that, especially if the load is split between users on different coasts - that 5hr difference helps a lot.

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56. Anonymous on April 13, 2012 9:42 AM writes...

mercenary chemists!

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57. Sheila on April 18, 2012 11:34 AM writes...

Interested parties should consider attending the Open Science Summit later this year.

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58. EndoBuff on May 23, 2012 10:24 PM writes...

This is a great idea! Back in the old days there was the "Gentleman" Scientist who conducted and funded their research independently. Several of them went on to win the Nobel prize. Resources were limited but they paved the way for us. It is sad that in these days that resources abound it is getting harder and harder for good scientists to survive and contribute effectively to the world through science. I am certain that if you use our collaborative spirit here we can revolutionalize Open science for all. Let's do it!

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59. Mariianne on October 21, 2012 8:33 PM writes...

Hello everybody,

I have read this great list of good thoughts and ideas, and I would like to suggest that a group like the one you are brainstorming about here could be different than a traditional professional organization, e.g., it could have a business aspect in which researchers, no matter where they are, could be involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in some model (Silicon Valley ++).

There are many good ideas on your list, so far and they should "happen".

Talented people can create jobs and societal value. Boy, do we need that.

Mrs. McGreevy, have you started putting this organization together? If not, let me know, perhaps I can help.

I am involved in these initiatives:
www.newallstreet.com
www.in2sv.com

Very best

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