ASCB Women in Cell Biology committee member Ora Weisz, of the University of Pittsburgh, was inducted last week into Johns Hopkins University's (JHU) Society of Scholars. The Society recognizes accomplished former JHU postdoctoral fellows or visiting faculty who have gained marked distinction elsewhere. Just over 600 people have been inducted into the society since 1969. Weisz joined distinguished academics from around the world for an induction ceremony at JHU's Peabody Institute on April 7.
Calling it "a recipe for long-term decline," four of the nation's most distinguished cell biologists describe the present U.S. system of biomedical research as "unsustainable" and "hypercompetitive," calling for a sweeping rebalancing of bioscience education, funding, and direction. In a "Perspective" just published in PNAS, Bruce Alberts, Marc Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman, and Harold Varmus advocate reforms in the scientific workforce with a gradual reduction in the number of students accepted into biomedical PhD programs and an increase in compensation for postdoctoral fellows but limits on the length of fellowships. Alberts et al. propose a reordering of government research funding priorities, using sunset provisions to rein in large, ongoing research programs while favoring proposals from young investigators that "emphasize originality and risk-taking, especially in new areas of science." They support the recent controversial decision by NIH to look at the total grant portfolio of laboratories receiving more than $1 million a year when evaluating any new proposals.
It isn't your imagination. The recent ups and downs in biomedical research funding have made for turbulent times in academic laboratories across the US. Jennifer Couzin-Frankel points out in her overview article to an imaginatively reported "News Focus" section last week in Science on the work force and funding crisis in biomedical science that the NIH budget doubled between 1998 and 2003 from around $14 billion to $27 billion but remained essentially flat for the next five years. The 2009 federal stimulus package created a bump in spending of an additional $10.4 billion but the "regular" NIH budget continued to lose altitude as inflation ate away at the actual value of flat funding. Then came last year's heart-stopping federal shutdown and the sickening 5% across the board sequester nose dive. The net result is that the number of R01 principal investigators (PI) has remained virtually static over the last 13 years: NIH funded 20,458 PIs in 2000 and 21,511 PIs in 2013.
There is this awesome technology site called The Verge. How awesome, we can barely tell you although we can reveal a recent The Verge top story: "'Captain America 3' to hit theaters on May 6th, 2016." Save the date. What makes The Verge so additionally awesome, according to the New York Times, is that The Verge belongs to Vox Media, the General Motors conglomerate of the New Digital Media Age. "Vox Takes the Melding of Journalism and Technology to a New Level," says the Times. (Our "snark" meter is broken. Is that headline ironic or puff?)