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?)
It was an all-or-nothing moment. Titia de Lange, a newly hired assistant professor at the Rockefeller University, had months of prep work and her entire grant's supply budget in hand as she waited to cross York Avenue, the busy north-south street on Manhattan's Upper East Side that separates Rockefeller from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where a collaborator was waiting to sequence de Lange's protein distillate. "We walked with all the protein we had from 1,500 liters of HeLa cells," de Lange recalled. "If we had tripped it would have been a problem. "It was a potentially self-destructive experiment, but it worked."
Supposedly, 200 million people are out there blogging. Unsurprisingly, many of them are working scientists, some are even cell biologists. It's one of the encouraging features of the evolving science writing ecosystem that scientists can write directly about their lives and their work. Some scientists use their blogs as podiums, some as pulpits, and some as stand-up mikes for riffs on the day-to-day research world of dirty glassware, shaky funding, and bad behavior.
It's not a corsage but ORCID is a way of pinning your scientific identity firmly to your scientific chest. ORCID is, of course, an acronym. It stands for Open Researcher and Contributor ID but ORCID is also the tiny organization with global reach that issues unique alphanumeric identifiers for contributors to the world's scholarly and scientific literature. ORCID, the organization, refers to the identifier as the ORCID ID, which both makes sense and sounds redundant. As children, we all believe that we are what the British call a "one off" because it's self-evident that there is only one you, even if "you" are half a set of twins or have a common surname like Wang, Kim, Smith, Garcia, Müller, Murphy, or Rossi. But in research, convincing the wider world that you are THE one who published THIS paper is not trivial. Thus comes ORCID: one researcher, one 16-digit number (that is also a unique URL).
The University of Chicago (UChicago) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) have made their first joint research award since MBL became a UChicago affiliate last year to a group headed by ASCB member Clare Waterman with three other ASCB members as co-investigators. The Frank R. Lillie Research Innovation Award will support cross-disciplinary research at MBL in Woods Hole, MA, into integrin activation and actin dynamics during cell migration. The $125,000 award honors both MBL's 125th anniversary and Frank Lillie, who was chair of Zoology at UChicago and the second director of MBL in the early 20th century.
The whole point of Twitter (assuming that it has a point) is that it's personal. You follow whomever you want to follow. The Twitter algorithm keeps suggesting people similar to the people you're already following but what's the point of that? In our book, the two best reasons to follow a Twitter handle ("@" twitter handle) are that the tweeter says interesting things or even better the tweeter takes you to strange places where you would not have gone on your own. If the places you'd like to go have to do with science, here are some suggestions.
It's Thanksgiving. You're home from grad school and lab where you're fired up about cytoplasmic accumulation and nuclear clearance of TDP-43, a protein implicated in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, when Aunt Carol passes you the candied sweet potatoes and sweetly asks, "Now, dear, what is it that you are doing in your research?" You take a deep breath and begin, "So..." About a minute later, you're explaining how to knock out the TDP-43 analog in fruit flies when a look of horror crosses Aunt Carol's face. "Flies? Your laboratory is full of flies?"
March is Women's History Month and both the Royal Society in the United Kingdom and the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SI Archives) in the United States scheduled Wikipedia "edit-a-thon" sessions to strengthen the online encyclopedia's inadequate coverage of women in science history. The Royal Society's event was last week but for the Smithsonian's there's still time to sign up and learn how to become a Wiki editor or go along in person to the Women In Science session on Tuesday, March 18, at the SI Archives offices in Washington.