26 October 2016

Real time peer review

There are some discussions about double blind peer review making the rounds on science Twitter this morning, predominantly over whether double blind peer review would help matters. For instance, see this Twitter thread from Sciencegurl; this bit from Timothée Poisot; and watch this poll and replies from Terry McGlynn.

The pros and cons of open peer review, blinded peer review, and double blind peer review are welcome. But I crave a different change to peer review.

I wish peer review was a conversation, not a series of statements.

Right now, a referee writes one long review. This goes to an editor, who compiles and passes them back to the author. The author writes another long reply, point by point, and has to to to address everything in one go. Repeat for each round of review.

Why can’t the comments come from a referee in something closer to real time?

As an author, I would love it if a referee could say to me, soon after getting a paper, “I noticed this issue right away. It’s important, but easy to fix.” And then I make that fix while the referee is thinking about other aspects of the paper, and say, “Done.”

As a referee, I would love it if when I didn’t understand a point, I could ask the author, “Do I have this right?” Right now, I have no way of clarifying the author’s intent until I have gone through the entire review and sent it to an editor. Lots of comments on my review might be based on simple misunderstandings.

I do understand that one advantage to getting a review all at once is that it forces the reviewer to consider the paper in its entirety. You get cohesion and clarity that way. I’m not advocating getting rid of those overall summaries. I would just like to see more ways that authors and reviewers could communicate with each other, and to have the option for back and forth that isn’t measured in weeks or months.

Related posts

Initial reactions: can we hide the sex of authors? And should we?

03 October 2016

Incoming: Interstellate magazine

Interstellate is the brainchild of Cait. The mandate of this project? To show off bee-yoo-tee-ful neurons.

There’s a magazine coming (maybe in time for the Neuroscience meeting), and Cait posted a preview of the first volume above last night. Look closely, and you might see one that is familiar...

Update, 25 October 2016: It’s out! Download the PDF here.

External links

Interstellate Twitter
Interstellate archive
Interstellate, Volume 1

02 October 2016

Physics fraud

Well, this is an interesting reveal on the eve of UTRGV’s big flagship science and technology event, HESTEC. The physics department in the legacy institution, UT Brownsville, committed fraud with about $2 million worth of federal research money.

Not a good look, considering that the agencies they ripped off, like NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense, have traditionally been big partners in HESTEC. Indeed, NASA is an official supporter of this year’s event.

And this is not a low-profile case, either. It’s part of the team that was involved in the discovery of gravitational waves. And that’s one of the biggest findings in physics in decades.

The Monitor reports:

An audit from the UT System Office of Internal Audits found at least six federal research grants were overcharged for a total of $1,957,547.27 for the partial or full payment of salaries of faculty who were mainly teaching and not conducting research, a critical violation of grant conditions that could have potential impact on future grant considerations.

“Salaries were charged up to 100 percent of the federal grants even though their workload reflected a full teaching load in Physics,” the audit states.

These funds came from research grants awarded to the Center for Gravitation Wave Astronomy by National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation-- two institutions that helped fund the center in 2003-- and the Department of Defense.

UTB notified the UT-System of at least three faculty members who were identified as being paid up to 100 percent of their salaries from research funds for multiple years, which was not part of the grant agreement.

“Center for Gravitation Wave Astronomy knowingly overcharged multiple research grants,” states the notification sent by UTB to the UT System Office of General Counsel. The department, referred to by audits as CGWA, was part of a recent national announcement in which gravitational waves had been detected, which is considered a huge scientific advancement in the field of physics.

The investigation revealed CGWA overcharged on six federal research grants from 2009 to 2015 to partially or fully pay the salaries of more than eight faculty members and some students. The investigation also concluded that the head of this department, CGWA Director Mario Diaz, was aware of the overcharges.

Of course, our institution’s president won’t promise that he will do anything about this:

When asked whether Diaz would keep his job, Bailey said he could not comment on personnel matters, but UT officials are still conducting an investigation and will send UTRGV officials the findings. Only then will any appropriate actions be taken.

After the creation of UTRGV, many administrative roles changed and some officials even retired, Bailey said. His main goal was to move forward and fully implement procedures that prevent these things from happening, especially now that the university is seeking more research funding.

“It was not under UTRGV’s watch,” Bailey said. “It’s important to us that we make sure that we have all of the processes in place so that it doesn’t happen again.”

My take is that Bailey seems the sort who subscribes to the “Do nothing and hope the problem goes away” school of university administration, and that he will be more concerned with preserving the institution’s image than whether or not anyone is made to pay for this blatant misuse of money. I expect he will try to wait this out and hope it blows over.

Oh wait, there’s more.

There’s another $3 million that the legacy institution has to pay back.

“We concluded that UTB’s benefits expenses for UTB and (Texas Southmost College) were incorrectly calculated and reported,” the audit states. “As a result, it was determined that the APS 011 reports needed to be recalculated for each institution separately.”

That second half is bad, although it isn’t as relevant to me personally as the first half. Faculty in my college, at my institution screwed up managing federal research money. I’ve gotten money from NSF before, but I think it just got a lot tougher. If I were at one of those agencies, I would be ready to blackball the institution.

And that money was probably going to be used for faculty pay increases. So because someone else misused money, I might be kissing my chance for a raise anytime soon goodbye.

External links

UTRGV forced to repay $5 million in funding on behalf of UTB

28 September 2016

Fifteen rounds

There are fifteen rounds in a heavyweight boxing match.

There are fifteen weeks in a semester.

Today, I feel like that isn’t a coincidence.

Sometimes, a semester can feel like a boxing match. You know when it starts, know when it ends, you get a few breaks in the middle, and you just know that there are going to be a lot of punches thrown at you in between.

You hope that you can dodge out of the way of some of those punches.

But you cannot dodge them all.

You’re going to get tired, you’re going to lose your quickness, as the rounds wear on.

The difference between the two is that in teaching, you can’t win early. You have to go the full fifteen rounds. You can only win by judge’s decision, never by knockout.

You just hope that you have trained well enough make it to the last round. You just don’t want to throw in the towel...

Or be the one who goes down in an early round.

And I think there’s a risk both fighters and academics take. They can start to lose their form after too many of these encounters. It takes its toll.

I can’t recall the last time I felt so drained so early in the semester. We’ve barely been at this a month, and I’m already looking forward to the last round.

External links

Losing Your Way as a Scientist: How Not to Suck

Round card photo by leyla.a on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

25 September 2016

Our med school is not going smoothly

Earlier this year, the UTRGV medical school had its dean step down for reasons unknown.

Now, one of the communities is backing out of its financial commitment to the medical school, making it the second local city to do so.

And one of the university’s prominent supporters, a Texas senator, says the medical school is, “Not okay.

“The medical school is not okay. I don’t think people really realize how much money it costs and how complicated it is to create a new medical school,” Hinojosa told the Rio Grande Guardian. “The type of equipment that it needs, the type of infrastructure support that it needs to be successful. We cannot do a top-notch job unless we get support and help from the community.”

Basically, there is wrangling about taxes to support the medical school, and there is a vote on the November ballot about it.

Yeah. The new medical school was supposed to be the jewel in the crown of the new university. It’s not looking so shiny right now.

External links

Feud over hospital district prompts Mission to pull support for UTRGV medical schoolFrancisco Fernandez leaving leadership role, will remain on school faculty
Why is McAllen reneging on funds to UTRGV School of Medicine?
Cigarroa: Healthcare Districts are ‘an important piece of the puzzle’
Hinojosa: UTRGV medical school is not okay

23 September 2016

Day of the Monkey


It’s a word that has both a negative and positive meaning when you say it of a person. And if I had to use one word to describe the pseudonymous blogger Drugmonkey, that’s the one.

Drugmonkey is sharp.

One friend said to me, “Drugmonkey is mean.” He is quick to unleash cutting remarks. He has called a lot of people he disagrees with “wackalooons,” and that’s when he’s feeling polite. He’s impatient and profane. I can probably make his blood boil by mentioning “pit bulls,” “professional editors with English degrees,” and “numbered references” in the same sentence. He’s got opinions, and sometimes it feels like he will never admit he was wrong or change his mind in the slightest. He can be infuriating. It’s not fun being on the receiving end when he thinks you’re wrong.

Drugmonkey is sharp.

He is smart. Nobody has written more about National Institutes of Health funding, or developing careers in biomedicine and – more importantly – nobody has written about it with more insight and intelligence. And he has consistently taken agencies to task on issues like racism and sexism, and asked why they are not doing better on long standing problems in ensuring more diversity. He wants to make sure senior scientists don’t pull the ladder up behind them. He cares about other people, not just himself, and wields his razor sharp and lightning fast writing skills to advocate for them, and for fair treatment.

That makes him one of the good ones.

He’s started a lot of conversations, and made a lot of people think. You can see evidence for it in the comments in his blog. (Justin Kiggins says he reads Drugmonkey’s blog for the comments.)

I have only been in a room with Drugmonkey once, at Madhatter’s in Washington DC, at one of Dr. Becca’s BANTER meet-ups during Society for Neuroscience. We didn’t have a chat to converse at length in person. But it doesn’t matter, because online conversations are real conversations. Thank you, Drugmonkey, for the many conversations we have had. I am not sure I have ever changed your mind, but you have changed mine. I have learned a lot from you, and I grateful for it.

And thanks to whoever came up with the idea of Drugmonkey day!

External links

Drugmonkey on Twitter
Drugmonkey blog
Another Drugonkey blog
Unofficial Drugmonkey Day
An oldish dog learning new tricks #drugmonkeyday
Thank you Drugmonkey
appreciation #drugmonkeyday
Thanks Drugmonkey!
Did You Miss It? Big Research Investing and A Decade of DrugmonkeyBlog
Yesterday was #drugmonkeyday!

21 September 2016

A memo of understanding is not neutrality

Seen on Twitter this morning, from Moosesplaining Max:

A neutral stance on a contentious person is an implicit endorsement, stop kidding yourself.

The moose is right. It reminded me of this quote:

“We understand that there were two sides to this,” he said. “The students that [are part] of that certain student group is opposed to LNG and I hope you understand that there are those who are for it as well. We can’t get involved in either of those sides. We’re simply focused on providing the best educational opportunities for our students.”

And that would be Guy Bailey, our university president, arguing with a straight face that signing a memo of understanding with an energy company, NextDecade, is “not taking sides.” What rot. That’s not even an “implict” endorsement, that’s an explicit endorsement.

I also don’t buy the “We’re just focused on education” argument, either. Why do we have a South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Center? It’s not just to educate people about that; it’s an active effort to improve health in the region. This university does all kinds of things that are not related to education.

The president’s office got over 200 calls about the university’s memo of understanding with NextDecade, and almost all were against it.

I hate the crummy arguments. I wish that administrators would keep it a hundred: say there is a real controversy. Talk about the pros and cons of partnering with corporations. But I so wish they would stop kidding themselves.

Related posts

Is there any money you won’t take?
External links

LNG agreement concerns continue