Gene and Tonic: Sexism in Science, How to Spend an NIH Budget Increase, How Not to Spend It


Janitors have had a terribly busy time this week cleaning up all those jaws that were dropped on floors of research labs everywhere around the country.

Have you heard about this latest sexism scandal?

Two female co-authors of a scientific paper submitted their work to PLOS -- you know, the open access journal.   You won’t believe what they heard back from the lone peer reviewer.  They were told to go find “one or two male biologists” to be co-authors on the paper to increase its chances of being published.

Ouch!!!  That hurts.  Not only the co-authors but the rest of us.

Well, hold on, it gets worse.  This chauvinist reviewer went on to say that “it might well be that on average men publish in better journals . . . perhaps simply because men, perhaps, on average, work more hours per week than women, due to marginally better health and stamina.”

What, a marginal ouch?  Better health and stamina?

Then the two female co-authors decided to stop playing that video game, got their scarves, and went across the street to a cafe and ordered each a double latte.

Right?  I mean, what’s the name of the video game, Doing Science Circa 1850?

"No," the lead female author says sitting down to her double latte.  "The game is called, Anti-Civilization;  Hang Out with a Primitive Tribe in Africa."

Now, last week we reported how former Congressman Newt Gingrich is calling for the  doubling of the NIH Budget.  Well this week, the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Initiative jumped in the game, calling for an increase to the NIH budget.  $1.5 billion per year over the next five years.  Well, we still like Newt’s suggestion.  It’s bold.  And let’s be positive.  Let’s say we get the budget doubled.  Now we got the problem of spending it.  Right?  Be careful what you wish for.

Since we’re absolutely sure that the NIH will come to Mendelspod for suggestions on how to spend the increase, we thought we should at least start getting prepared.

So we went online and posted a chat asking for suggestions from researchers how to spend the additional funds. 

Would you like to hear a few of the responses?

Garbage In, Garbage Out - obviously the commentors are using pseudonyms -- from Phoenix, AZ, writes: “Write off half of it to waste. Because that’s the way it is. Over 50% of scientific research is non-reproducible.”

OK.  We’re being taken seriously here.

Live to One Thousand from Cambridge, England, writes:  “Spend all of the additional funding on aging research.  We’ve tried the sniper method.  Let’s just move in the troops.”

Wow, this is a serious chat.  But hold on, a third person, Don’t Leave us Behind, out of San Diego, CA, writes:

Are you sure, Live to One Thousand?  Aging research?  I think we should take the additional $30 billion and fund Alzheimer’s research.  You see, Nature is now asking us, are you sure you want to live longer?

Oh, and there’s one more here that just came in.  It’s the author of the book called, From Buddhism to Big Dataism: Keeping up with the Newest Religions.  And this author writes:  "You might as well write the check now, NIH.  Just make it out to the newest God on the Block, Big Data.  

These online chats.  They’re just too serious.

Now with all this talk of increasing the research budget, Francis Collins, the Director at NIH, immediately put out a notice about what he won’t fund.  OK, he’s showing congress that he’s a good accountant.  So what will the NIH not fund?  Editing the human germline in embryos.

Now this is the only one he’s announced so far, but we heard that there are more.  Did you want to hear about a couple?

OK, here’s one.  This is something that the NIH will just not fund, no matter what.  The proposal came in to do brain scans of all the presidential contenders and make the data openly available online for all the voters to see.

And here’s a whole category of projects to study why people are gay.   What’s wrong with that?  It turns out a Supreme Court Justice told the NIH that such studies are a gross overreach of the executive branch.  That the direction of American society should not be up to scientists, but instead up to nine aging lawyers.  "Besides," this justice said to the NIH, "we have the better costumes.  White lab coats? Ha!"

 


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