Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'm shocked, shocked I tell ya!

What does the collection of human embryonic stem cell lines currently available for research have in common with ScienceBlogs?


I think there may be a (free) registration step involved so here's the gist, excerpted:

hESC lines lack diversity

Tracy Vence

Researchers at the University of Michigan were surprised to discover such little diversity in the most widely used human embryonic stem cell lines, and have declared their findings a case of social injustice.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

NIH grants are not gifts and science is not welfare

Picking up from a DrugMonkey post (and from links and discussion therein --- though the context should be independently clear here…..)

Much like in the allusions made in DM’s post and consequent discussions, there is a common misconception that NIH grants are somehow ‘gifts’ or ‘free money’ or handouts that ‘subsidize the scientist’s lifestyle’. These phrases are lifted from those discussions but I have heard the same phrases (or their equivalents) used many times in general discussions on science and funding. I have also seen, frequently, the contrast made between ‘grants’ and ‘contracts’ in that the former is a good-faith effort with no fixed deliverables whereas the latter is a legal agreement with penalties for default. Finally, I have seen people who defend the NIH-granting system try to justify it as essentially being a system of contracts or being for-fee services when one really thinks about it.

Not to be framing anything here, but I believe the best analogy for NIH grants is investment capital, and it would serve us all well to look at it and think about it in that fashion. Think about the NIH as a venture capital firm that has a really large portfolio. It makes calculated bets on a really large number of projects with a view to a two-fold return on investment: i) Increasing the body of scientific knowledge, and thereby ii) Generating advances in healthcare and medicine.

Like the portfolio of any other good investment firm the NIH portfolio is diverse. It has projects that have a high probability of success, and projects that incur high risk but promise high reward. Like any other portfolio, some investments work out beautifully in a short amount of time, others have promise but need a longer-term perspective, and yet others crap out. Like with other investment firms, it takes a serious amount of effort, justification, planning and demonstration of competence (or the strong prospect thereof) to obtain funding for one’s project. Also like with other investment firms, if you get funded once and do not deliver on your goals, your chances of getting money a second time become slimmer. Conversely, if you get funded once and hit the project out of the ballpark, your chances of getting funded in the future get better.

There are, of course, key differences:

The NIH is unlikely to dissolve your project and lab at short notice to get a convenient tax write-off in a tough year.

Even if you do succeed wildly with a succession of NIH grants (or even one really good one), it is unlikely you will become a multi-millionaire and retire by the age of 50 or something like that. One great success in this system does not ensure that generations of your progeny will live in decadent comfort --- even if your success directly leads to technology and IP that creates a multi-billion dollar industry.

The NIH investment portfolio is geared to generate returns in the form of enhanced public health, not money. But while it is not explicitly geared to generating returns in the form of money, it does contribute enormously in an economic sense. Whether in the pharmaceutical and drug industries, or in the medical device and technology industries, or in the food, nutrition and exercise industries, or in a myriad such areas really, the contribution of NIH-funded research is virtually indispensable. Don’t believe me? Do this thought experiment, and feel free to consult a variety of industry leaders when doing so---shut down all NIH generated information for a year and see what effect it has on the economy.

And finally, the NIH portfolio is so large and so interconnected, the projects so collaborative just by the nature of information and material exchange, that even apparent ‘failure’ projects often yield returns --- in that information is published, and that one never knows what piece of datum will be of great relevance at any given point in time, there are very few true failures. As a collective portfolio, the return it delivers to the people by way of advances in healthcare is tremendous. I have quoted this before and will again (there are many examples of the public benefit of NIH research but this is my favorite because it is, in the end, so all-encompassing)…Quoted from the then NIH director’s budget request for 2007----“The estimated total cumulative investment at the NIH per American over the past 30 years including the doubling period is about $1,334 or about $44 per American per year over the entire period. In return, Americans have gained over six years of life expectancy and are aging healthier than ever before.”

So $44 per year gets the average American an additional 2.4 months per year in life expectancy. Again, the NIH is not solely responsible for this but it has been and still is the chief driving force behind this kind of advancement in public health. The past 30-year record shows that a dollar invested by the NIH goes a long way towards buying you and me about two days’ worth of life, and a healthier life at that.

Some hand-out to all those researchers, eh? Or maybe just a pretty freaking good return on your investment.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Go a hypocrite....


Accenture has apparently ended its sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods saying that in light of recent events he is " longer the right person to represent them". This is too fucking rich! Accenture was born out of an attempt, by a bunch of fucking useless crooks, to save whatever they could from the Andersen group after they got nailed for enabling/facilitating/maybe even devising the greatest corporate scam in US history, Enron. Hey, Accenture, a two-timing cheat like Tiger is EXACTLY the kind of person who should be representing you fuckers!

I didn't understand the deal in the first place. Tiger is actually excellent at what he does, actually produces something everything he steps out on a golf course. Accenture is a consulting company---produces nothing but hot air and incentuous circle-jerk corporate relationshi...err..boondoggles that ultimately cost the average people everything from jobs to money. 'Consultant' has essentially meant 'pernicious pest or parasite' over the past couple of decades....Accenture needs a cockroach as a spokesman, not a talented productive human being. This was a company that was incorporated in Bermuda, for crying out that they could suck at the teat of American industry and avoid paying their fair share of taxes, no doubt....taking the whole 'offshore account' concept to a whole new level. These are the kind of assholes who have made an artform out of gaming American industry such that the workers get increasingly screwed while the suits make away with the bulk of the loot with little or no accountability.

Piece-of-shit worthless consultants....and these fuckers are now moralizing on Tiger? That is fucking hilarious!! Like I said, a two-timing cheat is exactly the kind of guy you need on your billboards. Ask all the poor folks who lost their lives over Enron.....although, in fairness to Accenture they need someone who cheats professionally, for a living, as opposed to someone who has some private life issues...

Let's see if any of the alert mainstream media call Accenture on their hypocrisy. I'm not holding my breath.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

NFL muggings


Could the NFL try any harder to give teams led by a Manning any more breaks? A touch by Mikell is illegal contact and keeps a Giants drive alive (even tho the receiver was in perfect position and just dropped the freaaking ball in stride...). Then Celek gets absolutely mugged in the end zone and no call. Later, Celek gets bumped 15 yards downfield by a LB and no call---not a problem ordinarily, but given the Mikell/Hicks call this was a gimme illegal contact call....

This happens every week with Peyton Manning's teams too---of course, Peyton doesn't really need the help, unlike Eli, but there are always holdings/interferences at key points early in games that change momentum and set the tone for the opposing D's to play hands-off for the rest of the game. It's amazing how Peyton finds his guy wide open after the receivers set picks that are illegal for most other teams.....just part of the Manning genius I guess.

Man, if McNabb had been born rich, white and privileged-surnamed he'd have 3 SB titles by now. I'm typing this the Eagles get robbed of time after a fumble recovery just before half-time.....freaking pathetic. But hey, just like Bush Jr, this country loves its aristocracy and will go to great lengths to preserve the illusion of (or exaggerate) their competence.


PS: Wow, juggling the ball on the sidelines now constitutes control if you play for a Manning.....this is great entertainment!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some advice for the Steelers


My dear Steelers,
Do not stop now. You are on an incredible roll. Before the season started, I suspected strongly that there were some brain-fart games in store. After blowing the Chicago game and the first Cinci game, I figured, "Well, there're your brain-farts". I also figured that we'd find out how good or bad this year was really gonna be. I really thought that ol' Omar Epps would get a serious fire lit under the team. Well, it was looking promising there for a couple of weeks....but it is now obvious that this is not a good football team. The O-line is bad, defense can't hold a 4th qtr lead, the special teams are beyond horrible and even the QB play is spotty.

Now, after this stellar run of losing to KC, Oakland and Cleveland, you are faced with a tremendous opportunity. Don't blow it. I heard some alarming things after last night's loss, about how you were gonna play for pride and all that garbage. Don't freaking do it. I think we can all agree that the time for pride has long passed (losing to KC, Oak and Cle; giving up non-off TDs for 8 weeks in a row; blowing a bunch of 4th qtr leads etc took care of all that pride crap)--- now is the time for strategic planning. Keep this roll going and finish 6-10. It is not that hard to do because the last 3 games are eminently losable. Heck, any game is eminently losable this year. I know that you can dig down deep to find a way to blow three more games. Finish 6-10, get a top-10 draft pick, and trade up if necessary to draft Ndamokung Suh or Eric Berry or Russell Okung or Rolando McClain. Then at least we'd gotten something out of this year's incredible efforts.