Expat scientists, Rare Disease Day 2011 and stupid politics

I received notification through Facebook (who says LinkedIn is only for professional conversations, and Facebook only for silly pet antics?) from a Portuguese former colleague from my French Ph.D. lab, who has since gone to live in Germany, England, and now the U.S., that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute launched a new fellowship program on December 1st last year. This program supports U.S.-educated biomedical scientists who have gone back to their own countries – eighteen of them – to start a new group within the last seven years.

The deadline is in THREE DAYS so you may not want to get your hopes up. But if you don’t sleep, it is borderline possible to recycle your ERC Starting Independent Researcher application or your EMBO Young Investigator application (even though it’s not due until April, so you probably would do it the other way around) or your Human Frontiers Young Investigator grant application.

Of course, if you are in Italy, Turkey, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary, or Spain you might have applied for the above, whereas if you are in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, you most likely didn’t. I hope but suspect there are not equivalently endowed possibilities to support startup labs in those countries. Although maybe, I hope, I don’t know about them. (Edited to include the example of http://twas.ictp.it/prog/prizes, though individuals can’t ask for anything). See below.

And who says that writing blog posts is a waste of professional time? It was when I went to look for the link to the HFYI program that I saw they fund international collaborations without an age limit, and I will look into that shortly, since I recently submitted a request for funds to a rare disease funding mechanism that itself is painfully underendowed, given the estimated 8,000 rare diseases out there *. In preparation for the international Rare Disease Day, this time next week, the French Alliance Maladies Rares (representing 200 rare disease associations) has launched a public campaign all over the national train system this week to increase awareness among the general public – each disease may affect fewer than 1 in 2000 people, but one in twenty of us are affected by a rare disease or another. No point in remaining isolated – health difficulties are common, and we can only combat them by joining forces and exchanging information.

Well, so, funding difficulties, especially for unproved or unhired yet worthy early-career scientists, are also common, and we can only combat them by joining forces and exchanging information.

I’d love to hear about other funding possibilities, and possibilities for non-biologists, for people who are starting up new groups with new subjects, no matter what their prior (Ph.D., postdoc, public or private sector) experience. There is grantsnet.org, thank goodness, but despite the International Funding Index, it naturally has a pretty U.S.-centric slant. I say naturally but it’s a shame that world-wide scientific funding mechanisms don’t make better use of this AND OTHER clearinghouses to publicize.

Of course, ventures like the following don’t help matters, even in the wealthy U.S. – it sounds like something our not-so-strategic English counterparts might have dreamt up, though I hadn’t heard of anything quite yet equalling the demagogic and infamous “fruit fly research” scorn a former vice-presidential hopeful once blathered, from any equivalentally influent politico in England. Until today.

Apparently, a similarly misguided and possibly more dangerous way of riling the public has been launched by the (conservative) majority leader of the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor. I regret that Science Magazine finds it necessary to place its Letters to the Editor behind a paywall, but I’ll paraphrase and quote, and you’ll get the idea from the excellent missive addressed by Dr. Alexandra Gade from Austin, Texas:

…he encourages people to search through NSF awards and report “questionable” research. From those grants deemed questionable, the House will vote on which grants deserve to have their funding revoked.

The research that receives funding from the NSF has been evaluated by those who are qualified to judge the scientific merit of the research. […] Even if the entire NSF were eliminated, 99.5% of the discretionary budget is ignored in such a cutback program.

It is clear that the primary goal of YouCut is to reduce funding for science. The U.S. scientific community needs to take a stand and let the House know that YouCut is both unwarranted and a waste of resources.

I have indeed written a Citizen Review – a scathingly critical one of the whole principle. If I get any human response, which I doubt, I will keep you posted.

This is the most misguided and demagogic attack on peer-reviewed research I have seen in a very long time. I notice you didn’t cite “fruit fly research” as among the grants worthy of your scorn. Good. If certain projects may be questionable, and pointing the public toward the NSF website is fine and well, wasting your resources by building this website, rabble-rousing and finally, producing a report (not to mention pushing to take some action to cut these previously approved science grants, which would never work since they have clearly been found to have merit and payback for the public by people who actually know what they are reviewing) is an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars right there. If you got rid of the ENTIRE NSF budget, you would still have to try to oversee the wasteful spending of the 99.5% of the remaining discretionary budget. Why don’t you sic your ignorant and uncritical electorate on the many measures designed to keep them in said ignorance and lack of skepticism, such as Congressional obfuscation of this sort?

Update: Pharyngula got to this more than two months ago. Couldn’t we harness the forces of good and make our citizen voices heard like this on the citizen review thingy? I.e. don’t let just the wingnuts comment?

Speaking of wingnuts, I have attracted a call-to-arms from one of the Tea Party watchdogs on Twitter, for daring to alert the Congressman to my disapproval. I suspect I’ll fall under the radar but the tactics are interesting, and the immediate reaction. I can’t wait for my first comments.

[* and given the time and effort involved in putting together one of these applications.]

About Heather

That French-American biomed researcher again.
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2 Responses to Expat scientists, Rare Disease Day 2011 and stupid politics

  1. Jenny says:

    Applause for attempting to take this on. Please keep us posted on what happens!

  2. Heather says:

    I didn’t really attempt to take this on, not really. I’m not a big enough fish, and I don’t care enough to flap around more about it to attract the attention of any ospreys out there, because I am aware of how much difference it makes. So, no particular attention. The approach is quite fascinating, though, and I am certain it’s how Pharyngula attracts his particular brand of rabid commenters. He dishes it back as good as he gets, though, and thrives on it.

    Meanwhile, I was thinking a lot about you as I wrote the earlier portion.

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