Race and R01s

August 19th, 2011 by pcahn

A study in Science reports findings from an analysis of over 83,000 applications for R01 funding between 2000 and 2006. The researchers identified the race of the applicants to determine the likelihood of receiving an NIH grant.

They found that self-identified Asian investigators are 4% less likely and African-American investigators 13% less likely to receive funding than white applicants. The disparity went away among applications with similar priority scores.Science 2011 Aug 333(6045) 1015-9, Fig. 1

It seems that very little in the application would distinguish the race of the principal investigator, so reviewer bias (unconscious or not) is probably not the main cause. Rather, minority applicants may receive less mentoring in how to formulate and write a proposal.

Appearance Matters

August 15th, 2011 by pcahn

Academics like to think that rational, intellectual thought motivates their decisions. But a new book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, reveals that even scholars let looks influence them. k9516

The author describes a study he conducted with members of the American Economic Association. Like many scholarly societies, the AEA holds competitive elections for officers and include photographs of the candidates along with the ballots.

He had subjects rate the relative attractiveness of the candidates and found that, “The results show that moving from the 84th to the 16th percentile of looks lowers a candidate’s chance of winning the election — of obtaining this honor — from 56 percent to 44 percent.”

These conclusions hold even when adjusting for gender and scholarly accomplishments. The study and others correlating attractiveness with professors’ salary reveal the persistent bias that governs many seemingly objective decisions.

Performing Database Searches

August 10th, 2011 by pcahn


Maggio, Lauren A. MS(LIS), MA; Tannery, Nancy H. MLS; Kanter, Steven L. MD. AM Last Page: How to Perform an Effective Database Search. Academic Medicine 2011. 86(8):1057.

Incentives to Publish

August 10th, 2011 by pcahn

South Korean scientists who publish in top-flight journals like Science and Nature receive a $2800 bonus from their government. Turkish scientists who do the same can count on a bonus worth 7.5% of their salary. Other countries reward institutions for publication rates.

Researchers have now looked at whether such incentives have resulted in a greater publication success. Of the 110,870 original research articles submitted to Science over the last 10 years, first authors came from 144 different countries. 7.3% of submissions were accepted.

The study concludes that cash incentives indeed increase journal submissions, but not necessarily acceptance. Rewarding publication with career promotion leads to both greater submission and acceptance rates. Their findings suggest that monetary bonuses are enough to affect the quantity of research, but to improve quality, more symbolic prizes are needed.

first authors from 144 different countries submitted 110,870 original research articles; 7.3% of these submissions were accepted for publication, with first authors from 53 different countries

Fair Use

August 2nd, 2011 by pcahn

Presentation documents for the AAMC Group on Faculty Affairs conference later this week have been posted. I noticed in one of the presenter’s PowerPoint slides several humorous images taken from the web to illustrate her points.

Adding stock images to academic presentations has become so routine that we don’t think about the legality of using someone else’s content. After all, what’s the likelihood that the copyright holder for a movie poster will sue a professor who has co-opted it to liven up a talk?

A new book argues that academics should familiarize themselves with the legal concept of fair use. 9780226032283The authors warn that even if your use of licensed content is educational, it still must follow the guidelines for fair use. Judges have used two questions to determine if an appropriation counts as fair use:

  1. Do you employ the content for a different use than the owner created it for?
  2. Do you use enough of the content to achieve that new purpose?

If the answers are yes, you probably have a strong standing to claim fair use. If not, you may be violating copyright. Academics understand that all knowledge builds on existing ideas, but you still have to give credit to those who came before you.

Human Subjects Revised

July 26th, 2011 by pcahn

The Department of Health and Human Services have released proposed changes to the review of human subjects research. The changes, summarized by the New York Times yesterday, would tighten some controls and loosen others.

On the side of more regulation, it would bring more studies, even those conducted with private funds, under the purview of an Institutional Review Board if the institution accepts any federal money. On the looser side, it would create a category of “excused” research allowing social and behavioral studies to avoid review.

Though the amendments seem thoughtful, they may not address some of the complaints that researchers have with their own IRBs like lack of transparency. It will be helpful if this proposal sparks discussion among university IRBs about how best to communicate their goals to researchers.

Facebook for scholars

July 22nd, 2011 by pcahn

At the Group on Faculty Affairs conference next month, one of my fellow panelists will be describing her office’s experiment with Facebook. It seems just as higher education has become comfortable with one social media outlet, another pops up. After Facebook came Twitter. Then it’s LinkedIn and Google Plus and Tumblr.

The proliferation of networking sites can overwhelm you. Once you’ve built up a following on one site, you’re loathe to switch to another platform and start from scratch.

One site that I am experimenting with is Academia.edu. This social networking site will look familiar to Facebook users, but instead of celebrating birthdays and parties, the profile highlights intellectual work. A scholar can upload publications and research interests. He or she can join interest groups and follow the work of colleagues. It also tells you when another user has read your materials, creating possible collaborations.

There’s not as much activity on Academia.edu as there is on Facebook. New publications don’t come out as frequently as status updates. At least there’s no chance of being caught in an embarrassing photo on Academia.edu, and it does offer a chance to promote your work.

Female Leadership

July 20th, 2011 by pcahn

According to a 2008 study by the American Council on Education, just 35% of academic deans at U.S. universities and only 23% of presidents were female. On some campuses, however, female leaders are the norm. At UC Berkeley 7 of 20 deans are women, and the University of Richmond boasts women in 4 out of 5 deanships.

Whether female academic deans bring different leadership styles to their positions is unclear. But their prominence does provide role models to younger women faculty and contributes to the supply of qualified women for top leadership roles.

Peer Reviewed Posters

July 19th, 2011 by pcahn

In an earlier post, I mentioned the growth of online peer review. One of those sites, Faculty of 1000, provides post-publication peer review. Content experts evaluate published papers and score them based on how importance.

The site has now expanded to include reviews of posters at academic conferences. PostersYou have to register to read the evaluations, but any user can scan the submissions. And it’s another avenue for faculty to demonstrate the reach of their research.

Traditional peer review seems fairly entrenched for journal submissions, but when it comes to posters and conference papers, the web provides a universal platform for disseminating ideas.

Research Funding

July 15th, 2011 by pcahn

The National Science Foundation has calculated research and development expenditures for science and engineering fields at U.S. universities in FY 2009. The institutions surveyed spend close to $55 billion that year on research.

As in most years, the university spending the most on science and engineering research is The Johns Hopkins University with $1.8 billion. Over 80% of those funds came from the federal government. Boston University ranks #72 on the list with a research budget of $280 million. Over 91% of the funds come from the federal government.

Looking just at expenses for life science research, UC San Francisco tops the list with $930 million spent on research and development. Boston University ranks 75th at $174 million.