Sometimes the current incarnations of culture wars spills over into the NIH grantsmanship (grantspersonship?) arena. This happened the other night on teh tweets. I waded in, and may have done some good. DM did quite a bit, and as usual, his ironic sarcasm is often both more incisive and persuasive than my arguments.
The big question was "what do you put in the honors section of your biosketch?". The specific issue was including that one had been an Eagle Scout. (there was also stuff about being in the Miss Texas contest, but we'll let that go for now).
As you may or may not know, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have had some back and forth about the inclusion of gay (and trans?) members and leaders, in which they did not come out looking terribly good. OTH, having known a few men who had been Eagle Scouts, I know that it is not an easy achievement, its not a trophy for participation, and that many of the stated goals are admirable, and possibly even the kind of thing that might make one a better scientist/researcher in adulthood.
Yet, BSA still has an odor to it, an odor that is not pleasant. I said something to this effect, and there were responses, in two predictable categories: firstly, being an Eagle Scout is important, it is relevant, and I am proud of it; secondly, lighten up, its just the boy scouts and they are Good People.
My reply to the first is: if someone objects to the inclusion of this, or any non-scientific "honor" on the biosketch, a reviewer-someone, you could have problems with your application. There are people who don't like the boy scouts, as a result of the inclusion of gays issue. Why go seeking problems? It violates the first meta-rule of grant writing: make the reviewer your ally.
My reply to the second was something like: The Nazis, the KKK, the fascists, were also good people at home, so lighten up in your critiques of them. At which point it escalated to talk about the misogyny at U California and other Bad People, so you shouldn't put in the time you logged in the UC system.
As a reviewer, I would personally have an issue with a BSA in the honors section. Or something similar. Not because of the gender identity /sexual orientation issues. But because who the heck puts that they were a boy scout in their honors, when you are applying for an adult thing? I would look at it and think: this guy is stretching it. Is he hiding something that he needs to use this to balance? NIH is not NSF. There is no "public outreach" or "larger impact" part, like still working with the BSA and taking your science to them. The impact in NIH grants is in the Significance and Innovation sections, where the Sig & Innov have to do with the health care mission of NIH. If I am evaluating the candidate in a training proposal (F/K) I ask myself: do I think does this person have potential as a scientist? Can they do the work they propose?
Now some would argue that becoming an Eagle Scout says something about your ability to get the project done. I do not. It was a long time ago. Lots of people did lots of things in their teen years, before college. I do not believe that those efforts are particularly predictive of current ones. I want to see that you get science done. You want to impress reviewers: publish a paper, have a poster at a national meeting, give a talk at a regional meeting.
But moving on to the BSA culture issues: I hate when someone says lighten up. I am not a gay man. But I love many gay men, as friends, as family members, as human beings who are important to me. But my specific life is not as important as the idea that gay men are human beings. Human beings who deserve our respect. If there is valid entitlement in this world, it is the entitlement to live one's life free of the humiliation that spawns from other people's narrow religious views of the world, free of the hatred that comes from little closed minds. The BSA did not pass these tests. (Maybe they do now, I've read some things that suggest its different - feel free to add in the comments, but please include some sources to back up your views.)
I hate when someone tells me to lighten up. I hate when someone tells me to calm down. I will not fucking calm down until everyone's right to self-determination is secure.