Just when I thought it was safe to review grants

Oct 08 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Oye. I just got a grant that uses my lab's current model to review. We (me and my marvelous lab group) pioneered this model. It would not have worked without lots of help from the brilliant Postdoc and the (now-gone) SuperTech and the  hard-working and creative (current) techs. More to the point, Brilliant Post-doc (BPD) has several (4? 5?) first authored papers, and a handful (2? 3?) med-student trainees have others.

So, I know the PI on the proposal, but not we do not collaborate, so no conflict of interest. I don't own the model, of course. The proposal is doing something different. But the premise (and NIH does care about premise) is based on those 4-8 pubs. I tried to take a step back and think: if not mine, would I care? And, the answer is: if I knew, "care" is the wrong word, but I would see it as a flaw in the proposal. This person is claiming that this model is appropriate for this question, and that appropriateness is something established by my lab.

Does it matter? To me, not really. I am an old farte. To my postdoc? Hell, yes. It is very, very, very important.

But mostly I know that this PI knows the work. We go to the same small clinical meeting, and we are two of the very small number (5% 10%?) who do animal based work. Everyone is in the audience (no concurrent sessions [brief aside: "sessions" "trump" so many beautiful words ruined by today's politics]), and last year or the year before one of her students gave the talk right before BPD gave a talk using this model. The description of the technique in the proposal is nearly identical to what we've published, but in a different species.

What is going on in her head? Does she think citing BPD is going to somehow make her work less? I am sure if I asked her she would say something like "oh, what you do is so different, I am working on baby bunnies, and you are doing geriatrics". So what is going on in her head? She forgot?

6 responses so far

  • Anon says:

    Wait, so you are saying that they wrote a proposal based on a technique you and BPD perfected, and they did not even cite you? That's beyond bizarre! They have to know that you would be a very likely reviewer for their proposal!

  • eeke says:

    Not to defend the applicant, but if you are saying that citations to your work are lacking, I think they might be trying to claim the novelty of their work. I've seen this before with sweeping, generalized statements such as "nothing is known about bunny hopping", despite the decades of work that are already behind it. I hate shit like that. Yes, I ding them for it, as I think scholarship is critical to understanding and advancing the field that the proposed research is in. If other aspects of the proposal are OK, that's fine, but this is an opportunity to point out that they ought to pay attention and give credit to their colleagues' work and more clearly describe how the findings of their project are unique, novel, and will make a critical advance.

    • potnia theron says:

      The issue is that criteria called "premise". That animal models, with a human problem, can be generated in the lab, is something I got dinged on for nearly every grant I wrote until the lab (PD as lead) published some of the validation studies. Part of what premise means is that the building blocks are in place to do the proposed study. Some stuff (trivial example: DNA is genetic material or bunnies hop) can be taken for granted. But if you say: I propose to develop a new treatment X for problem Y, and this proposal is to test X, you need to make sure that Y is a good representative of what goes wrong in humans. Whether Y is a good representative can be obvious, or previously shown. I think that is part of where this is falling - the grey area between.

  • Microscientist says:

    I see this as an indicator of them not being thorough. I would treat it like the proverbial Van Halen brown M&Ms request.
    What else have they glossed over, that you would NOT be as aware of? These omissions could really impact if their model or if their methods really test the hypothesis.

  • Grumpy says:

    From a purely Machiavellian point of view, i would suspect your postdoc will benefit if this application gets funded because the applicants will presumably then write papers that cite your work, will push the field to new areas, grow community, etc.

    But I'm curious about how you draw the line on conflict of interest. I assume that if the applicants proposed to do work that is very similar to what you are doing in your lab then you should declare COI, no? But if everyone turned down all proposals in their area of expertise, nothing would get reviewed by sub-field experts. So how close is too close?

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