Links 3/24/17

Links for you. Science:

The biocrust conundrum
Superbug-sniffing spaniel kept busy at Vancouver hospital
San people of Africa draft code of ethics for researchers
How Does Trump’s Plan To Gut Health And Medical Research Make America Great?
How women can deal with periods in space


George W. Bush Gave Us Donald Trump. Now He Wants To Be Forgiven.
Reported Gorsuch Statements Show Disqualifying Disregard for Women’s Workplace Rights
‘Deep State’ Keeps Sending Their Worst Assassins After Roger Stone (keep in mind, Stone is supposed to be one of the clever ones)
Banned and barred, Israel’s women stand up to religious hardliners
Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88
Jimmy Breslin, old-school genius and voice of New York
Senior Trump Adviser Thinks Muslims ‘By And Large’ Want To ‘Subjugate’ Non-Muslims
Stopping Gorsuch Is Just the Start
Tim Allen’s career is a metaphor for America
The Perils of the New, Shiny George W. Bush
Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88
Trump’s Race-Baiting Bromance with Andrew Jackson
Stephen Bannon Is a Fan of a French Philosopher…Who Was an Anti-Semite and a Nazi Supporter
I will not log in to your website
Meet the New Monopoly Tokens: A Rubber Ducky, a T-rex and a Penguin
French literary boy wonder Édouard Louis on saving the working class from Marine Le Pen
Traveling while American
JIMMY BRESLIN, 1930-2017.
The GOP has become the party of white nationalism
Once in the Shadows, Europe’s Neo-Fascists Are Re-emerging

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These Are The Robots America Needs

While there has been much internet discussion about the current and future role of robots and what it means for American workers, we can all agree that having robots pipette stuff is a good thing. Which brings us to this awesome PlosOne article (boldface mine):

Liquid-handling robots have many applications for biotechnology and the life sciences, with increasing impact on everyday life. While playful robotics such as Lego Mindstorms significantly support education initiatives in mechatronics and programming, equivalent connections to the life sciences do not currently exist. To close this gap, we developed Lego-based pipetting robots that reliably handle liquid volumes from 1 ml down to the sub-μl range and that operate on standard laboratory plasticware, such as cuvettes and multiwell plates. These robots can support a range of science and chemistry experiments for education and even research. Using standard, low-cost household consumables, programming pipetting routines, and modifying robot designs, we enabled a rich activity space. We successfully tested these activities in afterschool settings with elementary, middle, and high school students. The simplest robot can be directly built from the widely used Lego Education EV3 core set alone, and this publication includes building and experiment instructions to set the stage for dissemination and further development in education and research.

The only thing better than a pipetting robot is one made out of Legos.

Do we have video of the Lego pipette-bots? Of course we do!



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Links 3/23/17

Links for you. Science:

Trump wants to end funding of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Here’s who’s fighting back.
Trump’s Muslim Ban Also Hurts Scientific Research
Every attempt to manage academia makes it worse
What Going To Mars Will Do To Our Minds
SfN Urges Congress to Invest in NIH, Not Slash Funding


Opponents of single payer are moral monsters on par with AHCA proponents (“The difference between Obamacare and AHCA is 24 million uninsured people while the difference between single-payer and Obamacare is 28 million uninsured people.”)
Everyone loves Bernie Sanders. Except, it seems, the Democratic party
Republicans’ four-point plan to help the poor get poorer
Why ‘Trump Administration’ Is An Oxymoron
Fear, Hope, and Deportations
Tomi Lahren Forced To Defend Herself After Admitting She’s Pro-Choice (but feminists who fought and still fight for abortion rights are evil something something)
Trump’s budget would mean double whammy for Washington region
If Democrats Cave On Gorsuch They’ll Be Sorry
Meet the Companies Literally Dropping ‘Irish’ Pubs in Cities Across the World
Trump Trolls the Welfare State
Kids on winning robotics team told, ‘Go back to Mexico’
Door-Busting Drug Raids Leave a Trail of Blood
New Jersey passes bill forcing presidential candidates to release tax returns
Russian elite invested nearly $100 million in Trump buildings
Rural Areas Brace for a Shortage of Doctors Due to Visa Policy

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More On Bogus NIH Budgets

Last week, we discussed Il Trumpe’s magic asterisk NIH budget, which supposedly will find a way to cut over $6 billion in spending through what is essentially pixie dust:

What’s idiotic is that there’s no way ‘consolidations’ could possibly bring anywhere close to $6 billion. Are there entities that should be cut? Absolutely–the travel office comes to mind. But NIH already runs a tight ship, and to the extent it doesn’t, these are usually to comply with federal and congressional mandates. So this is a bullshit nothing statement–you’re not going to get close to $6 billion.

So what gets cut? Well, the entire intramural research budget (on-NIH campus research) is less than ten percent of the total; this includes things like PubMed, Genbank, and so on. Even if you eliminated all intramural research (including PubMed and Genbank), there is still a $3 billion dollar hole.

Former NIH director Harold Varmus explains further what massive cuts in NIH spending would mean (boldface mine):

To understand just how devastating a cut of less than 20 percent of an agency’s budget would be requires some understanding of how the N.I.H. operates. Very little of its typical annual budget is spent on the agency’s administration: The industrious, underpaid government scientists who manage the funding of the N.I.H.’s research programs consume less than 5 percent of its budget. Only a bit more, about 10 percent, supports the work of government scientists. In sharp contrast, over 80 percent of its resources are devoted to competitively reviewed biomedical research projects, training programs and science centers, affecting nearly every district in the country.

The N.I.H. awards multiyear grants and contracts, but receives annual appropriations that must be spent that year. This means that at the start of each year most of its dollars are already committed to recipients of awards from prior years. A budget cut of the size that is proposed would effectively prevent the awarding of new grants or the renewal of any that have reached the end of a multiyear commitment. Junior scientists, already struggling in a highly competitive atmosphere, may not get a chance to have an academic career. Senior investigators might need to lay off staff, disrupting research teams and leaving projects unfinished.

One thing the Trump ‘budget’ claims it will do is enact “other consolidations and structural changes across NIH organizations and activities”, but as Varmus notes, even if you eliminated all of the NIH administration–which is an impossibility–you would still be close to $5 billion short.

What scares me is that the people who wrote the Trump ‘budget’ probably do believe there are massive administrative costs (and, don’t forget, Trump has said the NIH is “terrible.”)

They really don’t know what they’re doing. All we can do is hope that enough Republicans in Congress recognize the economic importance of NIH spending.

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Links 3/22/17

Links for you. Science:

My cats poop for science
Humans may have transformed the Sahara from lush paradise to barren desert
Trump’s NIH budget may include reducing overhead payments to universities
Getting It Wrong on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
So, which diseases should we stop working on?


‘Teenage Historian’ Chuck Berry Reviews The Clash, Talking Heads, Joy Division And The Sex Pistols For A 1980 Punk Zine
Your March Madness Bracket Is Exploiting Student-Athletes
Here’s How Donald Trump’s Budget Screws Over the People Who Elected Him
The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Trump’s budget blueprint is a war on the future of the American economy
Donald Trump, Movie Buff and Apparent Time Traveler, Can’t Get Over WWII
A stroll through London’s Brompton Cemetery
Trump’s Obsession With Cutting Regulations Will Make America Sick
Why Trump’s budget may be ‘devastating’ to his supporters
Here’s Why the US Women’s National Hockey Team Is Going on Strike
Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin Reinvented the English Language
Trump’s Plan to Eliminate Public Broadcasting Would Hurt Listeners in Trump Country
Why I Take Attacks on Muslims and Hispanics Very Personally
Here’s What You Need to Know About the Federal Reserve: We demand way too much from the central bank—but that’s because our elected politicians have done almost nothing to revive the economy
Jeff Sessions is not likely to stop the police war on minorities and the poor
Trump and Ryan could lose Trumpcare battle—and still destroy Obamacare
On Banning on Leaf Blowers

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Links 3/21/17

Links for you. Science:

The Chesapeake Bay is a lifeline for our region, but the president doesn’t think so
John Snows Grant Application
The Nile River Delta, once the bread basket of the world, may soon be uninhabitable
Saw a Tweet today that all new medications come from private Pharma funding. Not the case
Texas Is Considering A Bill That Could Let Science Instructors Teach Creationism


A day in the life of a poor American under Trump’s proposed budget (excellent; must-read)
Conservative Fantasies, Colliding With Reality (Democrats won’t be able to save Republicans from themselves this time)
Virginia, Maryland or D.C.? Here’s who bears the brunt of Trump budget’s federal worker cuts.
Trump’s Budget Guts the EPA and Help for Poor Seniors. It’s a Perfect Symbol of His Administration.
Trump’s Budget Hits Trump’s Voters Hard: The ‘real Americans’ the President valorizes are about to take it right on the chin from him.
Trump budget cuts put Florida coast at risk
President’s budget proposal hits Trump voters the hardest
Trump backhands Appalachia
Why does Donald Trump demonize cities?
Rundle Won’t Charge Prison Guards Who Allegedly Boiled Schizophrenic Black Man to Death
Erdogan’s informers: Turkey’s descent into fear and betrayal
Palm Beach Is Sick of Paying for Donald Trump’s Weekend Visits to Mar-a-Lago
Learning to play offense
Meals on Wheels is ‘not showing any results’ only if you ignore all these results
Those distinctive brown signs outside federal buildings in D.C. have vanished
Everyone hates this tax. But without it, Trump would barely have paid any.
Trump budget would strip $1 billion from Mass., Markey says

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NIH And Coal Mining

Il Trumpe has made bringing back coal mining jobs, no matter how unrealistic that would be, a key component of his economic plan (such as it is…). After last week’s ‘budget’ release, which proposed an NIH funding cut of twenty percent, I thought it would be worth comparing the number of coal mining jobs to the number of jobs created by NIH. Let’s look at coal mining first.

As of February 2017, 50,000 people are employed in coal mining.

Finding direct employment numbers due to NIH funding is significantly harder. Most reports put the NIH campus(es) workforce at 20,000. But then there’s the over $22 billion spent extramurally (i.e., research grants and contracts), most of which any principal investigator (‘PI’) will tell you is spent on salaries–that is, jobs. Unfortunately, if NIH releases jobs numbers from grant spending (or ‘FTEs’, full-time equivalents), I can’t find it. Nonetheless, I think we can make a pretty good estimate, so let’s do this.

In 2015, $22.8 billion of NIH extramural spending was estimated to result in 352,000 jobs and $60.1 billion of total economic activity. A key thing to note is that this jobs estimate includes indirect activity, such as purchases for grant activities as well as employees spending their money. So I’m going to make my own estimate. Before I do that, I realize the RIMS II I-O model is very complex, but as we’ll see, my estimate jibes with the realities of grant budgets.

Simply put, I’ll use the ratio of NIH spending to economic output to determine how many ‘direct’ jobs are created, which yields around 134,000 jobs. Put another way, grants totaling $1 million–essentially 3 ‘bread and butter’ R01 grants–yield slightly less than six jobs (5.85 if you want to be precise). I realize not all extramural spending includes salaries, though other grants are almost exclusively salaries (e.g., training grants). This seems to pass the smell test, so I’m sticking with the 134,000 jobs number.

If we add the 20,000 NIH campus jobs, we’re up to 155,000 jobs.

If a twenty percent funding cut means an equivalent loss of jobs, that’s 31,000 jobs–the direct NIH job losses could be equal to sixty percent of the entire coal mining workforce. For that matter, the NIH campus alone employs forty percent of the coal mining workforce.

I’ll leave it up to others to run the numbers for other science funders.

This seems relevant.

Posted in Economics, NIH | 2 Comments