In the past, scholars could gather in coffee houses and talk about the latest scientific or mathematical discoveries.  The goal of Scientific Clearing House is to provide a venue for such discourse.

Carson Chow is a senior investigator in the Laboratory of Biological Modeling, NIDDK, NIH.  He was formerly on the faculty of the mathematics department at the University of Pittsburgh, where he remains an adjunct professor.  The opinions expressed in this blog are his alone and do not represent the views of the National Institutes of Health nor any US governmental body.

8 thoughts on “About

  1. I thought you might be interested in this information from the National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS). Please feel free to share it with anyone else who may be interested. If you would rather not be contacted about future NBTS research information, just let me know.

    A webinar has been scheduled to answer questions about the RFA (information below):

    Friday July 16, 2010 (10:00 am PT/1:00 pm ET)

    NBTS Embraces a ‘Systems Biology’ Approach to Research

    International RFA Announced

    Brain tumor research has yielded much data in recent years and revealed many levels of biological complexities. As a result, NBTS is pursuing a systems biology approach to brain tumor research and will be directing $5 million towards this initiative.

    Systems biology is the study of complex biological problems as integrated and interacting networks of their components, which is used to understand higher-level properties of complex biological systems such as tumors. Systems biology focuses research on biological systems as a whole, rather than pursuing the traditional approach of considering individual genes, proteins, parts of an organism, or the interaction of a limited number of these. NBTS offers more details in their newly released Perspectives in Research.

    To lend support to the brain tumor research community NBTS is proud to announce an international 2010 Systems Biology RFA – 2010 Systems Biology Application and Guidelines. The deadline for this RFA is December 17, 2010. Visit http://www.braintumor.org for more information.


  2. Hi, this is Jean-Luc Delatre aka Kevembuangga, would you like to join a “secret” Facebook group discussing ideas about the future of society along the lines of Venkatesh Rao & also Seb Paquet’s “Emergent Cities”?
    (not providing a second link for fear of being “spam killed” by silly Worpress ;-) )


  3. Re: Mathematical Challenge to Obesity.

    Your article was a reveleation to me–as I am now trying to lose 50 lbs for the 3rd time in the last 30 years.

    It is the first thing about weight lost that has really made sense to me in light of my own struggle. I have also shared the article you sent with everyone I know who is dieting, or struggles with their weight–which is about 1/2 of the women I know–2 of whom have recently been dianosed as diabetic.

    I decided that this year–since I turned 60, I was really going to make an effort to take care of ME for a change. I have been working out at the gym 2x a week and taking the time to really pay attention not only to to quality of what I eat –but the quantity as well. although I had always read labels for ingredients–especially salt and fat–I didn’t really pay attention to the important thing–number of servings.

    I am now losing between 2 and 3 lbs a week–and for the first time, since I was about 12 years old–I am not hungry all of the time. I think somehow digestive mechanism has been re-set. The other thing is that I–under no circumstances–skip meals. If I don’t have time to sit down and eat–I keep an apple and (non-pvc reusable) bottle of water on hand.

    Your article gives me the tools I need to get the wight off and keep it off.

    Wonderful reseach. Keep it up!


  4. What are your thoughts on the economics of grant reviewing?

    NIH has been dealing with how to spread the pain for 10 years of contracting budgets. The vast majority of grants submitted do not get funded. How do low paylines, sequestration, and decreased grant budgets affect these economics? Here are some thoughts:

    Trashing competitors may cannibalism one’s own field

    Do the current economic forces favor less competitive fields? It might be attractive to trash the grants of competing labs. However, this contracts the community of scientists who might cite your papers and promote your field. Entire fields of science experience ebb and flow. If one finds themselves in an increasingly shrinking community, funding and enthusiasm for research findings in the field can both be sapped up by larger, more active fields.


    What if an entire group of scientists, who all end up reviewing each others grants through ad hoc membership, colludes to approve at least one R01 for each member, even if there are flaws in the grant themselves?

    Overlooking minor flaws prevents economic waste

    Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to trash a grant with only minor flaws. Did the PI neglect to describe a key control experiment? So what? If the PI has a good track record, they’ll probably do the control experiment. And if not, journal reviewers will catch the flaw and ask for the further experiments. By contrast, if one takes a principled approach and trashes the grant, then the economic cost is significant:
    – Person-hours for NIH reviewers to re-review the same grant
    – Person-hours for the PI to revise the grant
    – Person-hours for admin at both the host institution and the NIH to process the revision
    And all for what? Just to ensure that the grant is water tight? What is the economic return on that? Zero.

    Funding people, funding projects

    The thoughts above follow a current trend in Europe of funding PIs rather than projects. I see value in that, but it runs the risk of turning into a scientific plutocracy. These PI-based funding mechanisms should be complimented by project-based funding mechanisms, otherwise we will be letting good ideas slip through the cracks just because they’re not coming from the usual suspects.


  5. @ss I have witnessed both collusion and trashing in grant reviews. I also agree that grant reviewing is clearly not an efficient market. In many cases, we already have a de facto plutocracy where senior people have renewed their RO1’s for decades while junior people have a hard time getting the first one. I think what we should do is to fund graduate students and post docs directly and make the size of PI grants much smaller. This could help alleviate the plutocracy, trashing and collusion problem. The trainees would choose their own labs and successful labs would be hopefully be based more on the quality of the science being done and work environment rather than who has the most money.


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