Semester Over

This week our first-year medical students have completed their physiology curriculum. Based at it is on rigorous quantitative analysis of biological function, physiology is the most difficult first-year course. Physiology, by definition, is a quantitative discipline in which the mathematical relationships between interacting biological variables are examined, both empirically and theoretically.

We have students who are all intellectually brilliant, but with a very wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, ranging from applied mathematics majors to history majors. As you can imagine, these students have greatly different abilities to deal with complicated mathematical formulae.

I take an intuitive and teleological approach to conveying physiological principles to my medical students. I explain to them that the vast majority of the mathematical formalisms of physiology are more or less complicated versions of Ohm’s law. And I ask them to imagine how they would design a system to perform the task at hand: keep cardiac output constant, keep the membrane potential constant, maintain body fluid and solute homeostasis, etc.

I derive a huge amount of pleasure seeing the transitions of my students’ faces from “HUH!?” to “AAAHH!!” And I hope that my efforts eventually lead to some sick patient who might have otherwise died surviving, because one of my students was excited and educated by my pedagogy.

(This post is based on this one I wrote previously at DrugMonkey. Yeah, I’m a lazy fuck.)

Fucking ShakyFoot! (UPDATED)



ShakyFoot is the brilliant creation of Zen Comix, one of the most brilliant cartoonists out there. You can get ShakyFoot and other Zen Comix schwag–such as the totes awesome sweatshirt being modeled by yours truly–at the Zen Comix on-line store.

UPDATED: A few readers have expressed concern that they “don’t get” ShakyFoot. Here’s the dealio:

See the left bare foot? See how it’s shaking? See how it’s under an umbrella, but in the sun and not being rained on?

See how the clothed dude is reading a newspaper with a bare foot on the cover that’s shaking? See how the clothed dude’s shod left foot is shaking? See how the clothed dude has no umbrella, and is being rained on?

That shit is fucking hilarious!! ShakyFoot!!!!!!1111!11!ELEVENTY!11!!!

NIH Challenge Grants

For my readers who aren’t biomedical scientists, the National Institutes of Health–the US Govt agency that funds the vast majority of biological research in the US–was provided with $10 billion dollars additional funds (beyond their current $30 billion annual budget) from the so-called Economic Stimulus Package proposed by President Obama and implemented by Congress to be spent over the next two years. One of the mechanisms by which NIH is going to spend this money is through a grant program called the Challenge Grant.

The basic gist of the Challenge Grant program is as follows:

As part of the Recovery Act, the NIH invites, through this limited competition, NIH Challenge Grant (RC1) applications from domestic (United States) institutions/organizations proposing novel research in areas that address specific knowledge gaps, scientific opportunities, new technologies, data generation, or research methods that would benefit from an influx of funds to quickly advance the area in significant ways. This program is designed to support research in scientific areas identified by the Institutes and Centers, as described below.

* * *

[This program] is designed to provide investigators with the opportunity to address [highly specific unique challenges selected from a long list] by addressing new avenues of research in defined areas where progress would produce a significant impact on biomedical or behavioral science and/or health research.

The best information we have suggests that ~30,000 applications for these grants have been submitted, and the NIH Office of the Director has already allocated Stimulus funds sufficient to make 200 awards. Those of you who are gambling men and women can see that those are not real good odds. It is also possible the individual institutes within the NIH (kidney institute, brain institute, heart institute, etc) will fund some additional Challenge Grants from the Stimulus funds they have already been allocated themselves to do with as they see fit.

The number of additional Challenge Grants that will be funded by individual institutes has been the subject of some discussion. Some have speculated that the individual institutes will fund ~1300 more, for a total of 1500, thus giving a success rate of 5%.

My own feeling is that no way are their going to be anywhere near 1500 challenge grants awarded. Many institutes have made no committments to funding any additional Challenge Grants, and when the institutes that do claim to intend to award a bunch of them actually see what slapped-together ill-thought-out pieces of shit 99% of these challenge apps are, they will change their tune.

This is because wise scientific program staff at the individual institutes probably understand quite well that great advances that “overcome challenges” in biomedical research are not made by identifying such challenges ahead of time and then “attacking” them. Rather, they are almost always made incidentally and fortuitously during the pursuit of ordinary science.

A wise participant in the discussion I alluded to above, however, points out the following:

But [overcoming challenges] sounds much better when speaking to Congress than “Funding Excellent Random Science and Hope Something Useful Comes Out of It”.

It will be very interesting to see how this Challenge shit all pans out.

What The Fuck?

Friend of the blog Scribbler has a great post up at his place cataloguing the side effects of various forms of booze. This particular entry caught my attention:

Irish Whiskey: Possible side effects could include blurred vision, rushes of manly bravado and, (especially if ingested as Jameson’s), acute Tourette’s Syndrome whereby “fuck” is inserted every third or fourth word per sentence. Blackened eyes could also occur here but only to the person standing next to the Irish Whiskey drinker.

Suggested Usage: Four drinks a day if ingested “neat”, three if “on the rocks” (a heavier pour), but none if ingested within two blocks of an elementary school.

I have no fucking idea what the fuck he’s talking about.

Note To Senior Faculty

Dear Unproductive Senior Faculty:

If you have proven your total inability to effectively manage a laboratory containing a half dozen scientists, where the fuck do you get the cockamamie idea that you know better than the motherfucking dean how to run a motherfucking medical school with hundreds of faculty and thousands of other scientists? And when you bloviate endlessly at faculty meetings about what the dean is doing wrong and what he should be doing, you are not impressing anyone. At best you inspire pity, and at worst total fucking derision.

Please shut the fuck up already, get your own house in order, and leave the rest of us the fuck alone.


Your Productive Colleagues