‘Don’t yearn for
the good old days’

Not all of us “old” folks feel that study sections today have less-qualified scientists, as Steve McKnight alleges in his recent column. What a preposterous statement! The National Institutes of Health has managed to attract dedicated and superb reviewers who take the job seriously. 

There is both breadth and depth in study sections these days. From my experiences, it is often a joy to listen to my much younger colleagues whose critiques are insightful and well-justified. They do a better job of identifying unusual and creative science than what I remember from 20-odd years ago. Breaks in these meetings also can lead to productive and lively science conversations. You can learn a lot by talking with the current crop of reviewers (but you actually have to interact with them).

Yes, there is a lot of specialization today, but collaborations in fairly different areas are easier to establish now. The Internet provides forums for discussions of all sorts of scientific topics. From my aged perspective, science is still a wonderful, although woefully underfunded, enterprise. 

A few words are in order about the olden times for which McKnight yearns. Clubism was certainly alive and well back then. It was a fairly restricted club too – with woefully few exceptions: Women and minorities were rarely members. What a joy that the white-male clubism, or you-don't-look-like-me-and-you-didn't-train-with-my-buddies-so-you-can't-be-top-tier attitude, is gone.

Don’t yearn for the good old days. Live in the present, and be amazed at the spectacular scientists who, with an abundance of breadth and talent, have taken on the burden of NIH reviewing!

Mary F. RobertsMary F. Roberts (mary.roberts@bc.edu) is a professor of chemistry at Boston College and co-chair of the ASBMB 2015 annual meeting program planning committee.