January 2010

Ring in the New


Here’s to the new year: May it be a damn sight better than the old one.

Pres-Mess---New-YearIt started out with such promise. We had a new president – one who promised to restore science to its rightful place in the councils of government (and, to our joy, he has). We had $10 billion in stimulus money for the National Institutes of Health to spend. Health-care reform looked imminent. The war in Iraq was winding down. I had only another one-and-a-half years as American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology president. All was well.

But as 2009 winds down, that feeling of optimism has given way to one of anxiety – almost of impending doom. Delight over the stimulus has become frustration with the NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research and the fear that the 2011 NIH budget will be disastrously small. Health-care reform is being held hostage by a small group of senators who either wish to use it as way of restricting abortion rights or, one is forced to conclude, who may be in the pockets of the insurance industry. As the war in Iraq winds down, the war in Afghanistan is growing larger. And I still have six months to go as ASBMB president.

I thought it might be a good time to take stock of the state of science in general, and the state of the ASBMB in particular, as we get ready to welcome in the first year of the second decade of the 21st century. I have to say that I think the state of science is good, though still threatened from the usual sources. And, I think the ASBMB is healthy but would be healthier if we had more young members.

Let me start with the ASBMB. Online is where it’s at. Last fall, we launched a new Web site for the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and now the editorial side is making adjustments (see article on p. 10). Our two other journals, the Journal of Lipid Research and Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, also will be getting similar Web sites in the coming year. MCP is going online-only in 2010, and JBC and JLR will follow when the time is right for our users. Along with that, we soon will have a new Web site for ASBMB Today, replacing the old online pseudo-journal format. We think that these represent real improvements in how we deliver content to our members over the World Wide Web. The sites are meant to be easier to navigate, easier to browse and packed with more opportunities to find more information. Our publications are intended to serve you, our members, first and foremost. So, write to us and let us know what you think of the new Web sites. And, if you have suggestions, please let us hear from you. We will listen.

As I said, I am still concerned with the demographics of our membership. I know this is also a major concern of my successor, Suzanne Pfeffer (and while I’m at it, let me offer her my condol – er, my congratulations on becoming president-elect) and that she already has a number of exciting ideas for getting more young people to join the society and for improving the ways in which we serve our younger members. But we still need your help. Please, urge your best postdoctoral fellows to take advantage of our free-for-the-first-year membership offer. We believe that once they experience the benefits of membership, they will want to continue. They’re our lifeblood, and we are anemic at the moment.

Otherwise, the health of the society is good. Thanks to prudent fiscal management (which is to say I had no input into it whatsoever), our finances are in relatively good shape, and we have been able, despite the recession, to launch a few interesting new initiatives. One you will be reading more about in the coming months is a series of joint conferences in Latin America, sponsored by ASBMB and our sister society in Brazil. My counterpart in that society, Debora Foguel, and ASBMB past-President Bettie Sue Masters have taken the lead in getting this cooperation off the ground, for which I would like to convey my deepest thanks. The first meeting will take the form of an advanced school on the subject of biofuels, an area of biochemistry in which Brazil already is among the world’s leaders. Watch ASBMB Today for more details.


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You note that we have managed "to keep the payline at NIGMS for competing R01 applications at right around the 30th percentile, even when the stimulus money is not added in." While we do focus on maintaining our success rate for competing research grant applications, the nominal payline for NIGMS R01 competing R01s has not been at the 30th percentile for many years. We recently posted the R01 funding curves for fiscal year 2009 (and earlier years for comparison) on the NIGMS Feedback Loop blog (see https://loop.nigms.nih.gov/index.php/2009/12/10/fiscal-year-2009-r01-funding-outcomes/ , Figure 2). The midpoint on the funding curve (without ARRA -funded awards) is near the 22nd percentile. The midpoint for the funding curve including 2 year R01s funded with ARRA funds is near the 30th percentile. Jeremy M. Berg, Director, NIGMS (bergj@mail.nih.gov)



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