If you haven’t heard of the controversy surrounding Steven McKnight, President of American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, get ready for a doozy! McKnight wrote a President’s Message for ASBMB describing problems with biomedical science and NIH peer review study sections. That seems totally normal. What isn’t normal, though, is how he describes the current members of the biomedical research community.
First, the average scientist today is not of the quality of our predecessors; it’s a bit analogous to the so-called “greatest generation” of men and women of the United States who fought off fascism in World War II compared with their baby boomer children. Biomedical research is a huge enterprise now; it attracts riff-raff who never would have survived as scientists in the 1960s and 1970s. There is no doubt that highly capable scientists currently participate in the grant-review process. Likewise, unfortunately, study sections are undoubtedly contaminated by riff-raff.
First… who uses the term riffraff in a President’s Message?? Really?
In response to this message, Darren Boehning penned an amazing response titled, “#riffraff.” Boehning describes in detail the parts of McKnight’s article that were offensive, and further describes why McKnight is off base.
The latest generation of scientists has it harder than any before. Paylines are historically low, the postdoc bottleneck is the worst it ever has been, and just publishing a paper requires innumerable supplemental figures and many years of work. If McKnight would listen to the younger generation instead of belittling it, he would realize the incredible talent and potential of those scientists. Most importantly, as president of the ASBMB, he should be functioning as our advocate rather than our critic.
To see the incredible response to these articles, check out twitter:
It even spawned several new Twitter hashtags, including #riffraff, #riffraffgate and #iamriffraff.