Truth to Power: Eric Lander’s Reddit AMA

A year ago, Eric Lander, who identified himself as “President and Founding Director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT [and] one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, directing the largest center in the international project” did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). One of the questions did not go as expected:

Question As an advisor to the President, what is being done or do you think will be done to increase the attractiveness of students finishing PhD programs in science?

Lander We need to shorten the time for getting a PhD and for a first faculty job. Young people should get out into the scientific world early, when they have lots of fresh ideas. We should encourage grants to young scientists and should encourage them to take big risks. When you’re taking big risks, science is amazingly fun.

The response to this answer was very negative.

With all due respect, this is a ludicrous statement. . . The true problem is the way in which you fund science. You fund projects and proposals. In order to get these projects funded, the preliminary data has to be essentially the whole project being done. Then you fund at a 6% percent line. It leads to cronyism in the peer review process and a general sense of despair in scientists. How about you radically change the funding system for PIs?

I too am disappointed with Dr. Lander’s response to possibly THE most important question here regarding training basic scientists.

Do you truly believe this? . . . There is no reason to encourage more students to go into science if there is not enough government funding to support their careers.

Alas, this is not important. It just pleased me that someone questioned Dr. Lander’s absurd claims, which he makes often. “We should encourage young scientists to take big risks”. Yes, I agree, does he really believe this? Do he really believe that someone coming up for tenure should take big risks?

3 Responses to “Truth to Power: Eric Lander’s Reddit AMA”

  1. Joe Says:

    “Question As an advisor to the President, what is being done or do you think will be done to increase the attractiveness of students finishing PhD programs in science?”

    Wear more makeup? Wear designer clothes? Yep, that ought to help.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. :)

  2. dearieme Says:

    I find it hard to see why spirited youngsters would want to be ground in the sausage machine that eventually spits out tenured jacks-in-office. Hell, you could be into your forties before you were able to tackle a project that you had chosen yourself for its intrinsic interest.

    It’s a far cry from the best science lab there’s ever been, with Ernest Rutherford’s bright young men at the Cavendish.

    I’m very proud of persuading my daughter not, Not, NOT to do a PhD.

    Seth: A very smart Berkeley grad student in biology told me she had decided to leave academia after seeing up close what professors had to do — how hard they worked. She had entered grad school thinking she wanted to be a professor.

  3. dearieme Says:

    Aye, Seth, when I left academia to work in industry my new colleagues could scarcely believe how much work I got through.