Blog about science? Kiss your grant proposal goodbye

I was absolutely stunned when I discovered this while watching a presentation from UC Davis Professor, PeerJ Academic Editor and author, Jonathan Eisen.

The controversial segment of the presentation, embedded below, starts at the 9 minute and 17 second mark. Uncertain of the exact year that Eisen is referencing when this happened, but it is shocking. Shocking – that for simply communicating science, which is HIS JOB as a Professor of Microbiology, that he could be denied a grant. (Update: this was recent – 2012)

Excerpt  from the grant review (bolded text my own emphasis):

Outstanding group of individuals, and the organizational and management structure appears sound with clear roles and responsibilities of theme faculty. There is a large focus on developing this for microbiome research, but Eisen seems to be the only team member with this expertise, and may not have the bandwidth to coordinate this on such a large project alone, especially given his high time commitment to his blog.

It doesn’t matter if he blogs in his spare time, or during `office hours,` this shouldn’t have happened. One could argue that dollar for dollar, a grant spent on Eisen will have far greater return on investment and impact than a large majority of other scholars. What do I qualify as impact? It goes beyond direct research contributions, but inspiring new students, inspiring citizen scientists, inspiring peers, and inspiring one’s self by exploring thoughts through different channels. Science outreach should never be penalized, yet that is exactly what has occurred. 

I’d argue that Eisen hasn’t been a successful scientist despite his scientific outreach activities, but precisely because of having done them. Instead of spending his time at wine and cheese parties, Jonathan thanklessly and tirelessly communicates his science to anyone who will listen through any channel – and he gets dinged for that? The grant committee really dropped the ball on this one.

Jonathan has been gracious enough not to publicly out whoever was behind that funding decision, but I’d like to make an offer to Jonathan to let me, Jason, know. And if they are a current editor for PeerJ then we will politely excuse them. If they are a future reviewer or author, we’ll ask them to submit their peer-reviewed research elsewhere. People can and should be forgiven, but unless that person or group has changed their tune, then they do not share our values at PeerJ.

– Jason Hoyt

Co-founder, PeerJ

An update and clarification on PeerJ’s policies:

My initial gut reaction was borne out of frustration with the system, but clearly not the best approach to enacting change within it. Asking the author of the review to submit elsewhere was a personal statement and doesn’t represent the views of the Journal (which remains agnostic to who submits to us, provided they follow our guidelines / requirements). Additionally, we recuse ourselves from editorial peer-review decisions as long as they follow those policies. My initial statement will stay up for the record, but with a strikethrough

– Jason