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    December 2011
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    • We Are Going To Go Thru Hell, So What Now?
      I was born in 1968, the year Wallerstein calls one of “world revolution”. It was a revolution that both failed and succeeded: women and minorities got more rights, often a lot more, but the end result was an oligarchy, where most people were equal in their lack of power, and where every year saw ordinary people becoming poorer, no matter what the official st […]
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Heads Up, Research Professionals

Believe it or not, no one knows you exist.  Oh, some people have vague notion of your existence, but it’s on the level of how pre-packaged chicken ends up in your grocer’s meat department chiller.  Clearly, somebody shrinkwrapped the suckers but all the grody chicken shit details are sanitized for your protection.  In a similar way, prescription drugs just sort of magically appear on the pharmacy department shelves.  And they are always produced by some big, evil Big Pharma company.  {{boo, hiss, boooooo!}}  And while even *we* are disgusted by the behavior of all some of our companies’ CEOs (see below for more on this), the CEOs have about as much knowledge of how drugs are discovered as the average Joe the Plumber.  Most people (and pharma executives)do not see the years and years (and years) of hard work, and SciFinder searches and hours in the lab and repeated failures and serendipitous eureka! moments that are subsequently dashed to smithereens by a CHO cell receptor that simply refuses to cooperate or the dog liver enzyme assay that stays stubbornly stuck on an ambiguous borderline measurement.  (There, there, don’t cry.  It happens to everyone.)

But YOU are like that mythical chicken sexer at a big mysterious chicken farm.  Most people don’t see that part of the chicken making procedure.  You do not really exist in any tangible way.

This is a problem for us.  Because as you know and I know, the Research industry has been devastated by clueless CEOs who love their sales and marketing departments but see YOU as the equivalent of field hands.  You may work with your brains all the time but if you work with your hands at all, you become the hired help.  While the executive cafeterias have dozens of expertly prepared lunch choices, nutritionally balanced, full of color and flavor ,and access to a registered dietician who will customize your menu (I actually witnessed this one day), YOU will be served the equivalent of a high calorie meat and potatoes meal in your dingy cafeteria at the “labs” down the road.  Yes, you may as well be a Welsh miner grabbing a tiddy oggie on your way down the shaft from which you will eventually emerge covered in coal soot. Your parking lot consists of Dodge Caravans and Nissan Sentras.  THEIR parking lot has dozens of shiny new BMWs and Lexus SUVs that start a $50000 a pop in spite of a shockingly insufficient number of cup holders.  You wear a labcoat with the  spreading blotch of something yellow on the edge of the right pocket.  THEY wear suits.  You spent your college years in labs that were supposed to last three hours but, er, didn’t because you knocked over the titanium tetrachloride in your glove bag and couldn’t see what you were doing and somebody dumped their sodium sand in the sink (it wasn’t me).  THEIR labs consisted of how much beer they could fit into one of those yard long funnels.

You get the point but if you didn’t, here it is: They have a very misplaced view of their worth to the company, as well as an inflated conception of their own personal self worth.  They do not give a shit about you because to them, the chicken shows up shrinkwrapped.  Do you ever see them coming down to the lab to see how things are going?  Can you even imagine one of those condescendingly, snippy women from accounting or purchasing talking to you nicely as if you were a normal human being deserving of respect, breathing the solvent scented air?  No, of course not.  The bigwigs only see you as they flyover in their helicopters.  Any real on site inspection happens after you go home (You have to be finishing your work past 7pm to catch the whomp-whomp-whomp of their whirlybirds).

But what you may be surprised to find out is that the left doesn’t give a shit about you either.  I have been beating my head against a brick wall trying to get the attention of bloggers who really should know better to get the word out about how our industry has been devastated.  I have been talking to people until I am blue in the face to get them to understand how many hundreds of thousands of us have been laid off and are underemployed or working in contract positions for vastly reduced salaries and benefits.  But what do I hear back?  Silence.  The silence is deafening.  In fact, I get the distinct impression that some of the people on the left who should be extremely concerned with our labor problems think that we should be ashamed of what we do.  It is hard for me to believe that the left could be so incredibly heartless and dim about this but for some mysterious reason, the fact that you work and study hard to find actual cures for people is a shameful thing.  They have this “holier than thou” idea of what constitutes an honorable profession and we ain’t it. These people on the left think that because you work for the assholes up the street (or you have worked for them), that you are responsible for the increasingly boneheaded and greedy decisions they make.  They don’t understand that you have kids and mortgages and retirements of your own and that drugs come shrinkwrapped only after you’ve beaten your head against a wall for half a decade before you pass it along to the clinical people.

I thought 2008 was bad.  This is worse.  The level of concern they have for you is truly reprehensible.  Not only that but I have actually spoken to many average Joes who seem to think that STEM workers’ job prospects are unlimited.  Yes, I know, it’s incredible.  They think that the world is our oyster.  We can just breeze into any lab in the country and demand a job for a high salary.  It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.  The news media has swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker once again.  Oh, it will sink in eventually when the number of students who want to get a job in chemistry dwindles to zero because you won’t be able to convince a 20 year old to study organic chemistry, molecular biology, calculus and linear algebra for four years to wind up making $12/hour with no bennies and be happy they’ve got that.  You would think that students who are smart enough to study STEM majors will be smart enough to figure out that there’s no living wage in it anymore.  I’m not sure that the politicians and business people pushing the “We need more STEM workers!” line have figured it out yet.  But by that time, your career will be ruined and you will have moved on to reupholstering flea market furniture for a living or teaching the chemistry you could do in your sleep to class of suburban brats.  *Your* dream job of bliss in a lab discovering the wonders of nature are over.

So, do not expect anyone else to get the word out that you are in as much trouble as any other laid off worker in the country.  Nobody knows you exist.  You will have to make yourselves visible.  That means talking to strangers on a train or going to an occupation or marching in the street with your labcoat on.  That’s what it will take.  The message *is* finally trickling out in dribs and drabs.  My face to face conversations have been quite successful.  Once people understand what is happening, they are generally quite alarmed and sympathetic.  And in the end, this is not harder than getting up in front a bunch of cocky assholes you work with to explain in 30 minutes what ground breaking work you have been doing for the last six months.

As it happens, there is a march in NY City this afternoon.  Don’t expect anyone else to do it for you.  I’ve done several marches already and it’s fun.  But to make our point, we need as many people in labcoats to go as possible.  If you can’t make this one, plan to attend another one.  We are the 99% too, fergawdsakes.  We don’t make anywhere near the salaries of the 1%.  We don’t live off our investments and once they kick us out of the system, it’s bloody hard to get back in.  So, get out there and show them where those chickens come from.


On a related note, I followed a link from Derek Lowe’s blog In the Pipeline (make a note of it, left blogosphere) about the Nance Trophy nominations for the worst Biotech CEO of 2011.  There are several worthy nominees but my favorite has to be this guy:

Gregory Divis Jr., K-V Pharmaceutical

Divis wrote the CEO manual this year on how to screw up a new drug launch in every conceivable way. His was a performance of idiocy on a grand scale that may never be matched. Even Dendreon’s Gold looks like a drug-marketing superstar next to Divis.

The drug launch Divis botched was Makena, an injectable form of the hormone progesterone used to reduce the risk of premature birth. For years, doctors have been able to prescribe the same drug made by compounding pharmacies, costing just $10 to $20 per injection. K-V priced Makena at $1,500 per injection.

K-V also claimed market exclusivity for Makena because the drug was granted orphan status by FDA, so the company’s lawyers threatened to sue any compounding pharmacy that dared continue to manufacture the cheaper version.

Divis’ aggressive tactics backfired big time. Doctors got mad, worried that their patients would no longer be able to afford the medicine they needed. The March of Dimes accused K-V of profiteering at the expense of at-risk pregnant women. The FDA questioned the company’s tactics. Politicians blasted K-V and called for investigations into the company’s marketing practices.

Needless to say, the Makena launched bombed. K-V was forced to backtrack and cut the drug’s price, but even that conciliatory gesture was met with skepticism and scorn.

Friends, that is unmitigated shamelessness in all of its glory.  It’s hard to top it.  Which bright, young Wharton graduate thought of acquiring a generic drug at $10 per dose and remarketing it for $1500 per dose?  Those are the kind of people who attend Obama fundraisers because that kind of pricing strategy takes a certain kind of audacity. That takes a coldblooded cost-benefit analysis of how much people would be willing to pay to keep their babies out of the neonatal ICU.
Karma is a bitch.  It turns out that women and their doctors would find perhaps less effective and riskier alternatives than pay $1500 a pop for a $10 a dose drug.  But it’s not just the patients and their children who will suffer.  Nooooo, now whatever research staff K-V actually has, will feel the effects of the catastrophic failure of the bizness wunderkind.  This is the pattern in Big Pharma.  Someone makes a bad acquisition, puts all of their money on a drug that doesn’t get approval while ignoring every other project, or invests in some “get rich quick” promising but undeveloped technology in Massachusetts hoping for money for nothing and their chicks for free.  And when it all falls apart, the labrats get the ax in order to maintain “shareholder value”.  Typical.  Nevertheless, it’s hard to get more cynical and greedy than K-V.  My vote goes to Gregory Divis Jr.


Lipitor went off patent yesterday.  Good luck to all of the labrats working at Pfizer.  I mean, all of the ones that are left.  That weren’t laid off when Wyeth was bought by Pfizer.  Which were every single one of my friends and former colleagues.  {{sigh}}

Anyway, good luck to you all.  I see that the share price gapped up this morning.  But as you know, they’ll use any excuse when the time comes.  Hang in there.

28 Responses

  1. You are spot on here, in the assessment of where our priorities are and how we whine about there not being enough science majors yet, the ones that have the degrees are not treated as the valuable professionals that they are.

    My brother has a degree in genetics (was one of those 500 high school kids, that tests high on national level) and worked like you in pharma and like you was not appreciated nor compensated. When there was a lab accident, he found that the son of the facilities manager who had a high school diploma had been put into his lab (same pay) and he had to ask him (he pointed to them) what he mixed before proceeding with the emergency protocols. He then moved to high tech, and is now working in real estate.

    Yup, we treat scientist like crap, complain that there aren’t enough talented students here, but the reality is different. Thanks for setting the record straight as I often get annoyed at the suggestion that our American students aren’t smart, when the reality is that the ones who pay the price (tuition and years of training, not to mentions ability/intelligence) aren’t compensated well and thus in the long run this costs us dearly in deaths and health care costs.

    (P.S. hope my comment makes it, don’t know if the ban effects ‘twitter ID too)

  2. thanks for the great post. 🙂

  3. Those are the kind of people who attend Obama fundraisers because that kind of pricing strategy takes a certain kind of audacity. That takes a coldblooded cost-benefit analysis of how much people would be willing to pay to keep their babies out of the neonatal ICU

    There’s the money quote. Post that along side articles about Obama’s high dollar per ticket fund raisers. Let Joe and Jane Sixpack know that he is not on our side.

    If you want to return sanity to the market place and America avoid becoming an also-ran in scientific research, don’t look to the Obama-crats.

  4. Off Topic, my sister Retta is at Zuccotti Park. She says that Jackson Browne is there … I guess he’s doing a concert?

    • Fuck, this would be the day of my monthly lunch with former colleagues and a networking happy hour in Princeton.
      How much you wanna bet he does The Pretender?

    • Third Eye Blind is there as well. Love how the Daily News calls them a “past their prime rock band” and an “aging singer-songwriter”. Asshats!

      • I’m old enough to remember when the Daily News was the working (wo)man’s paper.
        It was famous for the “Ford to NYC: Drop Dead” headline in the 1970’s.
        They were promoting Carter, obviously.

  5. OT for ralphb,

    Tried to reply to you on “Exasperation” but comments are closed there.
    I’m going through links to Roberts, but I haven’t found anything on Welsh’s point that the rich want to impose austerity FOR ITS OWN SAKE (apart from just getting their loan money repaid). IE, they are “demanding austerity, which will cause semi-permanent depression in those countries which accept it. That allows them to buy up what they want, keeps their labor costs down”

    This makes a nasty kind of sense, even on a lower level. In the Depression, the rich built mansions with cheap materials, cheap construction labor, cheap servants….

    • I am beginning to believe the 0.1% want a real depression. Either because their trading positions are set up for it, and growth would cost them, or they want to buy up everything for pennies on the dollar.

      If that weren’t the case, we know how to get the economy going again through larger stimulus but no one in power will even suggest it. We could take a good hard look at Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland if we needed a model.

        • I’d rather use Iceland. It looks like Argentina is hiding an inflation problem, but growth is keeping pace so hopefully it’ll be OK.

      • I am beginning to believe the 0.1% want a real depression. Either because their trading positions are set up for it, and growth would cost them, or they want to buy up everything for pennies on the dollar.

        Those are not mutually exclusive propositions. I suspect they’re both true. If only some quant somewhere would create an “exotic investment vehicle” that would allow me to profit from that suspicion. 😉

      • I too have offered that theory here and there. Their goal should be called “yeltsinization” and they hope to buy up distressed people and assets a pennies on the benjamin. Obama is their frontman and the Democratic Party is their roach-motel decoy party designed to trap millions of people into wasting time and energy spinning millions of hamster wheels inside the Democratic Party roach motel. That way those millions of people will be kept too busy and distracted to fight or even analyze the Two Party Conspiracy against America.

  6. This scares me, RD. http://uppitywoman08.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/chinese-vaccines-coming-soon-to-a-clinic-near-you/
    It really does. Omg. All I can say. Would prefer professional American scientists like yourself working out American healthcare.

    Anyway, thinking of all of you and sending best thoughts for the holidays this year.

    • I wouldn’t worry about FDA approved vaccines. If they pass that bar, they are probably very safe.
      Er, assuming the FDA is adequately funded and functioning properly. Don’t be scared of vaccines.

      • I got my flu vaccine a couple days ago and I don’t believe myself to be dead yet, so far as I can tell.

  7. Some plain truth about “job creators” from a very rich venture capitalist, one of the 0.1%.

    Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators: Nick Hanauer

    When businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it is like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.

    It is unquestionably true that without entrepreneurs and investors, you can’t have a dynamic and growing capitalist economy. But it’s equally true that without consumers, you can’t have entrepreneurs and investors. And the more we have happy customers with lots of disposable income, the better our businesses will do.

    That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

    We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Middle-class consumers do, and when they thrive, U.S. businesses grow and profit. That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.

    So let’s give a break to the true job creators. Let’s tax the rich like we once did and use that money to spur growth by putting purchasing power back in the hands of the middle class. And let’s remember that capitalists without customers are out of business.

    • I love this piece – I ran across it about an hour ago. That first sentence really says it all.

    • I have been saying this for years. I wonder if we could get all our Obama loving friends and relatives to tell their idol and make him hear it.

  8. RD,

    I realize that your primary focus is on R&D in the pharmaceutical industry, but you guys aren’t the only STEM folks who are hurting. The malaise is generalized and widespread, and the same “eat your seed corn” mentality (spread by the same dimwitted MBAs) is everywhere. Not a criticism, just an amplification.

    • Yep, I realize chemistry is not the only STEM area that is suffering. And I do recognize that everyone is hurting to some extent.
      But what pisses me off is that there is a wide spread false perception out there that chemists and other biotech professionals are somehow riding out this depression untouched. And the truth is so different from this perception that we might as well be living in a parallel universe. It’s worse than that because by the time the rest of the country catches up with this problem, it will be too late to save the infrastructure and NO one in America will touch these majors with a 10 foot pole. What person with any tangential grasp on reality is going to want to go into chemistry when there is some shitty job paying horrible wages and no benefits waiting for them after four years of grinding lab work? That’s just for an undergrad, which, as I understand it now is equivalent to a high school graduate. Which is just fucking nutz for a STEM major. It also doesn’t take into account all of the experienced people. I had lunch with some former colleagues yesterday and it really started to hit me how much accumulated knowledge we are throwing away. Those that were not forced into an early and inadequate retirement are teaching chemistry as adjunct professors at local colleges and what they are doing is at a level so much lower than what they did previously that it seems like another world. Their talents are being wasted and they are severely underpaid.
      Our priorities as a nation are so screwed up it’s not even funny. When we can treat people who cured major depression and cardiovascular disease and cancer with such neglect while the finance industry arrogant young jerks has money thrown at them? I have no words to describe how loathesome it is. It’s contemptuous of people who actually produce in this country. I want to get rid of every politician of either party that allowed this to happen.

      • Get rid of the print and broadcast media that got those politicians into office instead. Once their influence is out of the picture the American voter can make wise choices on who to represent their interests in Washington.

        When Chris Matthews got all tingly over Obama, who do you think it benefited in the end?

        You, or Wall Street?

        • Or at the very least find and support those embryonic media-buds and seedlings which do a proper information job. And help them grow bigger so they can support (with our customer dollars) a rising number of legitimate journalists and reporters.

  9. It sounds like you-all are getting ready to create a visible Lab Labor Left. I am not a graphic designer, but I wonder if there could be a way to cross a traditional microscope and a test tube the way that the hammer and sickle were crossed on the traditional Communist logo, and make an eye-grabbing graphic logo out of it. The audacity of graphic design, if it could be done.

    • Lol! There is probably a wide variety of apparatus that would make a suitable icon. I’ll have to think about which ones would be most effective.

  10. OTB . . . here is a packet of interesting OWS related articles from an interesting website called Energy Bulletin.

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