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CROs, Temp Work and the future

These two reports go together. The first is from WRAL in North Carolina reporting on the research cuts at Glaxo Smith Kline in RTP, North Carolina. Says a company spokesperson:

“The aim of this program is to improve performance by taking unnecessary complexity out of our operations and establish a smaller, more focused, organization, operating at lower costs, that supports our future portfolio,” GSK spokeswoman Mary Rhyne said. “Each business unit is currently deciding how to respond to this challenge. When we do have proposals, we will first share those with our employees.”

Followed by:

Jobs affected are in the following categories:

  • Chemist
  • Engineer
  • Biologist
  • Clinical development scientist
  • Statistician
  • Other managerial, technical and support roles

Cuts “are not being made across the board but are strategic,” Rhyne added.

However, hundreds of affected workers could quickly find jobs at life science research firm Parexel, which has an office in Durham. GSK signed a letter of intent which would allow up to 450 workers work in a GSK-focused business unit at Parexel.

The second was found at Naked Capitalism. It’s a report on the nature of temp work and how it erodes the skills of the workers who have been forced into temporary contract work. The bottom line is that it is bad for your cognitive health. Temp workers do not develop the necessary skills to become experts in their field because they never last long enough to gain the experience and form the neural memories that allow them to extrapolate from their assigned roles.

Now, I’m sure that the people at Glaxo who made the decision to streamline and de-complexify their research units to save money have never actually done drug discovery work because the whole enterprise is very complex. Sometimes, a discovery effort gets more complex as you go along. The people who remain after their colleagues have been shunted off to a CRO with a poorer benefits plan and temp contracts, will have to spend more of their time negotiating with competitive outside vendors to get the resources they need to do the research work. That means more time finding the contractors, writing up secrecy agreements, asking for money from the MBAs to hire the contractors and preparing the projects to be offloaded to them. Before the layoffs, they might have walked down the hall to submit their sample to the queue or talked to a chemist about the next steps in hitting a specific cluster of amino acids in the binding site. Now, they’re going to have to arrange all of that stuff offsite. Instead of doing science, they’ll be doing paperwork.

Note that this does not in any significant way reduce complexity. The complexity is inherent in the endeavor. We’re not talking about creating a new Facebook or Amazon. We’re talking about messing with cells and feedback and cross talk and reactions that yield tiny amounts of product and proteins that don’t fold right or won’t crystallize. Drug discovery is very, very difficult. It can still seem like an art than a science because there are still a lot of unknown unknowns. It’s not ever going to be like writing code.

Meanwhile, the poor researchers shuffled off to the CRO are now faced with a problem that may be as important as how long they’re going to get paid.  That is, have their years of education and experience resulted in nothing more than a dead end job where they will be treated as “just in time” workers who manufacture pieces parts of a project without any reference to those projects? There may be new restrictions on access to information. They may not be invited to team meetings. Their input will no longer be required. They will have the same status as factory workers, churning out compounds or proteins or analysis as directed from some external person who used to be their colleague. Thinking outside the box will no longer be required. All connections between the product and the project will be severed.

How long will it take before we have reduced their cognitive skills to irrelevancy?

By the way, ebola, drug resistant bacteria and schizophrenia are still out there.

One other post also comes from Naked Capitalism. It’s a mini-rant from Richard Wolff about how immoral it is for companies to offshore work and the havoc it has caused in American cities because wages have stagnated or fallen. He says there ought to be a law that prohibits companies from doing that, just like we have labor laws to prevent 4 and 5 year olds from working in factories.

You know, I get his point and understand that Germany and even France has stood up for its work force during this horrible recession (that’s looking more and more like a depression from where I sit). I find it remarkable that there was no one in our government who stood up for us when the pharmaceutical companies started to slash through the R&D units like a chainsaw homocidal maniac. But I don’t think Wolff’s suggestions are going to work. I think the corporate overlords would simply laugh at them.

What I think would work extremely well to curb the excesses of the finance and corporate unholy alliance is to eliminate the 401K system for the vast majority of workers. Because right now, the retirement savings of millions of working Americans is flowing into the system that has to turn around and gamble that money to return some of those earnings to the donors. There’s a lot to be skimmed and a lot more incentive to take risks both for the personal gain of the bonus class and in order to show some kind of return on investment. That in turn leads to excessive profit seeking, risk taking and layoffs.

So, the best thing that could happen to this country is a return to a defined pension plan and I will vote for the presidential candidate who proposes one along with the gradual elimination of the 401K.

 

The Origins of Cruelty- another post about narcissism

The world is full of narcissists.  For a period of time during the last century, malignant narcissism appeared to be kept in check.  Our collective consciousness was raised by the after effects of the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and the Space Age.  Brutality and cruelty happened in other countries, like Vietnam, Bangladesh and Malawi.  South and central America went down the wrong path for several decades and some countries there are still struggling with dictators, corruption and violence.  But for the most part, the world grew away from barbarism.  We held each other accountable.

It started to turn around in the late 70s again, just about the time of the oil embargoes and Ronald Reagan and the “moral” majority.  And now, 80 years after the Great Depression, we’ve reversed much of what was accomplished during the New Deal.  Except for Social Security, the rest of the progressive governmental structures that were created then are hollow shells.  Even the post office is struggling to maintain it’s position as a public service and it is much older than any Depression era program.

We know what happened, we feel its effects, as anyone trying to get a job, working a job and supporting a family knows.  But we don’t know the origins of how it happened.  That is, we don’t know what it is about our human nature that caused our current powerlessness and inequality.

I was watching a video this morning about the dark triad of narcissism, antisocial behavior and borderline personality disorder because I’m getting more and more interested in what the bad guys have been up to.  In that video was another clip from the movie The Spanish Prisoner featuring Steve Martin.  In the clip, a friend of his is telling him how he invented something for a company and has an informal arrangement for compensation and credit.  Martin tells him that the informal arrangement is worthless and that he should have gotten the details down on paper and verified with a lawyer.  The friend is too trusting and then Martin tells him this:

 

We’ve probably had this happen to us at some point in our lives.  For example, it explains why employment has been so stressful lately for many of us, especially temp workers.  A temp worker has no legal rights and the employer has no legal obligations.  In such a situation, it’s easy to take advantage of the temp and treat them cruelly.  In fact, the employer is prompted to be more cruel because the fact that he has no legal obligation makes taking advantage of the worker the smart thing to do.  You’d be a fool to not use your resources to get ahead of your competitors.  But to do so will generate a certain amount of guilt in the employer.  Morally, it’s wrong to exploit a person.  The resolution of this problem is to dehumanize the worker.  As long as the worker is stupid, uneducated, ugly, poor, unpopular or possessing in some other human defect, it is ok to be inconsiderate of them and to take advantage of them.  It should come as no surprise that the number of temp positions has increased steadily in recent years or that many of those in temp positions or insecure part-time positions have to face uncertain hours, sleeplessness, poor pay and undignified behavior from the companies they work for.  This trend will continue until there is law to curtail it.

Let’s look beyond the workforce.  Let’s look at what happened in Ferguson.  The police force has access to a lot of military style weapons and transportation devices.  That equipment costs money, as do the officers themselves.  It all has to be paid for somehow.  The state of Missouri might not be footing the bill.  Let’s get the money from people who are easier to shake down.  No one cares about African Americans.  It would be stupid of us to not take advantage of this situation.  And they deserve to be treated badly.  They wouldn’t be living in Ferguson if they weren’t so stupid, shiftless, lazy and violent thugs.

How about firemens’ pension funds?  Stock analysts, money managers and bankers are under no obligation to protect their clients’ funds more than lining their own pockets.  It would be stupid for Wall Street firms to not work both sides of a deal.  Those firemen are just a bunch of meat puppets represented by fools.  They deserve to be treated badly for not being smart enough to go to Harvard and Princeton and then go to work on Wall Street.

And let’s think about this in political terms.  The reason why no bankers go to jail or are held accountable is because each grievous infraction goes to a negotiated settlement.  One by one, the legal obligations that the banks and large corporations have towards the rest of us are stripped away.  It is perfectly understandable that these businesses are going to push the envelope and demand all they can get.  But we have seen from past presidencies that it is not the norm for the executive branch to crumble in the face of stiff resistance.  Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt took on forces as just as powerful and determined and did not succumb.  So, we can only imagine what level of contempt there must be in the administration towards average Americans that would allow them to assuage their guilt.

This is what I have been referring to when I said back in 2008 that if the Democrats did not resist the voting irregularities, sexism and demonization of half its party during the campaign, that it would not have standing with the people who forced themselves on us.  It’s also why those of us at The Confluence rejected the demonization and dehumanization of Sarah Palin.  We don’t have to like her politics to see that when the party activists went down that road, they were engaging in a thoughtless barbarism that had the potential to seep into other aspects of their politics and turn them into tools of malignant narcissists.

Anyway, I go on too long again.  I just thought it was an interesting clip that describes clearly why we have laws and regulations and why this country flourished when we had consent of the governed to constrain our baser natures and why we should oppose people who try to get around those laws and legal obligations.

Too many of us have been fooled into thinking we don’t need them.