Tuesday, July 24, 2012

You Didn't Build That Massacre...Someone Else Did It For You

Everyone has been wondering where the money came from to buy all those guns and ammo.  It turns out that Obama's remarks about small businesses apply elsewhere.  From July 24, 2012 CBS DC:

WNEW News reports that Holmes was awarded a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It gave the graduate student a $26,000 stipend and paid his tuition for the highly competitive neuroscience program at the University of Colorado in Denver. Holmes was one of six neuroscience students at the school to get the grant money.
A depressing part of being adjunct faculty is that you start to find out that there are students who get financial aid to go to college...but it goes to things like big screen TVs and other stuff far removed from studying.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers.  If you haven't already purchased a copy of My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill: you should.  If you want to understand why these random mass murders went from shocking to routine, this book explains why (along with a number of other social pathologies of modern America).

UPDATE 2: Some readers are insisting that such stipends don't go to the student.  That's not how stipends work in history departments.  These are payments to a grad student, usually because he is teaching undergrads.  Perahps CBS is wrong about this, and the money does not go to the student.  But unless he was working and in a very demanding program at the same time, it sounds like the money went to him.


  1. Long, long ago I got a scholarship and a bursary to help fund my undergraduate years. You will be pleased to know that I didn't waste it on a TV. No, I bought a motorbike. To help me get from the chem lab to the physics lab, of course. Of course.

  2. FWIW, it's extremely unlikely that the shooter was personally awarded the grant from NIH. As a first year graduate student, it's almost certainly the case that the grant was an *institutional* training grant, i.e. it was awarded to the University of Colorado to cover the costs of training grad students *in general*, and the shooter just happened to be paid via the grant.

    In other words, by saying that the shooter was "awarded a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health," the original article is both inaccurate and misleading.

    When I was a first year science grad student, I was "awarded" the same type of grant, but it was through no special action or merit of my own. Academic departments that perform scientific research generally commit to funding all of their grad students at the same level, and they mix and match funding sources to cover the bills across the whole department. Accordingly, in later years of my grad school career, my stipend and expenses were covered by multiple, often simultaneous, "awards" and scholarships with fancy names, even though I never applied for any of them. Once a year, I'd get a letter from the department administrator saying that I was funded through various grants and agencies that I had never heard of, and that in some cases, I should write a thank you letter or two.

  3. It may have been a training grant. It may have been a pre-doctoral award (F31;http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-11-111.html), which is awarded to the individual. Can't tell from the news story.

  4. Jesus, Clayton, give it some thought. I went to grad school on NSF and NIH grants. They don't give you a big check, they send the money to your institution, which pays it out to you monthly. What you've discovered is that the guy was getting a stipend of something between $1000 and $2000 a month that stopped when he withdrew from school.

  5. He certainly didn't get the money in one lump sump, if that's what you're implying. It's probably an NIH fellowship, which turns into a monthly stipend check, plus of course he doesn't have to pay his tuition or benefits. So basically it's like having a low salary with full benefits paid by someone else. He would only have money to spend on guns and so forth if he scrimped a little bit or the cost of living in Aurora is low, or perhaps his family helped him out, any of which are possible.

    If he really failed his prelim, it's possible the NIH would've taken his fellowship away, by the way. It's conceivable he was facing being booted from the program and the loss of his fellowship. Given that it seems academics was all that existed for this short/average penis length dude, maybe that's a factor in his rage.

    Of course, the mystery is not why he had the impulse to go shoot 70 people. The mystery is why the normal conscience and/or fear of consequences that would rein in such impulses in the normal person were missing or weak in him. It doesn't seem unlikely they were weak from the get-go, that is, he was simply born defective.

  6. I wasn't suggesting a lump sum.

    There's no mystery that he might have been angry. But I rather doubt anyone in the theater was the cause of dropping out of the program.

  7. @2:40 - F31 pre-doctoral awards *are* training grants (they're administered under the same NIH program, i.e. the NRSA program), only they are aimed at individuals. While I suppose it is technically possible for a first year student to receive an F31 grant, it is exceedingly rare. Aside from students who might enter grad school with highly unusual amounts of prior research experience, F31 awards almost always go to students who have completed at least one year of grad school.

    @3:20 - Whether or not he was paid on a monthly basis or on a lump sum basis depends on the matriculating institution. For example, when I received an NIH fellowship as a grad student, I was paid via a lump sum (appx $10k at the time) at the beginning of each semester.

  8. I was lucky. In grad school, my roomie and I both had university fellowships, that covered tuition, room, and board. Barely. My roomie also had an extra federal grant that paid for the color tv, cable, and lots of beer.

  9. "He certainly didn't get the money in one lump sum..."

    C'mon, guys. This is the same administration that bought guns for Mexican cartels, just to make a point about gun violence. If there was any way to channel money to a lunatic so he could shoot up a crowded theater, don't you think they would have done it?

  10. The training grant mechanism from NIH (based on the published reports) would have been an F31 grant, known as a "Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award". It gets confusing: the F31 is for pre-doctoral students, a similar F32 is for post-doctoral students (and carries the same award name), and a T32 is also similar and can be given to pre- OR post-doctoral fellows.

    F awards are given to individuals (technically, given to the university on behalf of the individual). The individual wrote (with his/her mentor) an individual application that was sent to the appropriate special emphasis panel ('study section') at the proper institute at NIH. It was scored, and those with the highest scores in each cycle are funded. Usually 20 to 30% of applications in each cycle are funded at that level.

    T32 awards are given to universities and represent a pot of money for the training program as a whole. The program director at the university (the principal investigator who applied for the T32 and was funded) then picks trainees from the university who then receive salary support.

    An F award is considered more prestigious since you had to apply for it in your own name.

    Full disclosure: I'm an NIH funded investigator, associate program director for a T32, and chair an NIH special emphasis panel for a 'K' level of training awards, so (unfortunately) I eat, sleep and drink this stuff :-)

  11. We obviously need much stricter federal grant control to keep this from ever happening again.

  12. Hi Clayton - I just noticed your update, i.e. "Some readers are insisting that such stipends don't go to the student."

    If that was directed at my remarks, that wasn't what I was intending to convey at all, and I apologize for not being more explicit. My point wasn't about the money of the award. It was about the honor of the award. The money definitely ends up with the students (though it usually passes through the university first), but, for a first year student, the basis of an NIH award is institutional, not individual.

    It is extremely unlikely that that the shooter applied for the NIH funding or had any role in obtaining it. The selection of specific students within a department to be funded by such grants is made by the department, not by the NIH, and it is largely arbitrary, which is not quite as prestigious as the original article suggests.

    The original news report makes it sound like the shooter received the grant because of some unusual aptitude or accomplishment. The "evil genius" narrative is a very attractive one, but it is not necessarily accurate. Sure, the shooter is an intelligent guy, but there is no particular reason to assume he was smarter or more capable than any student who could get into the graduate program or that he received the award for any specific achievement.

    As a past recipient of such a grant, and as someone with a little bit of knowledge of student funding processes in science departments, the reality of these grants is pretty close to this: "Hey, our departmental training grant will cover the costs of three students. How many of our students are US citizens? Four? Okay, they're pretty solid, but I wouldn't be surprised if Bill eventually decides to leave academia for industry. We'll cobble together a stipend for Bill from the J. Harry Farnsworth Alumni Fund and that grant that we got from the American Foundation for Wildly Inflated and Easily Forgotten Research Claims. We'll cover the other three through the NIH grant."

    ...and again, to the other commenters, some NIH grants and fellowships are, indeed, paid to students in lump sums, or at least they were as of the late nineties, when I last was involved directly in the process.

  13. I'm in the process of reading your book, My Brother Ron.

    My daughter has such a stipend although it is even larger than Holmes'. she is not too happy with her PhD program but is reluctant to go out into the job market if she quit.

    She would do fine as she speaks four languages, including Arabic, but the incentive effect is interesting.

  14. I received a stipend in grad school as well as my wife. They came to us just like a paycheck. Our tuition assistance went to the School. By definition stipends go to you.

    A fixed regular sum paid as a salary or allowance

  15. @anonymous - Again, unless I missed something, no one said that the student did not receive the money. It's clear that the student received around $26k, a tuition waiver, and health benefits, which is exactly what every other neuroscience grad student at U.C. receives, whether they are funded by NIH or not.

    The only question that has been raised is whether or not an NIH grant was awarded to the individual because of the particular individual's specific accomplishments, or whether it was awarded to the program as a whole, with the proceeds being distributed to multiple individuals, including the shooter, by the school.

    The shooter was a first year student, and first year students with NIH funding almost never receive individual, "F31" grants, but rather benefit from institutional "T32" grants. The simple reason is that first year students generally don't have the kind of research experience that merits an individual award, even if they did research as undergraduates.

    Being funded via a T32 training grant reflects the prestige of the institution, while being funded on an F31 training grant confers prestige on the student. The distinction between the two types of grants is lost on most reporters and laypeople, and that has implications for how the story is used and abused for reasons of sensationalism or politics.

    Some people are focusing on the fact that grad students in the sciences receive stipends and tuition waivers (surprising to many, of course, who did not realize that most science grad students in major research universities are actually *paid* to get a degree, and, since money is fungible, that the government makes it possible to do so on such a large, national scale). The questions of how much financial support science grad students should receive, how many should receive it, and what the government's role in that process should be are all legitimate public policy issues, but they have little to do with murder. It's probably safe to assume that anyone capable of getting into a PhD program is resourceful enough to plan a mass shooting, if so inclined.

    Other people (okay, maybe just me) are focusing on attempts by the media to overplay the "evil genius" meme by making the shooter's specific funding seem to be more of a big deal than it really is. Murder aside, the shooter appears to be just another science grad student, getting exactly what all the other grad students in a mid-tier regional research university were receiving.

  16. This is the dumbest thing I have read in a while.

    Shame on you for implying that graduate students in the US get too much support. Do you have any sense what it is like to be a PhD student? Do you have any sense what they are given as stipends in other nations. We need more PhD students not fewer.

    And more shame for even suggesting the government is responsible for the massacre.

    I cam to you site because I had read of your criticism of the historical accuracy of other work. I thought I would find man with integrity. I will look elsewhere.

    Shame on you young man.

  17. It looks like my initial post was correct: the Los Angeles Times reports that the C.U. officials have said that the shooter was funded via an institutional training grant that predates the shooter's admission to the school, not an individual training grant. Link: http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-the-nih-did-not-give-money-directly-20120724,0,4358097.story

  18. Anonymous: I think you read too much into this. I was not saying that grad students receive too much support. There had been questions in some circles about how he could have afforded the pretty big chunk of money that he spent on guns and ammo. This answers the question, and I was also making fun of the absurdity of Professor Obama's nonsensical statement about business owners not being responsible for making their businesses successes.

  19. @Anonymous 0653: For what it's worth, I was a graduate student in a neuroscience-related field at one of America's most prestigious universities for approximately seven years, so I know a little bit about what it's like to be a PhD student. What's more, this school is in one of America's most expensive cities. Aside from the pressures within the lab (which were intense), my stipend, coupled with a tuition waiver, university-subsidized housing, and moderate spending discipline, allowed me to have a very nice, fun lifestyle for a person in their twenties, although it certainly wasn't a lavish lifestyle.

    As for needing more PhD students, not fewer: I'm not so sure. There've been several articles recently about the difficulty that science PhDs are having in finding jobs in their fields of study. Sure, science PhDs are doing a lot better economically than PhDs in sociology or interpretive dance, but they are feeling the pain. These difficulties began long before the 2008 market collapse. For example, more than half of the students from my graduate school department are now working outside of their chosen fields, with many having left science and technology entirely. Keep in mind that these students got their degrees from one of America's most prestigious programs in a field that is constantly described as one of the hottest areas of science. The absolute cream of the American education system. One of these former colleagues is now in their forties and working in retail in a shopping mall.

    I realize that this may cause enormous cognitive dissonance for many people, but: We have been subsidizing the creation of science PhDs for at least a generation, and it has created more PhDs than the market is able to employ in their fields of study.

    If you have the integrity that you accuse Clayton of lacking, you should reconsider your remarks, examine the data, and deal with the consequences.

  20. He may have credit card balances yet to be paid. I wouldn't think he could get any without a steady income, but you never know. For example, a parent co-signing for a card. That may have been how he financed this massacre.