Minimizing "Member Conflict" Special Emphasis Panels (Revised)

Apr 18 2008 Published by under Careerism, Grantsmanship, NIH, Peer Review

[The motivating context for this has been removed because subsequent developments made it obvious that it was such a unique event that my post would violate the confidentiality of all concerned. In both minor and major ways. -DM]
I keep meaning to talk about "member conflict" SEP review and there is no time like the present.


The general conflict of interest guideline are reviewed on this CSR document (see p.8). If you look at this CSR list of "other" study section rosters you will see that many of them contain "member conflict" in the title. I should note in this list that most of these are transient, convened-at-need study sections and the titles and alphanumeric designations are nearly meaningless, just concentrate on the SRO who tends to handle a certain set of SEPs over time.
"Member conflict" occurs when a grant contains a PI or other significant contributor who is a standing member of the regular study section to which that grant would otherwise be assigned. In the normal conflict situation, the reviewer in conflict simply leaves the room for the discussion of the application for which he or she is in conflict. However, when the member herself is on the application, it is assumed that due to the collegial working environment of the study section, her grant cannot be fairly reviewed. This makes a certain sense, particularly if you harken back to our bunny hopper discussion.
[sections deleted, see above DM]

7 responses so far

  • I don't understand the 'expense' issue. Special review panels usually do a dozen or two applications at once (for some reason, I get asked to do them quite often). Adding one or even three applications to the load doesn't necessarily add any expense.
    I know special study sections aren't terribly popular with applicants, though. The big problem is that they usually cover a much wider range of applications than normal study sections, and so most of the panels are pretty non-expert.

  • PhysioProf says:

    Many NIH conflict SEPs review only a handful of applications, or even just one. Harbison is confusing Program Announcement and subject-matter-based SEPs with conflict SEPs, which are this issue we are discussing.

  • No, I'm not confusing them. I'm talking about conflict panels. The ones I've been on have handled far more than three applications, and covered in a single panel applications ranging from synthetic organic chemistry to structural biophysics.

  • [This comment deleted for confidentiality issues that are the fault of the original post, see comments about revisions above- DM]

  • I concur on two counts:
    [This comment edited for confidentiality issues that are the fault of the original post, see comments about revisions above- DM]
    2) in all of my umpteen study section meetings, we are asked to recuse ourselves regardless of whether the conflict is with a PI, co-PI, collaborator, or consultant. In fact, any time that I have the potential for overlap of interaction with anyone on the application during the last 5 years, I make a point of excluding myself to prevent even the perception of conflict.
    The idea that this scenario is based in fact turns my stomach. A conflict is a conflict - and conflicts are not to be gamed.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Agreed that this sounds just awful. My 2 cents: Can't any "expense" hurdle be overcome by doing electronic review? I have a feeling (or maybe am just hoping) that there's something more to this story that we're missing.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    [This comment deleted for confidentiality issues that are the fault of the original post, see comments about revisions above- DM]

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