A counter to all the whinging about New Investigator affirmative action at the NIH

Finally.
An opinion bit written by a senior investigator who actually seems to have a brain in his head and is not blinded by selfishness.

The argument that grants should be funded only on the basis of priority scores is fallacious. There is only a rough correlation between the quality of the science in an application and the priority score. As anyone who has ever served on a study section will attest, a host of different--and sometimes scientifically irrelevant--criteria can creep into play when arriving at a priority score, such as whether there are lots of typos in a grant (even the most accomplished scientists are not always great spellers). This is not because reviewers are vindictive or evil. Just that they are emotional and human. Until human judgment is perfected, granting agencies will always need to consider more than the priority score in making funding decisions.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Go Play.
[h/t: @BoraZ]

3 responses so far

  • This is not because reviewers are vindictive or evil. Just that they are emotional and human.

    Haha - really? I guess you learn something new every day!
    Seriously though, it is nice to see someone (else) finally acknowledge the subjectivity associated with grant reviews. I hope this person reviews my next grant. I'm a terrific speller, by the way.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Wiley ended his comments with:

    NIH has been forced to consider career issues in their funding decisions because many universities and research institutes have abandoned their responsibilities. Faulting NIH for trying to support careers and maintain scientific diversity seems misplaced to me. We should all be trying to work together to maintain the fragile research community, not just our own funding levels.

    True. So does this mean that the NIH should shoulder the burden itself? This would mean trying to create base level sustenance grants for Investigator salaries. Longer term or at least with longer term expectations of success. The K mechanism perhaps? Let's say someone gets their second R01 to show their seriousness and competitiveness. Then the idea would be to drop a *10yr* K for salary support on the person. You could even subtract the effort from the R01s if you wanted.
    The alternative would be for the NIH to put the screws to Universities for real. Demand a certain proportion of their investigators be on hard money and make them distribute that across ranks of career progression. Demand they have a certain percentage of investigators (hard or soft) at various career stages. Put their *entire* NIH portfolio on the table and they'd find a way, you bet.

  • anonymous says:

    @DM,
    "The alternative would be for the NIH to put the screws to Universities for real....."
    That would be only fair and true attempt to innovate. It's high time for NIH to move decisively on that direction.

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