A query at PhysioProf's blog from cackleofrad asks:
What has been the % chance of funding over the course of your career? Does your strategy of 2 RO1′s, on average, per year mean that you spend a great deal of time tweaking each one? I ask since my contemporaries are sending in ~4-8 RO1′s per year with the chance of funding ~10% or less.
As a reminder, the payline is not exactly equal to the "chance of funding". Reason being, in simple terms, that the paylines (where published for various ICs) are conservative. They tend to be the level at which the IC has overwhelming confidence they are ok if they fund all the grants that are reviewed as being at that percentile or better. They end up funding more grants than fall within the payline simply because of this conservativeness. If you want to know why they would be conservative, well it is one heck of a lot easier to deal with PIs who get funded absent an expectation of funding than to deal with PIs who do not get funded who have a good expectation that they would.
There is also the consideration that Program staff are intentionally conservative with the payline to facilitate funding proposals out of order- aka "exceptions" or "pickups". As demonstrated by the NIGMS funding data, the grant funded above an apparent (or published) hard payline are not selected randomly, the correlation with overall impact score is still pretty good. Nevertheless, you can see that in the margin between "everything gets funded" and "essentially nothing gets funded" there are quite a number of awards being made. So this is where the success rate gets much higher than the payline.
So in terms of your realistic chance of funding, the success rate is a better answer. The NIH almost always trumpets the success rate which is (almost) the number of grants funded in a given Fiscal Year divided by applications received for that Fiscal Year of funding. (I say "almost" because there is a bit of mumbo with applications that are revised within the fiscal year.) It is good enough for gov'mint work, as they say, when it comes to addressing cackleofrad's query.
Getting back to cackleofrad's question in the context of PhysioProf's observations, I note that the success rate for those without prior NIH awards during the real salad days of the doubling (~98-03) did not benefit as much as did the success rate of the experienced investigators. About 21-22% versus 25-26%. Four percentage points might not seem like much, but it is a 15% hit on the success rate.
Now go back to the origin of the data series here, 1995, when the doubling was just having an effect. New investigators enjoyed only a 19% success rate. In the most recent years, this number is anywhere from 17-19%. Yes, thanks to a number of efforts that have raised the newbs onto the trendline enjoyed by experienced investigators. Which is a good thing, true. But it sure looks like the success rates for new investigators right now compare favorably with the situation pre-doubling.
All I'm trying to point out with this is that if you want to know "how hard Prof X had it" when she started her career compared to how hard the new investigators have it today, you need to consider the newb success rates then and now, not just the overall NIH omnibus success rates.