In NIH grant review the standing study section approach to peer review sacrifices specific expertise for the sake of consistency of review.
When each person has 10 R01s to review, the odds are that he or she is not the most specifically qualified person for all 10 are high.
The process often brings in additional panel members to help cover scientific domains on a per-meeting basis but this is only partially effective.
The Special Emphasis Panel can improve on this but mostly it does so because the scope of the applications under review is narrower. Typically the members of an SEP still have to stretch a bit to review some of the assignments.
Specific expertise sounds good but can come at the cost of consistency. Score calibration is a big deal. You should have seen the look of horror on my face at dinner following my first study section when some guy said "I thought I was giving it a really good a
score...you guys are telling me that wasn't fundable?"
Imagine a study section with a normal sized load of apps in which each reviewer completes only one or two reviews. The expertise would be highly customized on each proposal but there might be less consistency and calibration across applications.
What say you, Dear Reader? How would you prefer to have your grants reviewed?