Nakamura is quoted in a recent bit in Science by Jeffrey Brainard.
I'll get back to this later but for now consider it an open thread on your experiences. (Please leave off the specific naming unless the event got published somewhere.)
I have twice had other PIs tell me they reviewed my grant. I did not take it as any sort of quid pro quo beyond *maybe* a sort of "I wasn't the dick reviewer" sort of thing. In both cases I barely acknowledged and tried to move along. These were both scientists that I like both professionally and personally so I assume I already have some pro-them bias. Obviously the fact these people occurred on the review roster, and that they have certain expertise, made them top suspects in my mind anyway.
“We hope that in the next few months we will have several cases” of violations that can be shared publicly, Nakamura told ScienceInsider. He said these cases are “rare, but it is very important that we make it even more rare.”
Naturally we wish to know how "rare" and what severity of violation he means.
Nakamura said. “There was an attempt to influence the outcome of the review,” he said. The effect on the outcome “was sufficiently ambiguous that we felt it was necessary to redo the reviews.”
Hmmm. "Ambiguous". I mean, if there is ever *any* contact from an applicant PI to a reviewer on the relevant panel it could be viewed as an attempt to influence outcome. Even an invitation to give a seminar or invitation to join a symposium panel proposal could be viewed as currying favor. Since one never knows how an implicit or explicit bias is formed, how would it ever be anything other than ambiguous? But if this is something clearly actionable by the NIH doesn't it imply some harder evidence? A clearer quid pro quo?
Nakamura also described the types of violations of confidentiality NIH has detected. They included “reciprocal favors,” he said, using a term that is generally understood to mean a favor offered by a grant applicant to a reviewer in exchange for a favorable evaluation of their proposal.
I have definitely heard a few third hand reports of this in the past. Backed up by a forwarded email* in at least one case. Wonder if it was one of these type of cases?
Applicants also learned the “initial scores” they received on a proposal, Nakamura said, and the names of the reviewers who had been assigned to their proposal before a review meeting took place.
I can imagine this happening** and it is so obviously wrong, even if it doesn't directly influence the outcome for that given grant. I can, however, see the latter rationale being used as self-excuse. Don't.
Nakamura said. “In the past year there has been an internal decision to pursue more cases and publicize them more.” He would not say what triggered the increased oversight, nor when NIH might release more details.
This is almost, but not quite, an admission that NIH is vaguely aware of a ground current of violations of the confidentiality of review. And that they also are aware that they have not pursued such cases as deeply as they should. So if any of you have ever notified an SRO of a violation and seen no apparent result, perhaps you should be heartened.
oh and one last thing:
In one case, Nakamura said, a scientific review officer—an NIH staff member who helps run a review panel—inappropriately changed the score that peer reviewers had given a proposal.
SROs and Program Officers may also have dirt on their hands. Terrifying prospect for any applicant. And I rush to say that I have always seen both SROs and POs that I have dealt with directly to be upstanding people trying to do their best to ensure fair treatment of grant applications. I may disagree with their approaches and priorities now and again but I've never had reason to suspect real venality. However. Let us not be too naive, eh?
*anyone bold enough to put this in email....well I would suspect this is chronic behavior from this person?
**we all want to bench race the process and demystify it for our friends. I can see many entirely well-intentioned reasons someone would want to tell their friend about the score ranges. Maybe even a sentiment that someone should be warned to request certain reviewers be excluded from reviewing their proposals in the future. But..... no. No, no, no. Do not do this.