I've said it repeatedly on this blog and it is true, true, true people.
In NIH grant review, the worm turns very rapidly.
The pool of individual PIs who are appropriate to apply for, and review, NIH grants in a narrow subfield is a lot smaller than most people seem to think. Or maybe this is just my field.
My guiding belief is that the reviewer of a given grant is going to have one of her own grants reviewed by the PI of the proposal she just reviewed in very short order. Or maybe it takes a half a decade, even more. But it will happen.
And PIs do not take kindly to jackholish reviews of their proposals.
As we all know, in this day and age it takes very little in the way of reviewer behavior to totally torpedo a grant's chances. You don't even have to be obvious about it*.
This is why I try as hard as I possibly can to ground my grant reviewing in concrete reasons for criticism.
Because I want the reviewers of my proposals to do the same. And it is the right thing to do.
We have a system of grant review that is at all times precariously balanced on a knife's edge that could slide off into Mutually Assured Destruction cycles of retaliation** at any time. And I am sure it happens in some study sections and amongst some reviewers.
Mutual Professional Respect is better. It is supported one review at a time by engaging our firmest professionalism to override the biases that we cannot help but have.
illustration from here.
*This is very likely the second hardest decision I have to make about registering a Conflict of Interest in reviewing grants. I have reviewed a lot of grants of PIs who have been on the study section panels reviewing my grants. I am pretty confident this is the case for just about anyone who has served a full term appointed on a study section and probably anyone who has reviewed with full loads in over about 3 panels as ad hoc. This in and of itself cannot be a reason to recuse yourself or they would never get anything reviewed. And as my Readers know, I am very firm in my belief that it is a fool's errand to try to game out which reviewers were on your proposals and which ones were...critical.
**And, gods above, pre-emptive counter-striking.