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Peer-review-less grants, round 1

University College London (UCL), which last year linkurl:announced;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55282/ plans to award unorthodox research grants without robust peer review, deadlines, directives, or milestones, has linkurl:chosen;http://www.ucl.ac.uk/media/library/VentureLane its first awardee -- a biochemist who will study the evolutionary switch from simple to more complex cellular structures. The researcher, linkurl:Nick Lane,;http://www.nick-lane.net/index.html was deemed worth

By | October 19, 2009

University College London (UCL), which last year linkurl:announced;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55282/ plans to award unorthodox research grants without robust peer review, deadlines, directives, or milestones, has linkurl:chosen;http://www.ucl.ac.uk/media/library/VentureLane its first awardee -- a biochemist who will study the evolutionary switch from simple to more complex cellular structures. The researcher, linkurl:Nick Lane,;http://www.nick-lane.net/index.html was deemed worthy of the funding, called the Venture Research Prize, not by a panel of peer reviewers, but by visiting UCL earth sciences professor (and creator of the award) linkurl:Don Braben;http://www.es.ucl.ac.uk/people/braben/ and UCL vice-provost for research linkurl:David Price.;http://www.ucl.ac.uk/es/people/price.htm After evaluating the submitted proposals, Braben and Price passed along a short list to UCL provost linkurl:Malcolm Grant,;http://www.ucl.ac.uk/provost/ who made the final decision. (The awards are available to UCL staff in any discipline.) Lane, who is also a science writer, book author, and past linkurl:contributor;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/55727/ to __The Scientist__, said in his winning proposal that he will switch "the emphasis in the evolution of complexity away from genes and morphology to the control of a dynamic process, chemiosmosis, over time." By picking up the thread of 1978 Nobel Prize winner linkurl:Peter Mitchell,;http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1978/mitchell-bio.html who won for demonstrating that cells respire via a proton gradient that spans membranes, Lane proposes to test the hypothesis that chemiosmosis -- which plays a role in a multitude of complex cellular processes -- is the key constraint on complexity. This will largely involve literature-based "theoretical" research, according to Lane. Lane, author of the recently published linkurl:__Life Ascending__,;http://www.amazon.com/Life-Ascending-Great-Inventions-Evolution/dp/0393065960 will get a total of approximately $246,000 over three years (£150,000, roughly equivalent to the salary of a reader, or mid-level academic) from the UCL Provost's office to conduct largely theoretical studies examining how and why complexity and the eukaryotic cell each only arose once throughout evolutionary history. "This will give me the freedom to work out my ideas on the evolution of complexity and hopefully change the way we all think about complex life," Lane wrote in an email to __The Scientist__. According to UCL spokesperson Dominique Fourniol, there is no timetable for when another Venture Research Prize will be awarded. "There's no rule that says there's one a month or one a year or anything like that," he told __The Scientist__. "The whole beauty of the system is that there's not a rule like that. The last thing you want to do is try to be restrictive."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Life Ascending;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/55727/
[21st May 2009]*linkurl:Grants without peer review?;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55282/
[12th December 2008]
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Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 107

October 19, 2009

It's not really clear from the article if the award is in addition to the recipient's salary. It seems to imply that the award provides three year's salary support, which would make it more like a visiting scholar's appointment than an actual research grant in the normal (scientific) sense of the term. If so, there is nothing really novel about it. Can The Scientist clarify this point?\n\nThe article does draw attention to another important point: one likely alternative to peer review will be to have award decisions made by a single senior administrator. Do not desire it.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 77

October 19, 2009

Identifying problems with the current funding process does not validate just any old solution. \n\nThis is one more step back from the progress made in who decides how precious dollars are distributed. As for opportunity costs, I wonder how the other rejected applicants feel about this brave new authoritarian method. Are they rewriting their proposals to better appeal to the philosophical whims of Mr. Moneybags or just sulking?
Avatar of: Alison McCook

Alison McCook

Posts: 68

October 20, 2009

We're looking into your question, and will post a response shortly.\n\nThanks,\n\nAlison McCook\nDeputy Editor
Avatar of: Bob Grant

Bob Grant

Posts: 22

October 20, 2009

Anonymous (#1),\n\nThanks very much for reading and for posing your question.\n\nI contacted Lane, and he told me that he was eligible for the award as he was faculty at UCL. He was, however, an "honorary" (read: unpaid) reader at the university.\n\nSo his award does essentially amount to a visiting scholar's appointment, in a way. The prize frees up his time so that he can focus on the research plan he proposed. Paid UCL faculty members are eligible for similar awards, and if such a researcher won, the prize would be less like a visiting scholar's appointment and more like an actual research grant.\n\nStay tuned to The Scientist to see who wins the next Venture Research Prize from UCL.\n\nThanks again for reading,\n\nBob Grant
Avatar of: Dov Henis

Dov Henis

Posts: 97

October 21, 2009

- On Genes to complexity\nsee\nFrom Genes To Identity\nhttp://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/180/122.page#3300\n\n- On peer-review-less material\nsee\nPeer Review, Again\nhttp://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/200/122.page#3422\n\nDov Henis\n(Comments From The 22nd Century)
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

October 21, 2009

How many reviewers are being inspired by ideas in submissions they reject? Is there any protection against ideas piracy in peer-review journals?

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