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Top Earners Under Review by NIH

Researchers with millions of grant dollars may face greater scrutiny by the funding agency.

By | February 21, 2012

image: Top Earners Under Review by NIH Flickr, Images_of_Money

FLICKR, IMAGES_OF_MONEY

In an attempt to improve an all-time low grant success rate, the National Institutes of Health is considering submitting researchers earning top money to an extra step of the grant review process. According to Nature, researchers receiving more than $1.5 million in grant money—which amounts to roughly 5 percent of grant holders or 1,500 principal investigators—will be placed under higher scrutiny by the funding agency before approving new grants.

While the measure could both ensure the productivity of researchers handling multimillion dollar budgets, as well as potentially allow less-established researchers a slice of the money, some are worried about moving away from a purely merit-based system. “It’s a huge sea change,” Howard Garrison, director of public affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland, told Nature.

John Tainer, a structural biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California whom Nature identified as one of the top seven researchers receiving the most NIH grants—added that the measure may end up stifling innovation at established, time-proven labs.

“If you’re a leader and you have momentum and technology, the impact of taking that away and having other people do it at a different level is destructive,” Tainer told Nature.

CORRECTION: In the original version of this story, the term principal investigator was incorrectly written as "private" investigator. The Scientist regrets this error.

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Comments

Avatar of: Brian Owens

Brian Owens

Posts: 1457

February 21, 2012

"Private investigators"...I like it. It's NIH Noire.

Avatar of: TheSciAdmin

TheSciAdmin

Posts: 56

February 21, 2012

Thank you Brian for pointing out this embarrassing slip. I have fixed the error.
-Cristina Luiggi

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

February 21, 2012

"Private investigators"...I like it. It's NIH Noire.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

February 21, 2012

Thank you Brian for pointing out this embarrassing slip. I have fixed the error.
-Cristina Luiggi

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

February 22, 2012

 I shouldn't really throw stones, the house I live in is rather more glass than most!

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

February 22, 2012

I don't like the undercurrent of this proposal. We should not be penalizing, or placing under enhanced scrutiny, investigators whose only flaw is that they conduct outstanding science.

I think the NIH does need to come up with a way to identify and handle those outstanding investigators. Right now, the NIH seems content to demur the funding of those investigators to the HHMI. I believe that to be a misstep by the NIH. Now, the NIH is floating a proposal to go even further in the opposite direction??? 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

February 22, 2012

How "outstanding" the science of a particular individual truly was remains to be evaluated by future generations of scientists. Not everything that is published in the top journals is a breakthrough or even correct. Fact is also that NIH has rewarded investigators who they deemed as outstanding (e.g., MERIT Awards). While NIH funds the top-ranked proposals, it must also look out for diversity (like heterogeneity in a genetic population) which is the ultimate basis for any selective process. We penalize monopolies for a good reason to increase the competitiveness in the market place. Science is no different. So, why not apply this to some overrated and highly funded scientists (whose only "flaws" were they came from famous labs)? Why not bring them to a situation where they have to show that they truly deserve the money, i.e. they do more with the same amount of support like others? It is not that everyone starts out at the same level as a junior investigator to work his/her way up and get support based on productivity as a self-standing PI.     

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

February 22, 2012

If the review process is truly merit-based, then the funds are properly allocated.  If they are not properly allocated, NIH needs to change its review process for future allocations in a way that effectively distributes funds to the most meritous, and not penalize high achievers as a poor and destructive substitute.  --Impoverished Grad Student

Avatar of: Brian Owens

Brian Owens

Posts: 1457

February 22, 2012

 I shouldn't really throw stones, the house I live in is rather more glass than most!

Avatar of: FJScientist

FJScientist

Posts: 52

February 22, 2012

I don't like the undercurrent of this proposal. We should not be penalizing, or placing under enhanced scrutiny, investigators whose only flaw is that they conduct outstanding science.

I think the NIH does need to come up with a way to identify and handle those outstanding investigators. Right now, the NIH seems content to demur the funding of those investigators to the HHMI. I believe that to be a misstep by the NIH. Now, the NIH is floating a proposal to go even further in the opposite direction??? 

Avatar of: Kay_U

Kay_U

Posts: 9

February 22, 2012

How "outstanding" the science of a particular individual truly was remains to be evaluated by future generations of scientists. Not everything that is published in the top journals is a breakthrough or even correct. Fact is also that NIH has rewarded investigators who they deemed as outstanding (e.g., MERIT Awards). While NIH funds the top-ranked proposals, it must also look out for diversity (like heterogeneity in a genetic population) which is the ultimate basis for any selective process. We penalize monopolies for a good reason to increase the competitiveness in the market place. Science is no different. So, why not apply this to some overrated and highly funded scientists (whose only "flaws" were they came from famous labs)? Why not bring them to a situation where they have to show that they truly deserve the money, i.e. they do more with the same amount of support like others? It is not that everyone starts out at the same level as a junior investigator to work his/her way up and get support based on productivity as a self-standing PI.     

Avatar of: kwinner

kwinner

Posts: 2

February 22, 2012

If the review process is truly merit-based, then the funds are properly allocated.  If they are not properly allocated, NIH needs to change its review process for future allocations in a way that effectively distributes funds to the most meritous, and not penalize high achievers as a poor and destructive substitute.  --Impoverished Grad Student

Avatar of: Jeff Frelinger

Jeff Frelinger

Posts: 1457

April 26, 2012

As someone who has been a frequent NIH study section member, journal editor and long time NIH grantee, I don't see a problem with this.  I am always amazed at how thinly some investigators are able to slice the pie and claim no overlap.  I guess I am jealous since I can never seem to manage to get more than one grant at a time in an area.  NIGMS has been dong this secondary review for a long time I it really plays well among the scientific community.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

April 26, 2012

As someone who has been a frequent NIH study section member, journal editor and long time NIH grantee, I don't see a problem with this.  I am always amazed at how thinly some investigators are able to slice the pie and claim no overlap.  I guess I am jealous since I can never seem to manage to get more than one grant at a time in an area.  NIGMS has been dong this secondary review for a long time I it really plays well among the scientific community.

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