Review of NIH’s Big Hitters

Proposals from researchers receiving more than $1 million a year in NIH funding will be carefully picked over to avoid overlap with ongoing research.

By | August 23, 2012

image: Review of NIH’s Big Hitters Flickr, 401K

According to a new policy announced this week (August 20) by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), scientists receiving more than $1 million in direct NIH grant funds each year will be more carefully reviewed when they submit new proposals. The policy is a variation on one instituted in May that initiated an additional layer of review for researchers with $1.5 million or more in total annual funding. This extra scrutiny is designed to avoid overlap from ongoing research and stretch the flat NIH budget as far as possible.

The switch from $1.5 million in total funding to $1 million in direct grant funding stems from the complaint that indirect costs vary by institution. The change adds some 19 grants to the list of 70 or so that will receive an extra look should they pass initial rounds of review in September, according to NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey’s blog Rock Talk. But even with the increase in doubly-reviewed grants, the new pool still makes up less than 1 percent of all NIH proposals. Furthermore, the agency has yet to enact a strict funding cap, so how much the new policy will affect the overall funding distribution is unclear.

"It's not necessarily going to solve all our problems,” Howard Garrison of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology told ScienceInsider. “But people felt it was an appropriate step."

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Avatar of: FJScientist

FJScientist

Posts: 52

August 23, 2012

The article indicates that the pool constitutes "less than 1% of all NIH proposals" and is "not necessarily going to solve all our problems. I would amend that statement to WILL not solve ANY of our problems. So, why bother?
I enjoy reading a grant or paper and saying to myself 'that's brilliant' or 'likely a game-changer'. Some come from well-funded labs and some come from not-so-well funded labs. If a grant proposal investigates a novel idea that is outstanding, and is backed with sufficient evidence to convince a reasonable peer that it should be done and that the applicant is the right person to do it, a granting decision shouldn't be based upon whether the applicant laboratory has other funding or not.
All grants should be, and are, reviewed for overlap with already funded projects. The funding agency also needs to administratively to ask any lab if they have not already over-extended their space and common resources to ensure that the additional project can successfully be carried out. That administrative review is pertinent for every funded laboratory, large or small. Specifically targeting one type of laboratory because of their prior success doesn't seem to be reasonable to me.
I am speaking as a scientist struggling to get the funding to continue my work. But, I see no reason to target those who have done comparatively well, particularly when the proposed solution will have no impact on the overall problem of too many scientists for the available funding. The funding problem has many pieces--how to sustain outstanding research; how to ensure that science doesn't stagnate by having a way to identify risky new ideas; how to ensure that mid-level and junior investigators are not squeezed. A program that targets 1% of applications specifically from our most successful scientists is not even a minor part of the answer.

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