NIH to Go Anonymous?

The National Institutes of Health is considering a pilot program that would keep the identity of grant applicants hidden from reviewers.

By Bob Grant | December 13, 2012

WIKIMEDIA, ANONYMOUSIn a move to make the grant review process less biased, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced that it is mulling over a policy change that would strip the names of grant applicants from their proposals for at least some of the time that they progress through the peer review process. Last Friday (December 7), the NIH’s principal deputy director, Lawrence Tabak said that “a number of approaches are being considered” by the agency for bringing anonymity to the grant review process, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. One approach could divulge the name of the grant applicant and her institution only in a later stage of review.

This potential change was one of a number of suggestions regarding NIH policy and procedures proposed by the NIH’s Advisory Committee to the Director last week. Other recommendations include establishing a new funding program for graduate students and postdocs, hiring a chief diversity officer, and improving mentoring for undergraduate students. Making the NIH grant review process anonymous would be another change in a line of moves—including a push to increase the diversity of NIH awardees and the establishment of new programs seeking riskier research proposals—that aim to spread the NIH’s wealth among a wider swath of the scientific community.

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Avatar of: OldGuy


Posts: 1

December 13, 2012

This moves reviews exactly in the wrong direction.  It rewards creative writing and disregards training and accomplishments.  The current short grant format does not allow enough preliminary data to provide assurances tot he reviewer that the applicant can do the work now.  At least now when an X-ray crystallographer says they will do a structure you can check and see if they have done a structure.  Without a track record anyone can propose to do anything as long as its published that someone has done it. 

Having worked in Europe and the US the lab based funding is much better fro young scientists.  While they can't grow and empire, they can work.  Here in the US we are willing to through away years of training.

Larry Tabek gave us 12 pages and no A2.  His track record is not so good.


Avatar of: KindaSciency


Posts: 1

December 13, 2012

I have to disagree and say that making grant application anonymous for at least the scientific merit review is a move in the right direction.

De-blind the applications at the Advisory council stage and let the council decide on the productivity/track record of applicants.

Avatar of: FJScientist


Posts: 31

December 13, 2012

I wouldn't hire a carpenter or plumber without knowledge about the quality of their prior work. I don't think anyone disagrees with me there. So why would that be any different for a scientist?

If one goes anonymous on peer review, then it can only be to obtain an unbiased view of 'significance' and 'innovation'. But the need for a parallel unblinded review remains. We have to ensure that we're not hiring a carpenter to do a plumbing job. And, we have to know that the plumber we're hiring is up to the specific tasks required of that specific job. That is common sense.

Take home message: Know where an anonymous review has benefits but understand that this means conducting two different reviews (one anonymous and one not). That means preparing two different applications (one without references to blind the reader to the applicant's self-referencing), conducting two reviews and having Council use both of those bits of information for their final decision. Is that additional effort worth the results? We don't know. It would have to be piloted first and even then we'd have to establish clear metrics for defining whether the new method is more successful than the old.


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