Individual Investigators to Have Limit on NIH Funds

A point system seeks to ensure that funding is spread more evenly among researchers, especially early- and mid-career scientists.

By | May 3, 2017

WIKIMEDIA, LIBRARY OF CONGRESSTo researchers who receive scads of money from the National Institutes of Health every year, the agency has a message: the salad days are over. The federal funding agency announced yesterday (May 2) that it would be instituting a new point system to try and spread around grant money and prevent it from pooling in the coffers of well-established investigators.

As the NIH reported in 2010, roughly 10 percent of grantees are awarded about 40 percent of the research funding doled out by the agency. “While we have made progress in reversing the decline in grant funding to early-career investigators through various programs and policies, the percentage of NIH awards that support this group remains flat,” said NIH Director Francis Collins in the statement announcing the new program, called the Grant Support Index (GSI). “Unfortunately, gains for early-career investigators have been offset by a decline in the percentage of NIH awards that support mid-career investigators.”

The idea for a points system that ensures the NIH wealth is spread around a bit more is not a new one. Science advocacy organization the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) proposed limiting the funding flowing to a single investigator or lab in 2015. And that same year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison proposed a similar scheme.

According to Collins, the GSI will assign a point value to specific grants based on the funded project’s complexity and size. NIH will set the GSI cap for any one researcher or lab at 21 points, which is roughly equivalent to three R01 grants. NIH grant applicants who already have 21 points will have to plead their case to the agency and see if they can reshuffle their current grant portfolio to bring in new funding without raising their point total.

FASEB’s Howard Garrision told Nature that the new point system may ruffle some feathers. “Looking at ways to fund more investigators is a healthy approach,” he said. “I think the people who are successful at writing grant applications are very talented people. I don't think anyone will say they're not doing good work. But NIH has to look at the system as a whole.”

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Avatar of: A_Scientist


Posts: 18

May 4, 2017

The devil's in the details. It's not apparent how this will work. To simply prevent investigators from getting more funds is unwise. However, if increases in funding are given proportional to productivity, with greater scrutiny on 'double-dipping credit' where a single publication is listed with several grants, there is a chance this will work. Additionally, PIs are on program project grants, which have enormous budgets, are difficult to monitor with respect to individual investigator achievement and don't seem to be listed in this revamping.

Avatar of: Mellow Guy

Mellow Guy

Posts: 8

May 4, 2017

With 9% of the funding going to Massachusetts, there needs to be

some effort to distribute the funds by population of the states.


Avatar of: OutBox17


Posts: 8

May 6, 2017



If some organization needs to be watched is Johns Hopkins University, which leads nation in research spending for 35th years. The current NIH grants awards for Johns Hopkins University is $203 Millions. This does not necessarily mean that top-notch science is coming out from its labs. A lot of JHU stuff is only image and grandeur. NIH should re-distribute the funds to other universities contributing with outstanding science.


Avatar of: mightythor


Posts: 83

May 12, 2017

Scientists are very clever.  They will find loopholes.

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