WASHINGTON—Last August the National Science Foundation awarded a $25 million, five-year grant to design earthquake-resistant buildings to a six-institution consortium led by the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Five competing proposals lost, four quietly. But scientists in a consortium of universities in quake-prone California, led by UCBerkeley, grumbled in public.

"In this case, peer review failed miserably," said Linda Royster, a spokeswoman for Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), who has led an effort by the California delegation to persuade NSF to reconsider the grant. Next month the General Accounting Office is expected to complete its investigation into charges of age discrimination by the reviewers, plagiarism in the application, and insufficient expertise among those who evaluated the proposals.

What the California group didn't do was file a formal appeal. Few scientists turned down by the grants process do. The formal appeals process, at both NSF and the National Institutes of...

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