WASHINGTON—Scientists and staff at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) do not understand the proper role of peer review and do notagree on its purpose, its use and the effect it has on scientific research projects, a new National Academy of Sciences report has found.

The ARS, the principal in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, employs more than 8,500 scientists, engineers and technicians at 127 locations. It distributes its $500 million annual budget—most of it earmarked for research in specific areas—among some 1,600 basic and applied research projects related to food and agricultural problems.

A committee of the National Research Council has determined that the ABS project peer-review system suffers from serious shortcomings, including a perception among some staff scientists that it is “busy work” having little substantive value. In particular, there is “a lack of understanding and agreement” among ARS staff regarding project peer review, the report...

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