A research proposal's chances of being funded by the National Institutes of Health vary noticeably, for better or worse, depending on which specific one of the agency's 13 institutes it is assigned to.

For example, according to NIH figures released this summer, the National Center for Nursing Research (NCNR) in 1987 funded the highest percentage of proposals that had been approved by its peer reviewers, 61.5%. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease funded only 30.8% of the peer-approved requests.

Fiscal 1987 was the first full year for NCNR to give grants; the center was established in the spring of 1986. Among previously established institutes, the National Eye Institute had the highest 1987 award rate, 53.4%. That institute typically funds a large chunk of its approved proposals, having posted the highest award rate seven times in the last 10 years.

Looking at NIH as a whole,...

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