I have studied the lubrication of animal joints since 1959. Between then and 1975 there were, by my count, two major discoveries. Then the government, principally the National Institutes of Health, greatly increased funding for the discipline. There have been no major discoveries since. Government support must have been misdirected-but why?

At the National Science Foundation, program managers decide whom to support, and for this they get specialist advice. But reviewers who understand a scientist's work are often competitors in the same field. Their advice ranges from honest to artfully misleading. The project manager tries to filter out the disinformation.

NIH lets its "study sections," panels of reviewers, choose which projects to fund, and trusts that panel members will keep each other honest. Each application is described and evaluated by study section members skilled in its field. The panel discusses it, then votes to accept or reject. If it accepts,...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!