How to spend the NIH stimulus

Of all the federal government's science agencies, the National Institutes of Health looks to benefit most from the economic stimulus bill currently making its way through Congress. But how should the NIH spend the influx of cash that might be coming its way? linkurl:Steven Wiley,;http://www.sysbio.org/resources/staff/wiley.stm director of the Biomolecular Systems Initiative at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told __The Scientist__ that the NIH must increase its grant payline, which has h

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

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Feb 10, 2009
Of all the federal government's science agencies, the National Institutes of Health looks to benefit most from the economic stimulus bill currently making its way through Congress. But how should the NIH spend the influx of cash that might be coming its way? linkurl:Steven Wiley,;http://www.sysbio.org/resources/staff/wiley.stm director of the Biomolecular Systems Initiative at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told __The Scientist__ that the NIH must increase its grant payline, which has hovered at a dismal 10% for the past few years. "There are wonderful grants out there that are just not being funded. The way the paylines are now is just killing people," said Wiley, who also serves on the editorial board of __The Scientist__. "I think that the best thing to do is to fund a greater percentage of the grants in the pipeline. This new money should get us back to where we should have been in the first place."...
king its way through Congress. But how should the NIH spend the influx of cash that might be coming its way? linkurl:Steven Wiley,;http://www.sysbio.org/resources/staff/wiley.stm director of the Biomolecular Systems Initiative at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told __The Scientist__ that the NIH must increase its grant payline, which has hovered at a dismal 10% for the past few years. "There are wonderful grants out there that are just not being funded. The way the paylines are now is just killing people," said Wiley, who also serves on the editorial board of __The Scientist__. "I think that the best thing to do is to fund a greater percentage of the grants in the pipeline. This new money should get us back to where we should have been in the first place." Other researchers suggested either altering or completely retooling the peer review process to allow for a greater dispersal of NIH funds among American scientists. "I would propose using any additional funds provided to address the uniformity of social choice mechanisms at NIH," wrote Case Western Reserve University pathologist linkurl:David Kaplan;http://path-www.path.cwru.edu/information6.php?info_id=30 in an email to __The Scientist__. "There is a single peer review system at NIH. The deficiencies of this system have been amply discussed and yet NIH has no cogent response." Kaplan's alternative peer review system would do away with the 41-point grading scale currently used to rank all NIH grant applications and replace it with a simpler system of shorter application forms graded on five-point scale. linkurl:Nejat;;http://dental.pacific.edu/News_and_Events/News_Archive/News_Stories/Dr._Nejat_D%C3%BCzg%C3%BCnes_Appointed_to_Journal_Editorial_Board.html Düzgünes, the head of the microbiology department at Pacific University's School of Dentistry, suggested more drastic changes to the NIH's peer review system. He told __The Scientist__ that the NIH should grant $300,000/year to the nation's top 40,000 researchers (largely determined by a review of their publication records) and $50,000/year to the top 40,000 young scientists for ten years. Düzgünes said that he sent an email to the Obama White House last month suggesting as much. "This will create 240,000 jobs for about $15 billion per year." Düzgünes, who studies gene therapy treatments for oral cancer, suggested forming a large NIH committee that would review the publication records of American scientists interested in receiving one of the grants. In his scheme, researchers with multiple NIH grants could choose to forgo the "silly game" that the current peer review system represents and compete against the country's other scientists based only on their past scientific records. "I'm not trying to get money away from the most brilliant minds in this country," Düzgünes explained, "but we shouldn't waste the talent and the resources of all the top scientists and postdocs in playing this game. The best people have already proven themselves. They wouldn't have to wheel and deal." Düzgünes added he's been trying to get an NIH grant for the past 12 years. "Scientists like me have wasted their time constantly writing grant applications." He said that using the stimulus money to increase the NIH payline, even doubling it so that 20% of the scientifically meritorious NIH grant applications got funded, was not a sufficient improvement to the problems plaguing the agency's granting system. "That's even unacceptable because that means that the remaining 80% [of scientists applying for NIH grants] are wasting their time," he said. "If we get additional money to the NIH, I believe we could now afford this experiment." While scientists seem to have distinct views on how any extra NIH cash would be best spent, science advocacy groups seem to be content with NIH making the call. John Morrison, chair of the Society for Neuroscience's (SfN) Government and Public Affairs Committee, wrote in an email to __The Scientist__ that the group trusts the NIH and its cloud of consultants to use any stimulus money wisely. "When it comes to how to disburse those funds, we expect NIH scientific leadership as well as scientific advisory and peer review bodies may all help determine ways to support the economy while tackling key scientific and health challenges," Morrison wrote. "SfN sees the economic recovery package as a first step of what must be a long-term national commitment to prioritize and stabilize research funding." Stacie Propst, vice president of policy and outreach at science advocacy group Research!America, agreed. "We believe that the institute and the acting director will know best how to distribute that money," she told __The Scientist__. "What's important is that the money gets used for good projects." __Update (02/20): In the original version of this story, we neglected to mention that Steven Wiley is a member of __The Scientist__'s editorial board. The omission has been corrected, and __The Scientist__ regrets the error.__
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:NIH boost passed in Senate;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55411/
[10th February 2009]*linkurl:Bailing out life science;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55338/
[15th January 2009]

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