Publications are one of the important products of NIH research grants, and authors are required to cite their NIH support in their publications. But as many of us have experienced, the format of grant numbers varies greatly. Some authors use institutional grant tracking numbers, others abbreviate the NIH number, and many other permeations arise. It almost becomes a “Where’s Waldo?” of the grant number world! All this makes it very difficult to directly link NIH grants to their publications, but the combination of public access policies and an NIH software development effort have recently improved this problem for those publications available via the NIH National Library of Medicine.
In 2001, NIH developers created the first version of a database known as SPIRES (Scientific Publication Information Retrieval and Evaluation System). In a nutshell, SPIRES maps publications to NIH grants. In practice, creating the means to do this was not simple at all. SPIRES uses automated text manipulation methods to extract and reformat grant numbers cited in publications. The reformatted numbers are then compared to NIH grant data, and the “goodness” of the match is rated by the SPIRES system.
A decade later, SPIRES is now a mature database that maps 30 years of publications from PubMed to NIH grants. The results display through a number of internal NIH systems and to the public on the RePORT website. Because we often demonstrate outcomes of NIH support through publications arising from NIH grants, SPIRES has proven to be a critical component to accurately measure impact. More details about the SPIRES system and an example of what can be learned from publication data are available in the paper “Metrics associated with NIH funding: a high-level view” in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.