There has been much talk on the peer review process in our blog comments recently. We are extremely proud of our peer review system and its acceptance as one of the premier systems of peer review around the world. Our peer review system is based on a partnership between NIH staff and our reviewers. Each year we review about 80,000 applications with the help of tens of thousands of outside experts. I greatly appreciate those who have served and encourage everyone to participate in the process when you can. If you are interested in hearing more about how we recruit reviewers listen to our latest podcast.
Both reviewers and NIH staff follow the policies and procedures that are in place to ensure that every application receives a fair, equitable, timely and unbiased review. We have reviewer conflict of interest policies that prevent an individual from reviewing a friend’s grant, one from a collaborator, or from another investigator at their institution, for example. And while we assign at least three reviewers per application, the entire study section can view the application, and everyone participates in the discussion and scores the application (excluding those who are in conflict). We also have an appeals process in place that allows you to contest the review outcome if you feel that the process used to review your application was flawed.
Our peer review process is rigorous and time-tested, but no process involving humans will ever be perfect. As you know, we went through many changes in the process over the past couple years, based on an evaluation done by the Advisory Committee to the Director and continue to tweak the system. We are committed to continuous review of our peer review system because we know the system should evolve as the science evolves, and there are always ways to make it better. The last thing we want to do is to wait another 20 years to examine peer review again, so we are collecting data and information that will give us adequate metrics and baselines to inform us on how peer review is working and how it could possibly be re-engineered for the better.
However good and fair the peer review process is, the reality is that we receive far more high quality applications than we could ever support. It is vital that we at NIH continue our efforts to look for the best ways to approach funding that will sustain scientific progress and provide the most benefit to the health of the nation.