Piloting the $1.5M Special Review


Back in February, I posted on our fiscal year 2013 Presidential budget request. One of the things I mentioned was an additional review that we were considering for applications from investigators that have received NIH funds of $1.5M or more in total costs. It has taken us some time to work through the details of how this additional review might be done. We recognized that if we ultimately make the decision to implement the policy in FY13, that we needed to pilot test draft procedures during the Advisory Council meetings this May. 

Before getting into the details, I want to remind everyone of one of important point. This is not a cap on the total amount of funds an investigator can receive from NIH. It is a special review during Advisory Council deliberations to determine if additional funds should be provided to well-supported investigators. This pilot compliments existing NIH policies that requires us to monitor investigator’s activities for dual/overlapping support. We are asking the Advisory Councils to look at the full context of research project grant (RPG) support for these investigators and provide recommendations about how funding the pending application will distinctly advance research emanating from this lab. We are piloting these procedures now to gain feedback, which will help us to shape this special review, should we determine to fully implement it as a future policy.

Applications that will be given special review include:

New and renewal applications from investigators who currently receive more than $1.5M in total costs for research project grants.

This means the total of all your active RPG awards at the time the application goes to council. In other words, if you are in the second year of a 5-year R01 that was awarded for $1.5M, the $300K awarded this year will count, plus the current year awarded for any other active RPGs.   

Applications excluded from special review include:

  •  Applications received in response to a request for applications
  • P01s and other multi-component RPGs, unless all the investigators exceed the threshold
  • Multi-PI applications, unless all the investigators exceed the threshold

To give you an idea of the scope, for applications going to May councils that fall within the top 25th percentile, we identified approximately 70 applications that fit the criteria above. Once we see how this process works at our upcoming council meetings, we will be able to provide additional information in the future.

You can read more in the Guide notice that we published today.


  1. The way this appears to be constructed right now, this creates some interesting incentives. Without even thinking about for more than 30 seconds, the following two come to mind:

    (1) A PI who would be over this cap if her competing renewal goes through council review while the grant is still funded has an incentive to submit the competing renewal at the time such that it goes to council only after the last funding period of the prior project period has elapsed. PIs with this level of funding would have little problem convincing their institutions to bridge them so as to avoid the extra scrutiny.

    (2) A PI who wants to avoid extra scrutiny can bring in a “straw PI” on a multi-PI grant who is below the cap, but really just be a minor player in the research and the use of the funds.

    1. With success rates on new grants at 15% it should be of no surprise to anyone that many new investigators will never receive get their first RO1. Having just lost my first (and probably only) faculty position because my program cut the number of new grants for 30 to 20 between 2010 and 2011 I am hit with the hard reality that my career options are limited. Because of this I think that well funded labs should be required to hire people at the Research Assistant Professor level.

  2. Bravo! This policy should allow the well-trained productive scientists with their ‘normal size’ lab operations to develop novel areas, discoveries and approaches. Aggressive domestic competition by the big funded labs may be cured and a greater cooperative spirit instilled. More fish are caught with more lines and nets put out by self-motivated fishermen. The contributions of these ‘little’ fishermen may also be more appreciated by those managing the grant dollars and downplaying individual and ‘small’ scientific or medical contributions.

  3. It is only fair that we apply the same rules to our intramural colleagues and administrators with large numbers of support staff/ budget. Are they being scrutinized by their peers for efficiency and non-overlap?

    The impression in the extramural community is that a number of boondoggles exist in Bethesda and beyond.

    Fairness demands we address this.

    1. Below are a few links about our intramural program. As you know, part of the mission of the intramural program is to conduct, in government laboratories, creative and innovative biomedical research that cannot easily be performed in academic research settings. Over the past 60 years, a rigorous, multi-level external peer review process has evolved to ensure that this intramural mission is fulfilled and it has been demonstrated repeatedly that this approach to review is competitive in assuring the highest quality research and training.

      This specially tailored review process depends on external peer review panels, or Boards of Scientific Counselors (BSCs), who review each intramural principal investigator every four years. The BSCs are chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. They thus have the same status as the extramural review panels or study sections. Reviews are overseen by the Office of Intramural Research, Office of the Director, and the National Advisory Councils of each Institute or Center (IC). Emphasis is on high-risk science that is not being done, or could not be done elsewhere; duplicative or “me-too” science is not tolerated.

      Reviewers comment on methodology, budget, timeliness, and originality of the research, and these reviews are used to increase or decrease resources, or close non-productive laboratories. Reviews are both retrospective, reflecting the past success of scientific staff, and prospective, projecting new projects and ideas. A key feature of intramural research is the selection of the most talented researchers through an extensive international search process that is also overseen at the level of the Office of Intramural Research.

      Each IC with an intramural program has a Scientific Director (SD). The SDs are responsible for assignment of resources based on the search and review processes. The performance of the SDs is reviewed by outside committees every 4-6 years. In addition, an overall review of the quality, productivity, innovativeness, and impact of each IC’s intramural program is conducted by a separate external Blue Ribbon Panel approximately every 10 years. The recommendations of these reviews are reported to the IC Director, the Deputy Director for Intramural Research, and the NIH Director to guide any changes needed for the future.

      More more details, refer to “Scientific Reviews of Intramural Research” at http://sourcebook.od.nih.gov/sci-review/sci-review-toc.htm.

      Another good resource is a 68-page document written a few years ago, posted at http://sourcebook.od.nih.gov/oir/IRP_transition.pdf.

      Also, for a more visually friendly view of the NIH intramural program, refer to http://irp.nih.gov.

      – Christopher Wanjek
      Director of Communications
      NIH Office of Intramural Research

      1. 1) if so similar, why not review in the same panels? this unique stuff should easily compete.

        2) you forget we read the resulting papers….it isn’t that unique

        3) at what cost? give us extramural types the security and what looks like incredibly generous budgets (see RePORTER listings) and we could do even more of that allegedly unique research

      2. Thank you for your response, which sounds like an official talking point.

        In principle, the review of intramural programs sounds good. However, many of us have been in such reviews and do not believe that they are as rigorous as study sections. In cases that I have been involved personally, I have felt that some aspects of the review are not rigorous. I challenge the NIH Director’s office to do a simple experiment – put some of the “best” intramural labs or programs and put them through study sections – my prediction would be that many of them will not get their funding renewed. The second point is that a typical budget for an intramural lab is several fold larger than RO1-supported labs. Given these inequities, having both the extramural as well as intramural programs go thorough the same study sections is FAIR and puts everyone on the normal playing field.

        Again, fairness demands we do this. The government should not dictate arbitrary and unfair rules if the government is “for the people”.

        Thank you for reading.

        1. Perhaps Mr. Wanjek could tell us how often a given intramural laboratory loses 50% of its funding…or is denied entirely and told to try again in 6 months? Is this at the same rate as, say, it occurs to PIs at the top twenty funded extramural Universities?

          Also, perhaps he would care to describe how in addition to the generous research budget the NIH picks up a lot of things we extramural PIs pay for…like animal per diem.

      3. I have worked in both in the extramural and intramural research environments. Some extremely high-quality research is performed within the intramural program, but the notion that much of this research “is not being done or could not be done elsewhere” seems hard to support. In addition, intramural research budgets are, in general, quite generous.

        Information about the investigators in the intramural program is available through NIH Reporter (via Project Numbers containing “ZIA”). For fiscal year 2011, 1221 separate investigators were identified through such analysis. The total amount of funding associated with each of these investigators was determined by summing over the listed projects. This population of investigators is characterized by the following characteristics:

        Number of investigators: 1221

        Total funding: $2,067 M

        Range of support for investigators identified: $7840 through $15.3 M

        Median funding: $1.39 M

        Number of investigators with total funding over $1.5 M: 547

        Note that many of the investigators associated with very large amounts of funding (28 investigators with >$5 M) are involved in unique programs such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information, vaccine development programs, and large epidemiological studies.

        Several institute directors, scientific directors, and the NIH director are associated with over $4 M in funding for their research programs for fiscal year 2011.

        Trends in funding can also be examined. 1159 investigators of the investigators above are identifiable in the same institute or center in fiscal year 2010 and are associated with a total of $1,991 M in funding in fiscal year 2010. For 862 of these investigators, their total funding in fiscal year 2011 was within 25% (up or down) of their total funding for fiscal year 2010. 88 investigators had their funding increase by more than 50% from fiscal year 2010 to 2011 while 33 investigators has their total funding reduced by 50% or more.

        1. OK let me get this straight: nearly 50% of the intramural investigators (547/1221) exceed the 1.5M threshold but at current Council this threshold would currently affect 70 extramural investigators (as per Dr Rockey’s post)??!! What’s that proportionally, under 1% of the extramural world?

          Given the overall quality of extra- vs intra-mural research (as judged by output) and the current climate, this is unconscionable.

    2. Yes, do a reporter search for project numbers containing “ZIA” and prepare to be blown away at the FY costs of some of those programs. I did some research an saw an investigator with over 1.5M/year intramurally funded for the past several years who has corresponded only 5 papers in the last 4 years. Compare that to most R01 funded investigators and the $/pub.

  4. “This policy should allow the well-trained productive scientists with their ‘normal size’ lab operations to develop novel areas, discoveries and approaches.”

    Do the math:

    “To give you an idea of the scope, for applications going to May councils that fall within the top 25th percentile, we identified approximately 70 applications that fit the criteria above.”

    First, many of those 70 applications within the top 25th percentile aren’t going to be funded regardless, with paylines in the low teens. So let’s assume that half of them are competitive for funding: 35. And let’s assume that each of these is around the average R01 total costs (I think it’s around $400,000). That puts a total of $14,000,000 dollars into play.

    Now, let’s ask the question how many of these applications are actually going to be recommended by the various councils to *not* be funded. Councils really don’t like to tinker with initial peer review, but let’s be generous and assume that they actually put the kibosh on half of these applications. So that puts $7,000,000 back into the pool for funding of competing awards. Now divide this back by $400,000 per grant, and you’ve got 17.5 extra competing grants added back to the funding pool. And that’s for the *entire* NIH, which has over *twenty* ICs.

    Bottom Line: fewer than *one* additional competing R01 can be funded on average by each IC as a consequence of this policy.

    1. I think Comradde’s estimate is far too optimistic…Councils will be very loathe to cut off their buddies. So who will be the rare exception? The outsider who has managed, by dint of the very best quality science, to succeed *despite* not being tied in to the politics of the IC.

      This whole thing is going to be a disaster.

      1. The extra scrutiny for overlap should also be applied to papers acknowledged in publications and listed by PIs in their productivity list per grant renewal.

        Big lab PIs usually put more than one grant in the acknowledgement including RO1s, and PO1s. If there really is no overlap in all their funded grants acknowledged in publication-x, then publication-x should not count as full publication in the count of publications-productivity in competitive renewal for all the grants listed in the acknowledgement, but rather as a fraction. Granted the complexity of a paper is important to factor in as there are publications with true collaborations, perhaps the number of pages/figures and the citation index of the journal needs to be factored in too. Needs further assessment.

        Re buddies in council and study sections: this needs to be recognized, and stopped for fairness to all. An independent review system is needed somehow just like the judiciary is independent of the other branches of government. Competent Reviewers need to be found who do not compete for research dollars too. Alternatively, put the Science back in SRAs rather than just administration.

    2. Dr. Rockey’s statement says this is a “pilot test”. I think the issue here is the capacity for productivity and broad innovation by the large vs. small funded labs with a limited budget. Obviously some scientific/medical problems better fit the larger army factory model of science (eg. DNA sequencing of the human genome) while innovation/discovery may be better achieved by a larger number of self-motivated scientific and medical minds. How many great ideas with longstanding impact can one investigator/group really have at one time (without borrowing from others)? How to sort through this will obviously be the objective.

  5. Just a few questions for the FAQ –

    How will NIH determine the portion assignable to Multi-PI awards? Will the PI be able to duplicate the information used by NIH from RePORTER? Will supplements, carryover, etc be included for the active RPG period? Will the PI receive notification that they have met the SRC threshold?

    Finally, will the effort associated with identifying these individuals really result in any savings?

  6. I am concerned that the policy appears to focus on TOTAL costs, as opposed to DIRECT costs. This would disadvantage institutions with higher indirect cost rates, particularly independent nonprofit research institutes. Am I reading this correctly?

    1. Yes, the policy is based on total cost. The SRC can take indirect costs into consideration.

      1. Sounds like a very weaselly way to go after high overhead institutions. …and in a way designed to prevent the best science from being funded, just to prop up uncompetitive labs.

        Why not simply renegotiate the overhead if the NIH so objects to a particular rate?

        1. In the present climate, the claim to the effect that anything here would “prevent the best science from being funded, just to prop up uncompetitive labs”. As has been discussed extensively in these blogs and in feedback about how to cope with present slow-motion disaster, and the worsened crisis that will ensure with sequestration in 8 months, assuming an uber-funded lab were ever to get zapped at Council, the money would go to a less well-funded lab whose application came in at, say, the 11th or 12th percentile (for some institutes, I could write “8th percentile” / unfunded). To take a concrete example, a colleague doing terrific work in the cancer area had their only grant go down – rated at the 12th percentile. As to the point about putting downward pressure on the overall indirect cost profile of the extramural funding, the general taxpayer (and consumer) view is, if the two products are rated as being of indistinguishable quality and importance, and one is less expensive, or yields more research performed (direct costs), yeah, one should make that choice. In essence, a few of the comments here sound like ringing endorsements for the proverbial $800 toilet seats beloved of DoD procurement.

        2. Agreed.
          Since NIH controls the purse strings, why not simply dictate indirect costs based on city/region?
          I’m sure that trash cans and light bulbs cannot be that different in cost at Tufts versus Harvard. While I admit that rent is Boston is expensive, does it really cost 20% more to administer grants at Harvard than the University of Louisville?
          It seems clear that if the goal is to maintain the number of funded investigators, indirects are the least painful large budget item to cut.

          1. NIH does not control indirect cost rates. Institutions negotiate indirect cost rates with other components of the federal government in accordance with federal cost principles. The exact process differs by type of grantee institution. For example, indirect cost rates for universities are based on requirements found in OMB Circular A-21 and are negotiated by either the HHS Division of Cost Allocation or the Office of Naval Research. For more info see the recent request for information asking for input on cost principals governing federal grants.

  7. It seems plausible that some intramural labs are in part a secret compensation for Director-level science administrators, and that intramural reviews do not approch the quality and independence of extramural scientists since extramural NIH’s independent review administrators have no counterparts in the intramural infrastructure. However, budget/productivity analyses seem problematic. The budgets being analyzed for NIH intramural programs include salaries for all personnel, supplies, equipment and building rentals. Many if not most “extramural NIH” scientists have multiple additional non-NIH funding sources dedicated to fairly similar projects that are not well monitored or incorporated with these analyses. There are probably cases of multiple reports of overlapping publications across grants, contracts and other funding resources at an institution. One might try to add: other government agencies (NSF, DoD…); private company contracts; private and foundation donors; state and university endowment funds; and non-reported FTE work.e.g. borderline-volunteer undergraduate, graduate, medical, residency and fellowship FTE contributions to research at many universities. With closer to ‘true budgets’, how does the comparision between intramural and extramural NIH look?Unfortunately, although Intramural science looks weak, Extramural science has arguably also not met major goals of NIH. Still, there is a good argument that either arm of NIH still overshadows other research infrastructures in the quality of research.

    1. Regarding “Many if not most “extramural NIH” scientists have multiple additional non-NIH funding sources dedicated to fairly similar projects that are not well monitored or incorporated with these analyses.” I have been NIH funded for 20 years at a research institute and now a med school. Have never had non-NIH funding except for post-doc fellowships for people in the lab. For my colleagues, if they do have non-NIH sources, they are quite small in comparison to the NIH sources. I do agree that if this is instituted those that depend on the NIH for the larger projects (e.g. I work with non-human primates, quite expensive) will suffer, but indeed these are the extramural NIH scientists.

  8. This policy would selectively target people who work at medical schools and research institutes who are required to bring in a majority or all of their salary from external funding sources, mostly the NIH, and people who work at institutions with high indirect costs, as already mentioned. A significant portion of high quality science is conducted at these types of institutions and this policy would devastate these important sources of research and biomedical training. An revised policy that sets the cap based on direct costs and excludes the salary of the PI would address the problematic biases of the current plan.

    1. It is difficult to argue that investigators who already have 1.5 M a year in funding (3 to 4 R01s) will be “devastated” by having to go through another round of reviews get even more funding.

  9. Exclusion of RFAs from the new program seems strange. Shouldn’t they avoid overlap as well? In general, narrowly-targeted RFAs are traditionally suspect for being custom-written for specific investigators, who still would be able to get more than their fair share of funds without the extra scrutiny of the new program.

  10. Total costs should NOT BE USED in such calculations!! This is truly outrageous. Direct costs should be used. It is very unfair to target PIs at private institutions with somewhat higher indirect cost rates. In fact, I think that this policy could face legal challenges as discriminating against private institutions. What types of grants are included? Are training grants being counted in the total? Hopefully not, as this would be grossly unfair.
    On another point, the intramural researchers at NIH should definitely be much more carefully scrutinized. Why doesn’t NIH start the policy of scrutinizing $1.5 million in TOTAL COSTS, including outside contracts, animal charges that don’t get counted in the generous budgets, etc. with the intramural researchers?? There is no way that the review of the intramural researchers is as rigorous as that for extramural researchers. I have been on several boards of scientific counselors and we had limited ability to do anything about second rate science, and almost no ability to cut the budgets of less productive intramural researchers. I agree with ExperiencedPI above!

  11. Leaving alone the very interesting comments about intramural labs (great to have you back in the mix, Jeremy!), the threshold of $1.5M, the non-transparent process and the passes given to multi-investigator grants and RFA’s (!), etc. are revealing.

    This appears to be a gesture more than a significant change in strategy. Most of us would like to see a serious response to a long-standing funding recession. ARRA was a lost opportunity. Given the prospects of no real growth in the budget, we need to consider tough choices. My concern is that a few years of analysis of the impact of this special review of a few dozen proposals, a half measure at best, may serve to delay reform rather than accelerate it.

  12. This is as bogus as it gets. Any way you slice it, this attempts to curtail successful investigators. Large operation were likely created by years of hard work, they did not appear out of thin air- the man/women at the top did not fall there. The fairest system is to allow free and open competition and may the best proposal win without “regulation” (i.e., interference) from the government.

    1. Hmmm… I suspect most of us are thinking, well if there actually was free and open competition so that the best proposal will win, we might be more inclined to agree. However, having reviewed in panels across NIH, NSF, for foundations, the EU, etc., I am still hoping to experience the kind of “free and open” competition that reliably results in better research proposals being scored above weaker proposals. Anyone who has seen the diversity of opinions among the three reviewers (blind men and the elephant?) in a typical summary statements knows that it comes down far too much to “luck of the draw” in reviewer assignment. However, there is a bigger problem that challenges any hopes of fairness. Advantages multiply in research as much as in business, and the Hill coefficient for funding is thus pretty high. So, we likely need to address the problem at multiple levels. Flattening out the cooperativity curve a bit via “regulation” offers a simple intervention that seems a bit easier than totally reworking NIH peer review.

  13. your example does not make sense — a 5 year grant with a total cost budget of $1.5 M (or 300k / annum) amounts to an 8 module R01 at an institution with a 50% IDC rate.

    1. It is confusing. We are not counting the whole 5-year period. Rather, we count only the funds you received in 1 year. So you’d need 5 similar sized grants occuring at the same time to trigger the special review, $300K * 5.

  14. The apparent intention of this initiative is to allow more investigators, particularly young investigators to stay in research by keeping big labs from consuming NIH resources. But in all likelihood this will have the OPPOSITE effect. With most institutes funding 10-15% of applications, compared to the 25-40% funding levels in the past, it is unlikely that really talented and perceptive young investigators will go into research in the future unless there is a mechanisms for maintaining some job security. Even a Nobel laureate would have trouble maintaining his research program without gaps with a single R01 grant. Most of the best research institutions encourage or require investigators to get part of their salary from research grants. So a potential or actual young investigator has to wonder if he/she can even maintain their full salary as a researcher. If they judge they cannot, they will pursue other options.

    The most common mechanism for maintaining the job security that allows new investigators to enter into and stay in research is being part of a well led group. With multiple grant streams, the likelihood of maintaining research support for the very best individuals is much better, even if some grants are not funded. In addition the critical mass for excellent research and research instrumentation is maintained.

    The study sections already consider other support. This new mechanisms may allow administrators to say they are doing something about the poor funding situation, but in fact this new procedure will make the situation for new investigators much worse.

    1. Study sections consider Other Support to see if the PI can handle the project scope. They are not supposed to be considering if the PI has “too much money”- attention to the proposal is the effort allocated. SROs are supposed to crack down on any hint of $$envy.

      Yeah I realize people do it anyway but it is wrong.

  15. My salary is not paid by my institution and the indirect rates are very high.

    In the very best case scenario, 3 grants is 2 grants (assuming the 1.5M is an annual cap). Since my research is mouse-heavy, my grant equivalent is 1.5, based on the expense of animal cost/maintenance. If I do any experiments and pay the supplies, I will be able to pay no more than 1 person (in addition to at least part of a person to maintain and test the animals).

    The alternative is to change my line of research so that I do not use mice, at which point, I will not be funded since I will have no track record of productivity in a new field. This policy means that I will not have a job soon.

    I can only compete on the quality of my work. Once you get away from merit-based funding, you incur a million far more serious inequities than you think you are curing.

  16. This policy will have very little impact since it will only potentially target PIs with ~4 R01s, which is not very common these days.

    Nonetheless, the policy has once again brought up a continuing discussion (perhaps most emphatically byDr. Donnelly).

    With limited funds, should the NIH support 10 single RO1 labs, or two 5 RO1 labs? Do we close down eight labs to maintain the size of two big labs? In other words, is science better off with ten small labs, or two big labs?

    There really is no in-between solution with the level of external funding available these days.

  17. I agree with the general comment that merit should always be the major criterion for funding. However, when paylines are as bad as now, it becomes very difficult to obtain funding for a project assessed to have virtually any level of risk (which is often judged as not yet knowing what the results will be!). This tends to favor labs that already have plenty of funds available, as they can afford to produce a large amount of preliminary data for an unfunded project, while a smaller lab cannot. This can create a “them what has, gets” cycle that could ultimately lead to the model much of Europe is trying to reform – a few large, dominant labs that control the direction of research. Such a situation squelches diversity of ideas and is not healthy for the long-term progress of science. So I think this pilot may be worth a try. But if it is going to be done, why start off with so many excepted categories? That plan guts the experiment before it even begins. Either test it wholeheartedly, or don’t do it.

  18. The NIH should focus on why some institutes can get away with having indirect rates that top 90%.

    The NIH should also audit institutes that get away with paying 0% salary to investigators. It is likely that these investigators spend at least some of their time teaching in classrooms, doing committee work, helping raise philanthropic funding, etc., activities that clearly are not supported by NIH research money.

    What is frustrating is that it is typically the richest of institutes, with the biggest labs, with the highest paid PIs, etc. that have these policies.

  19. NIH review process is never fair, it is always inclined to established “well connected” investigators. In science we do “blinded” experiments, but NIH do not follow the same for grant review process. Read a recent report in “Science” to know how a fair review can change grant funding :http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6084/969.full.
    Investigators with 4 NIH funded project and >1.5M annual funding can not provide intalactual inputs and efforts equaly thus cannot do justice to all of those grants . Thus poducitivity will not increase with incerased funding to those labs. I think it is time to give chance to talented young investigators and research assistant professors directly to run their own project as PI, who are currently working mostly as “slaves” under those “well connected well funded” PIs

    1. Why does everyone seem to think the Big Pitch story proved the right grant got funded under blinded conditions? Maybe that was the inferior outcome. All that study showed was the variability, not that either method was correct.

      1. Review method is correct only when your grant get fuded. “Unbiased review” is not possible at current NIH study section format. Every one knows that for good score you must be familiar to the NIH study section reviewers.

  20. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. It’s my opinion that at study section the reviewers can’t help but notice how much ongoing support a lab already has and those highly funded applicants already have a higher bar set against them to get to the pay line. It is not supposed to happen this way but I think it does. If they indeed make it over that bar, the quality of the science is unlikely to not be able to withstand the scrutiny of council. If council really was to disregard the quality, then they would not be doing their job. Bottom line, I don’t think this is going to change much if anything in the situation going forward. We are facing tough times and and the US is losing its historic lead in innovation in science. We may just have to accept that and face the music. It’s a privilege to be a scientist, effectively work at what is essentially a passion. The reason funding is tough is because many people feel the same passion and we have to accept there isn’t going to be room for everyone to be a scientist. Let’s start by slowing down the printing of all those PhD certificates ad nauseum.

    1. Funding is tough and going to get worse in the US for a number of reasons. But, I’m not a defeatist. Bad decision making/advising by scientific leadership (aka the US NAS) is in part to blame. First, natural laws of economics need to dictate who qualifies for and seeks a PhD and competes for funding either directly or as part of a large group. Essentially subsidizing the degree with enticements and rewards for migration was and remains a poor idea. In this scenario, the more qualified resident is under-rewarded financially, in career opportunities, and is really not appreciated. It can explain the ~50% drop in the top quintile of US science students entering science (STEM) in the past 15 years. Sure immigrant scientists are often good and are often silent so the PI/boss can assume full credit for the work. But, it was and is a bad idea for innovation and scientific competitiveness for a nation to remove factors of self-motivation, self-reliance, and rewards. It also allows your non-masters of science to enslave potential masters of science. The ‘new’ culture kills the best students, unless they are real fighters and die-hard scientists. Don’t be surprised if the strong ones politically undermine the current poor structure in the best interest of the future of US science and innovation.

  21. I keep scrolling down to read a comment on/reply to Beentheredonethat’s questions: “With limited funds, should the NIH support 10 single RO1 labs, or two 5 RO1 labs? Do we close down eight labs to maintain the size of two big labs? In other words, is science better off with ten small labs, or two big labs?” None yet. I hope any answer/comment would factor in or include comparisons of the two through measures of efficiency (output per unit input) and impact, the economics of investment, the benefits to scientific advance, and the cost of doing otherwise.

  22. I notice that something not mentioned frequently is the fact the a 1.5 million threshold will have a differential effect on certain types of research. Someone mentioned the cost of monkey work, what about human work? Clinical research, particularly clinical translational research is quite expensive. I understand the desire to increase the number of funded grants, but there should be some accounting for the innate expense associated with various types of research.

  23. Nonhuman primate work is expensive and has already been severely diminished compared with past decades. So yes, the more expensive research will be the first to suffer and will take the most irrevocable hit. People who do clinical research and other big-money research should heed.

  24. Whether 2 big labs or 10 small labs produce more bang for the buck is indeed today’s $64,000 question. A week ago, I had the opportunity to be at the Wright family grave for Wilbur Wright’s 100th year memorial and to listen to Neil Armstrong and others speak with over 100 others in attendance honoring Wilbur’s contribution to aviation. The Wright’s certainly made a big impact with a little of their own investment (~$300 to get off the ground) and eventually sold their ‘proven’ research to the US army and other governments. They were a small 2-3 man operation amongst many small and big operations (Langley was well-funded by the govt. on the problem). Some problems like flight require many different approaches/experiences for a solution (many small labs = better). According to Wilbur, “circumstances were more important than any special intellectual ability” for solving the problem of controlled flight. Neil Armstrong’s ‘small step’ was another example of a ‘big step for mankind’, but that was the result of far much greater cost and manpower akin to sequencing the human genome. What we are obviously seeking is the delivery of impacts worthy of the costs. How can we measure impact? What are discoveries worth? For starters, quality original publications of results for the primary author/lab should be costing around $100,000 ea, regardless of lab size, not the average $250,000. Do your own calculations. Institutes and universities should not be boasting about their total funding. They should be satisfied with producing results that survive the filter of time. That is their job and our job. That is what needs evaluated. One also needs to consider all the effort and costs of writing, evaluating and rejecting good proposals. How smart is that?

  25. Could you clarify how the PI grant total costs are tallied? For example, for a PI of a P01, what component of the TC is counted for them vs. other Project Leaders. Also, are U01 TC treated the same as R01 TC (ie, do both count towards the 1.5 m)? I realize this may change over time, but knowing your initial plans would still be helpful.

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