Reminder About Confidentiality in NIH Peer Review

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Imagine: You’re serving as a peer reviewer for an upcoming NIH study section, and you are assigned an application that references your colleague’s work. You think your colleague’s input would be helpful in writing your critique of the application. Should you share the information with your colleague?

No! Maintaining confidentiality throughout the peer review process is essential to the candid exchange of scientific opinions and evaluations, as well as the protection of privileged or confidential information. NIH has multiple safeguards to protect such information and to maintain confidentiality in peer review. We’ve published an NIH Guide notice explaining the measures used to ensure confidentiality, scenarios that represent breaches of confidentiality, and potential penalties and fines for reviewers who intentionally breach confidentiality in peer review. Confidentiality applies to all individuals participating in peer review so if you are involved in the peer review process – whether as an advisory council member or peer reviewer – be sure to read this Guide notice and the confidentiality in peer review website.

NIH recognizes that sharing the process of peer review to colleagues and trainees is valuable, so we encourage our peer reviewers to do so within the parameters of this guidance. If you have a question about a particular scenario like the one above, check in with your scientific review officer for help.

One comment

  1. Sally,

    If a reviewer doesn’t understand parts of a proposal, should the reviewer be allowed to say in the evaluation “I do not understand this and hence will not review this area.” I think it is better that a trustworthy reviewer be able to ask for help. It is better than lying and thus claiming to be knowledgeable in an area you don’t understand.

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