Dr. Richard Nakamura is director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review.
Last year we highlighted a new section of the NIH Data Book that provides statistics about peer review across NIH, including peer review organized by the Center of Scientific Review as well as peer review organized by NIH institutes and centers. Then, and now, these data truly demonstrate how you, our peer reviewers, are the lifeline of the scientific process. During 2014 nearly 24,000 reviewers participated in more than 2,500 peer review meetings to assess the scientific and technical merit of NIH applications, and many of those reviewers participated in multiple meetings. Your service to NIH expands our capacity to fund the best science, and provides an essential breadth of perspectives on the research projects and research training that NIH supports. In the lab and in the study section, we’re grateful for the myriad ways you work with us to advance human health and benefit the health of our nation, and the world.
As you can imagine this enormous peer review endeavor is highly dependent on your willingness to serve. We know that pay lines are low and that your professional obligations are high, both of which have impacted and continue to impact your decision to review when we ask. However, we believe that the professional obligation to serve as a peer reviewer is extremely important to keep this great enterprise going, particularly for those of you who currently have NIH support. NIH examined the peer review service records of scientists with current research project grant (RPG) support and who have received a total of $1M or more in total costs from NIH in the last 5 years. There are more than 25,500 scientists in this pool, and of these, 83% have provided at least one day of committee service in 5 years. Looking closer at the data, if one day of peer review service per year would be considered a reasonable expectation for service, then currently fewer than half of these funded scientists (45%) achieve that level of service. It is important to note that not all funded PIs are asked to serve each year, and those individuals are also included in this figure. In addition, there is an increase in service with more funded R01 grants. The data revealed that 42% of PIs with one R01 served at least one time per year, 59% of those with two R01s served at least one time per year, and 72% of those with three R01s or served at least one time per year.
So with service in mind, today we published an NIH Guide Notice reiterating our expectation that NIH-supported PIs will serve as reviewers when asked and calling on awardee institutions to encourage their researchers in accepting invitations to serve on peer review and advisory groups. There are many venues for institutions to promote review service among their NIH-funded investigators, for example, at faculty and employee workshops, orientations, or training sessions. Peer review service is part of a researcher’s overall contribution to the scientific enterprise, and workplace incentives and evaluations are opportunities to acknowledge individuals who serve when asked.
NIH works as full partners with our grantee institutions in advancing the scientific enterprise. By encouraging NIH-funded investigators to serve on peer review and advisory groups, together we can promote a culture of sharing and service that maximizes the potential and promise of biomedical research.