Eight months ago, CSR Director Dr. Richard Nakamura and I posted a blog on “A Reminder of Your Roles as Applicants and Reviewers in Maintaining the Confidentiality of Peer Review.” We asked you to imagine a scenario: you are a reviewer for an upcoming panel meeting, and shortly before the meeting an investigator associated with an application communicates with you, asking for a favorable review in exchange for an academic favor. We asked what you would do – accept the offer, ignore it, or report it?
We used the blog as an opportunity to remind all of us how important it is that we all do our utmost to assure the integrity of peer review. Failure to do so, we wrote, will “result in needless expenditure of government funds and resources, and erode the public trust in science.” Furthermore, we noted that there are potentially serious consequences for reviewers and for investigators or others associated with applications who engage in behavior that violates the integrity of NIH peer review.
Unfortunately, our blog foreshadowed just such an event. NIH has recently determined that there has been a breach in the integrity of the panel review process of a batch of applications.
NIH takes the integrity of peer review seriously, and we appreciate that the vast majority of individuals also take the integrity of peer review seriously. Accordingly, after much thought and deliberation, we decided we had no choice but to cancel the panel’s review. The consequences are serious: dozens of applications will need to undergo a re-review.
When the integrity of peer review has been breached, it affects everyone. We regret that the dozens of affected applicants who did nothing wrong will face substantial delays in getting their applications reviewed and processed. We appreciate that the panel reviewers spent a great deal of time and effort reviewing dozens of applications, traveling, and participating in meetings. NIH must assure a fair process for everyone and will not stand by when the integrity of our peer review process is compromised.
We are grateful to the tens of thousands of reviewers and applicants who do play by the rules and who take as seriously as we do the critical importance of the integrity of our processes. This case is a reminder for all of us that we must be ever vigilant.