Why Properly Acknowledging NIH Support in Your Paper is Important

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Imagine this scenario. In the hustle to publish a paper, you accidentally forgot to cite the underlying NIH support. Or, the opposite, you opt to include that other grant in the acknowledgements that did not have anything to do with the work. No problem, right?

Well, it could be. Accurately and precisely acknowledging NIH funding allows us to properly assess award outputs and make recommendations for future research directions. It is also a term and condition of award outlined in the NIH Grants Policy Statement. Since the Stevens Amendment passed in 1989, recipients have been required to acknowledge federal funding when publicly communicating projects or programs funded with HHS funds.

NIH relies on proper acknowledgements to link publications to awards, and reviewers rely on it to help assess award productivity. Citing awards that did not directly support the work described in a paper adds to the burden on reviewers, who must then determine which grants were actually related to the reported research. In addition, Congress and the public may use this information to better understand progress resulting from the investment in biomedical research. Improperly citing awards not directly connected to the publication (over-citing) and failing to properly acknowledge NIH-funding on publications (under-citing) may also distort the true effect of NIH funding

So how does one determine when to acknowledge NIH awards on publications? Recipients should only acknowledge NIH awards on publications and other statements when:

  • The activities that contributed to that publication directly arise from the award and
  • are within the scope of the award being acknowledged

So, ask yourself, did the personnel activity supported by the award contribute to the publication? Did the authors consult with each other, help prepare the manuscript, conduct experiments, or analyze data reported in the paper? Is there a clear and apparent link between the work described in the publication with the aims and objectives of the grant? If so, then cite the appropriate NIH support.

In some cases, it may be difficult to identify which award(s) directly support a specific activity, especially in situations such as for large program projects with multiple components. We have FAQs on our Communicating and Acknowledging Federal Funding web page that may help, or  you can also consider reaching out to NIH program staff identified on the award notice for guidance.

We hope this information will help recipients better understand when to link federal dollar amounts to projects. By precisely and accurately acknowledging NIH awards in publications, we all help to ensure proper stewardship of taxpayer funds.

One comment

  1. I’m glad to see this issue getting some attention. As a a long-time NIH grantee, former Study Section member and chair I’ve been concerned with how to measure progress on an individual R01 renewal when multiple grants support publications in the progress report. This applies to individual investigators with multiple R01s, as well as to groups that work together. Resulting publications can be credited repeatedly as progress for each of the acknowledged grants. This is rarely mentioned during review. Should one divide publications by the number of supporting grants? Hardly a good method. But if some recognition doesn’t occur, then ‘the rich get richer’ and smaller, independently-working labs are disadvantaged.
    Perhaps a first step would be to ask that each publication in the progress report be required to also list ALL the grant support for that work. As it now stands, its up to a concerned reviewer to examine the acknowledgements section of each publication to that end.

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