Seeking Public Comment on CSR’s 2022 – 2027 Strategic Plan

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Noni Byrnes, Ph.D., Director of NIH Center for Scientific Review

Guest post by Noni Byrnes, Director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR), originally released on the Review Matters blog

I am pleased to announce that CSR’s draft strategic plan is now open for public comment. This 5-year plan (for 2022–2027) will serve as our roadmap as CSR advances its mission of seeing that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely scientific reviews—free from inappropriate influences—so NIH can fund the most promising research.

Input from CSR’s stakeholders—the external scientific community, the CSR Advisory Council, NIH institutes and centers, and our own CSR staff—helped to shape the goals of the plan, all of which center on strengthening peer review. Input included critical discussions about topics that have received increased and necessary attention recently, including structural racism and the COVID-19 pandemic. The goals are:

• Goal 1: Maintain scientific review groups that provide appropriate scientific coverage and review settings for all of NIH science.

• Goal 2: Further develop a large cadre of diverse, well-trained, and scientifically qualified experts to serve as reviewers.

• Goal 3: Further develop an outstanding, engaged, and diverse staff.

• Goal 4: Implement changes to the peer review process to make it more fair, effective, and efficient.

• Goal 5: Achieve our mission through transparency, engagement with the scientific community, and a data-driven approach to decision-making.

Collectively, these goals reflect CSR’s core values, which are 1) ensuring fairness and diversity in all CSR activities, 2) maintaining open lines of communication with our stakeholders to ensure transparency and to take full advantage of the expertise and experience that they offer us, and 3) using cutting-edge data science and informatics in our decision making.

Everything we do at CSR ultimately supports our mission-driven work in peer review, and the strategic plan goals and our core values upon which they are built are no exception. By ensuring a high-quality and fair peer review process, we advance the mission of NIH and support the Nation’s biomedical research enterprise.

Comments on the strategic plan will be accepted through March 23, 2022. The full plan may be found here; we welcome comments through Review Matters or sent to feedback@csr.nih.gov. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

3 Comments

  1. CSR provided a training video to grant reviewers to show how to minimize review bias by emphasizing applicant’s expertise over reputation. It is excellent. However, I have witnessed a situation in which a grant reviewer repeatedly invoked the reputation of the applicant’s team as a justification for better scoring. When discussing a junior faculty’s application, he overlooked institutional support letter and criticized the applicant based on his credentials. Even worse, he verbally agreed to several reviewers’ disagreeing comments, but immediately annoced a worse (higher) score for the juior faculty’s applicaiton.

    We cannot predict or saction a particular reviewer’s behavior on spot, but there needs to be some ground rules for such unconscionable behaviors. Would such reviewers be warned at the meeting and/or barred from CSR review panels untill further training is completed? Thanks for this communication opporunity.

    1. @ Dr. Zhang ….. It sounds disappointing and frustrating, but the training video (which was not without its own conflicts of interest and problems) devoted a good deal of time to illustrating what CSR and NIH as a whole want to see happening, which would be for the Study Section Chair to do what in (the real) football would be akin to pulling out a yellow card, that is to interrupt and point out that the comments were out of line. They maybe should and probably will have SROs do more interventions when issues of this sort come up. Of course, that simply means that reviewers will become more covert and less explicit about issues of the Investigator.

  2. Ensuring good quality reviews is a key feature of what CSR does. To facilitate that process, I hope CSR will resume in person study section meetings and reviews. The quality of web-based reviews are poorer especially in the discussion phase. People are less likely to chime in and participate and bring up god questions and issues if they are remote. Mostly the discussions is between the reviewers, and less enriched by other members.
    Also, can there be scores provided even if an application is not discussed? This can be important feedback to the applicant regarding resubmission. Perhaps it can be “provisional” scores which is a tally of the 3 reviewers scores.
    Finally, the new rule for resubmissions and competitive renewals not being able to show changes is not at all convenient for the reviewers and not in favor of heh applicant. it would be good to bring back the option to show clearly where changes and improvements have been made.

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