In today’s New England Journal of Medicine, Richard Nakamura, the director of NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR), and I published an essay titled “Reviewing Peer Review at the NIH.” As the competition for NIH research grants has become increasingly stiff, review scores often are pointed to as the reason for failure to obtain funding. Indeed, over the past few years, peer review has come under increasing scrutiny. Critics have argued that peer review fails in its primary mission – to help funding agencies make the best decisions about which projects and which investigators to support. ….
Suppose a funding agency happens to have some extra money and needs to decide how to invest it. Should it invest that extra money in a large, highly productive laboratory, so that laboratory can expand a bit more? Or should it invest that extra money in a small to moderate size laboratory? Given our inability to predict the future with great certainty, which approach represents the smarter investment strategy? Jon Lorsch, the director of the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), has posted an interesting video on just this question. ….
Scientists have long considered the research process to be self-correcting; we trust that, even if scientists may sometimes make errors in the lab, those errors will eventually be discovered and corrected as others try to substantiate and extend original research findings. However, as stated in a commentary by NIH Director Francis Collins and NIH Deputy Director Larry Tabak, “A growing chorus of concern, from scientists and laypeople, contends that the complex system for ensuring the reproducibility of biomedical research is failing and is in need of restructuring.”
There are examples that indicate that our processes have room for improvement. For example, a 2008 study ….
We periodically need to update our application forms and instructions to accommodate changing policy, new business needs, and sometimes (not often enough) to reduce the amount of information we ask of you. Given our constraints, we have been working to provide systems support to make the mechanics of these transitions easier for you. This particular set of changes implements a number of policy changes impacting applications submitted in 2016, which we announced in a series of recent NIH Guide notices. We would like to give you a quick overview of what is happening. ….
As many in the research community know, the “Common Rule” refers to current regulations to protect individuals who participate in research as human subjects. The regulations, which have been in place since 1991, are followed by 18 federal agencies that support research – hence the name. Today I’d like to give you some background on how these regulations – and the conversation around these regulations – have evolved since 1991, and let you know about an opportunity to provide feedback on the modernization of these important rules. ….
Peter H. Schuck, the former deputy dean of the Yale Law School, recently published the book, Why Government Fails So Often: and How It Can Do Better, a rather depressing explanation of how public regard for government has steadily declined since the 60’s and 70’s. After 10 chapters that detail why the US Federal Government fails and fails again, along comes Chapter 11. No, not a chapter on bankruptcy, but on “Policy Successes.” And one of the several policy successes he mentions include an agency that you and I are well familiar with… the National Institutes of Health. The author notes, “Even small-government advocates generally concede an important role to the Federal Government [in] basic research – the creation of knowledge – in areas where private actors lack incentives to invest.” NIH-funded research has yielded important discoveries that have led to new treatments; has enabled excellent institutions of learning to flourish; has created cutting-edge job opportunities; and has forged strong collaborations with the private sector. ….