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Policy

Maintaining Merit Review

Policy: International science summit highlights importance of merit review

by Andrea Widener
May 16, 2012

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Credit: Sandy Schaeffer
NSF hosted members from 44 countries for the first meeting of the Global Research Council, where the discussions focused on developing guiding principles for the merit review process.
20120516lnp1-meritreview.jpg
Credit: Sandy Schaeffer
NSF hosted members from 44 countries for the first meeting of the Global Research Council, where the discussions focused on developing guiding principles for the merit review process.

In a groundbreaking meeting last week, science policy leaders from 44 countries gathered outside Washington, D.C., to endorse a set of fundamental principles underlying merit review.

The two-day Global Summit on Merit Review, hosted by the National Science Foundation, affirmed the importance of merit review to science worldwide. Merit review—supporting research strictly based on its scientific merit, rather than other considerations—is a fundamental tenet of science funding in the U.S. and Europe but a work in progress in many developing countries.

“This global summit is the first step toward a more unified approach to the scientific process,” NSF Director Subra Suresh said at a May 15 press conference announcing the principles. “Good science anywhere is good for science everywhere.”

The summit endorsed six principles: expert assessment, transparency, impartiality, appropriateness, confidentiality, and integrity and ethics. The statement of principles is the culmination of a year of work that included five regional meetings of science policymakers worldwide.

Although these principles may seem straightforward in the developed world, many developing countries need guidelines like this as they create their own science-funding policies, Glaucius Oliva, president of Brazil’s National Council for Scientific & Technological Development, explained at a press conference at NSF’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.

For example, Brazil’s government is enacting new openness measures that Oliva fears might lead to court battles to reveal merit review deliberations. “An international statement that [confidentiality] is a fundamental principle of science is an important one,” he said.

The summit was also the founding meeting of the Global Research Council, which will gather annually to discuss important challenges facing science worldwide and develop guiding principles for science policymakers. The next meeting is scheduled for 2013 in Berlin and will be hosted by Brazil and Germany. It will tackle two issues: research integrity and open access to research.

Matthias Kleiner, president of the German Research Foundation, said creating a council makes sense because science is international by nature. “But it is not easy because science is a question of cooperation and it is also a question of competition,” he said. To balance that, “I think we need many more standards and principles on which we agree.”

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