The National Institutes of Health says it “expects” researchers who receive grants from the agency to also serve on peer review panels for grant applications.
Although NIH won’t require anyone to serve, the agency’s announcement “serves as a reminder that peer review is an essential part of the process,” says Richard Nakamura, director of NIH’s Center for Scientific Review. “We can make a citizenship argument.”
More than 25,500 principal investigators have each received $1 million or more in grant funding from NIH over the past five years. But only 45% of these awardees have served as peer reviewers an average of at least one day a year in return, Nakamura says. “Our scientific review officers are not getting a great deal of choice in fitting the right scientist to the right application.”
Howard Garrison of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology says NIH’s announcement is “likely to get a very strong response,” even though it isn’t binding.
NIH issued a similar call in 2010 that explicitly said the work was not required. The 2015 memo doesn’t emphasize that—it instead asks grantee institutions to push their employees to serve.
Many chemists don’t say yes when asked, says Debbie C. Crans, a chemistry professor at Colorado State University who helped compile a list of potential NIH reviewers in inorganic chemistry. “They are overwhelmed,” she says. “Our jobs have exploded in terms of paperwork.”