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Research Funding

NIH revamps grant review process to reduce bias

Scientific merit to get more weight than reputation of investigator or institution

by Britt E. Erickson
October 26, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 36


As part of a decade-long effort to level the playing field for investigators seeking money to pursue biomedical research, the US National Institutes of Health is simplifying its grant review process. Expertise and resources—two factors that can lead to potential reputation bias—will be evaluated for sufficiency but will no longer get a numerical score, the agency announced Oct. 19.

The new framework, which goes into effect for grant applications received on or after Jan. 25, 2025, is designed to give more weight to the importance, rigor, and feasibility of a proposed research project. Such factors will continue to be scored numerically.

“Studies have shown that consideration of reputation of the institution or investigator in the grant review process could affect assessment of scientific merit, potentially giving reputation greater weight than other factors,” Lawrence Tabak, acting director of the NIH, says in a statement. “Ultimately, the potential impact of ideas on advancing science should outweigh the reputation of who is applying and where they work.”

Ultimately, the potential impact of ideas on advancing science should outweigh the reputation of who is applying and where they work.
Lawrence Tabak, acting director, National Institutes of Health

The NIH has been struggling for years to make its grant review process fair and to ensure that peer review panels choose the best research proposals. The new framework also shifts some of the administrative burden from peer reviewers to NIH staff to allow reviewers to focus more on the science.

The NIH says it will consider feedback on the new framework. It will also collect data to evaluate the impact of the changes over time so that it can improve the process as needed.



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