Will the Shorter NIH Proposal Format Move Decision Making Back to the NIH?

ScienceBlogling Drugmonkey
has some good info about the new shortened NIH R01 proposal. There are a lot of interesting comments over there, so I suggest you head on over and read the whole thing. What I wonder about is if the shorter format will end up ‘compressing’ the proposal scores, and consequently, result in more ‘ties’ that have to be broken by the NIH staff.
Let me explain.

In many ways, proposals are like admissions to highly selective colleges and universities. For every one accepted, there are one to three that would be equally qualified. Sure, some are so obviously qualified, they’re a done deal, but many are very, very good, but could be substituted. Regarding proposals, reviewers have to come up with reasons to reject proposals.
With less information–that is, less opportunities to discriminate on pretty meaningless stuff in terms of the scientific merit and capabilities–I think there will be more grants that are very tightly bunched together, meaning that either program officers and the review council will select grants based on statistically ridiculous differences (although one could argue that’s already happening), or else funding decisions will shift somewhat to NIH officials.
I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing–if there’s a downside to the R01 mechanism as currently construed, there’s little accountability for panels that choose grantees stupidly.
So, what do you think of the short format?

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1 Response to Will the Shorter NIH Proposal Format Move Decision Making Back to the NIH?

  1. I don’t think the short format is going to have any particular effect on compression of scores. And if it does, it is going to be undisentangleable with the effect of the move to the new scoring system, which was designed in part to decompress scores, and preliminarily seems to have had that effect.

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