Scarpa Solicits Senior Scientists for Grant Review

August 25, 2007

A letter Dr. Scarpa, Director of the CSR, has been circulating to the heads of academic professional societies. I got ahold of this on a society email list. The Society president didn’t want to supply an official Society list and solicited volunteers from the membership.

Dear [SocietyPresident],

As you know, the quality of NIH's peer review process depends mightily on
the quality of the reviewers serving on our study sections. Several of your
fellow society presidents have sent us screened lists of volunteers from
their membership who they recommend as reviewers. We greatly appreciate
their help and are writing to ask for your assistance in identifying
senior, experienced members of your society willing to volunteer to serve
as NIH reviewers. 

Our criteria are straightforward.  We seek reviewers who are experienced
senior scientists, who have received major peer-reviewed grants either from
NIH or an equivalent agency, who understand the grant award process, and
most importantly, who are willing to serve for four years as study section
members. By providing CSR with a selected list of senior scientists who
volunteer to be study section members, you are ensuring that CSR's SRAs
consider your members when they select reviewers.

We would like this to be an ongoing process in which you send us names of
volunteer reviewers, and at the end of the year we provide you with
information on how many of your volunteer reviewers actually served on
study sections. 

We would appreciate any help you can provide in asking your colleagues if
they are interested in serving as reviewers. We have attached a template
that indicates the type of information we are seeking, including name,
Institution, email address, web address, area of expertise, the most
appropriate study section or Integrated Review Group, if known, and recent
funding sources.

Any help you can provide in assembling a list of qualified, senior-level,
volunteer reviewers would be greatly appreciated.  Please send the
annotated template to Diane Stassi, the Chair of our Reviewer Database
Committee, at RecruitReviewers@csr.nih.gov

Thank you and best wishes,
Toni Scarpa and Diane Stassi

toni scarpa
national institutes of health
center for scientific review
office of the director
6701 rockledge drive
bethesda, md 20892-7776
voice: 301 435 1109
email: scarpat@csr.nih.gov
website: www.csr.nih.govwww.

Diane Stassi, Ph.D.
Center for Scientific Review
National Institutes of Health
6701 Rockledge Dr.
Room 3202, MSC 7808
Bethesda, MD 20892-7808
Voice: 301-435-2514
Email: RecruitReviewers@csr.nih.gov.

I’ve talked before about how whatever “problems” there are with grant review aren’t going to be solved with recruiting “more senior scientists”. Not the least of which because “senior” sometimes means “out of touch”. Also, about the absurdity of the underlying premise that there are “too many junior scientists” reviewing grants. If you agree, for goodness sake write Scarpa a note, would ya?

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10 Responses to “Scarpa Solicits Senior Scientists for Grant Review”

  1. PhysioProf Says:

    “Our criteria are straightforward. We seek reviewers who are experienced senior scientists, who have received major peer-reviewed grants either from NIH or an equivalent agency, who understand the grant award process, and most importantly, who are willing to serve for four years as study section members.”

    What is the definition of an “experienced senior scientist”? What is the definition of a “major peer-reviewed grant”?

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  2. drugmonkey Says:

    the usual thing they mean in terms of “major peer-reviewed grant” is R01 or equivalent. it is one of the stock requirements so, for example, this is why I point out that even asst profs in the first 2-3 years rarely qualify for service whenever someone starts complaining about “all those asst profs reviewing my grant”.

    “experienced senior”? c’mon. you know what they are on about these days. supposedly too many associate professors so they think that getting full professors of advanced age is going to solve the nebulously-specified “problems” with review….

    it will be interesting to find out if other societies are ponying up the names or doing what this President has done.

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  3. PhysioProf Says:

    “[I]t will be interesting to find out if other societies are ponying up the names or doing what this President has done.”

    My interpretation of Scarpa’s language is that he is not asking society presidents to just mine their memberships lists sua sponte, but is asking society presidents to seek qualified volunteers from their members.

    Scarpa: “Several of your fellow society presidents have sent us screened lists of volunteers from
    their membership who they recommend as reviewers.”

    To me, this sounds like presidents have solicited volunteers from their memberships, and have screened out “non-experienced-senior” “non-major-grant-recipient” scientists.

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  4. drugmonkey Says:

    right. and also “screened out” god knows what. people they don’t like? sub-areas they don’t like? women? minorities?

    Look, I take this as “Could you please send us a list of even more of your GoodOldeBoyz to review grants”. I think we already have this aplenty. The bias of review tips their way already. And yet we have complaining that they are getting somehow screwed (“something wrong with review”) and need to get back on study sections en masse to “fix” review. this is just stupid.

    I wouldn’t have any problem whatsoever with attempts to democratically spread the burden, a la lottery service or obligatory-for-funding plans. Or even to, unbiasedly, increase the pool of qualified reviewers. It is the focus on the “senior, experienced scientist” that I have a problem with. It is not a recipe for improving review it is a recipe for enhancing GoodOldeBoy bias.

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  5. PhysioProf Says:

    Good points. Maybe this is really all about placating diverse constituencies.

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  6. drugmonkey Says:

    There is some of that of course. I mean, after asking just about every society to pony up names and broadcasting calls for service, the CSR can tell subsequent complainers to piss off. So this could be in part a strategic effort to “look busy”.

    Remains to be seen if they get a deluge of more-senior reviewers or not. And the interesting thing will be the attitude they bring. I can see some of “Well they brought ME in to straighten you people out!” occurring…

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  7. PhysioProf Says:

    I was thinking along the lines of “Listen, Dr. GoodOldeBoy, it’s your GoodOldeBoy cronies that trashed your grant, so quit bellyaching and start retiring.”

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  8. […] Other news includes a new IRG (Emerging Technologies and Training in Neurosciences), a new review division (Neuroscience, Development and Aging), consideration of a 2-stage review process (a la Pioneer award, with interviews in the second stage), and aggressive recruitment of SROs and experienced reviewers (via outreach to scientific societies). […]

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  9. […] 28, 2007 I previously noted an interesting response of one of my scientific Societies to CSR Director Scarpa’s request for them to identify/recommend some senior scientists to […]

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  10. […] have also ranted at some length about efforts in prior years to decrease the number of Assistant Professor rank participants […]

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