Since the PP has been hitting it out of the park with hilarious videos and slightly more serious dissections of irrational responses to disappointing grant reviews, I’ve been thinking on one of the triggers.

Idiotic Comments.

Nothing makes a grant applicant fixate on the deficiencies of NIH peer review like an idiotic comment. We’ve all received them. The glaring mischaracterization of the literature. The utter misunderstanding of the preliminary data presented…or of the methodologies proposed. The occasional ad hominem that evades the SRO’s editorial hand. A puzzling failure to internalize the essential points made repeatedly in bullet point or bold face type throughout the application. Etc*.

But here’s the thing.

Idiotic comments have, in many cases, very little impact on the disposition of your grant. If your application is discussed at the table, then it is very likely that inaccurate and idiotic and even personally biased comments will be revealed for what they are. As I’ve said before, if your grant is to have a chance you are going to have to have won over at least one advocate. Perhaps several. One of these advocates is going to rebut misplaced comments during the course of discussion. They are going to evaluate the stupid comments as politely as possible…while still making it obvious what a screwed up criticism it really is.

The detractors often dig their own grave as well. If someone is riding a personal hobby-horse…this becomes really, really obvious in the course of discussion. They may even have a reputation (if they are a permanent member of the study section) for being sort of…blind….on a given topic and the rest of the panel discounts accordingly. [The slight caveat to this is that hobby horse riding does have the potential that a slightly cranky viewpoint** can be argued into the heads of other people over time. This, btw, is another reason to serve a full term on a study section, so that you can make your pet ideas have a little broader reach.] This is not an all-or-nothing thing, I should emphasize. In my experience, one may think a fellow member of the panel is absolutely nutz about one particular issue and still find them to be generally an excellent reviewer.

So calm down with the “flawed review” ranting. In most cases that comment that has you so exercised did not really make the difference between funding and “we advise you to revise and resubmit“.
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*and by all means list your favorite idiotic reviewer statements in the comments

**and let us be clear, we all have our little hobby horses and biases