Nature has a bit up on the whole Benezra letter / St Noonan situation with respect to the decision of NIH to limit NIH grant applications to a single revision.

Daniel Noonan, a molecular biologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, wrote in response what he terms a “spontaneous post”, outlining what he believes to be problems with current NIH policies that have disproportionately affected funding for mid-career biomedical scientists.
His sentiments struck a chord — resonant to some, and off-key to others.
“If you lose that one grant-renewal opportunity, it’s hard to recover in this day and age,” says Noonan.

I thought one parting shot in the Nature piece was kind of interesting.

Several scientist bloggers believe that Noonan’s comments imply that scientists should have access to NIH resources regardless of ability or outcomes; they counter that meritocracy should rule.

I am not certain this sufficiently conveys what a lot of “scientist bloggers” that I read, anyway, were saying. Certainly not what I was saying about the situation. The trouble with “meritocracy” is that it implies there is a single unified standard for excellent grant proposals and I do not believe that at all. My criticisms were mostly that a sinecureocracy for established investigators should NOT rule.

Anyway, back to the A2 issue….
OER director Sally Rockey has an explanation post up at her blog as well.

We recently received a letter from a group of extramural scientists expressing concerns about the sunsetting of the A2 applications. I thought that the entire NIH research community would be interested in reading our response

(see BlueLabCoats commentary)

The point that Rockey doesn’t make terribly well is one made by PhysioProf:

More importantly, however, there is a serious delusion that underlies this letter. There is only so much money available to fund competing applications, and the only effect changes in peer review in terms of actual funding of such applications could possible have is a change in which applications get funded. So the notion of “meritorious applications going unfunded because of this pernicious new rule” is nonsense. Limiting resubmissions can’t possibly change the number of “meritorious” applications that go unfunded.

I will admit that I had to think about this a little bit. Here’s the way I understand it. People are very focused on a common scenario of the recent past. Let’s say your IC of interest had a payline of 12%ile. And your A1 application came in at a 15%ile which resulted in, of course, the PO telling you to “Revise and Resubmit“. You did so, and the study section handed you back a 2%ile score on your A2*. Whoo-hoo!

Now the Benezra petitioners are looking at the current 7-8%ile, no-A2 environment and saying “Hey, I have a near miss 10%ile score on my A1. Man if I just had that chance for the A2, I’d get funded, brah!”

They are missing a fundamental part of the previous picture.

The ONLY reason that A1 came in over the payline at 15%ile was because the study section had a whole stack of A2s on their plate that had also come in just over the payline on a previous round of review. If those hadn’t been there, the A1 would have received a 9%ile and been funded.

The take home message here is that your just-miss score A1 score of today is not like your just-miss A1 score of 5 years ago. There are no longer any A2s in the queue clogging up the pipeline. Therefore your just-miss score is more like the “OMG, I pray the PO decides to reach way down for this one” score of before.

*The reason they did so, of course, had nothing to do with how your proposal was now objectively so much better than it was on the just-missed A1 version. It is much more a reflection of “Gee, I thought we gave this baby a score that would sneak over the line last time. Guess not. Well, we better make sure there is no way in hell Program can overlook it this time…”