The latest idiocy, and we should remember to be taking a grain of salt for possible journalistic pull-quote shenanigans, is from the authors of a study showing that women applicants to the NIH get less money than do men. In Science, Jocelyn Kaiser quotes the author as follows on the issue of unfairly conflating all award types.

But Brian Uzzi, a co-author on the JAMA paper with postdocs Diego Oliveira and Yifang Ma, defends his team’s decision to cast a wide net and study a range of funding categories besides R01s and other RPGs. The R01s made up only 11% of all NIH grant money in the study, he notes. And, he adds, even if it’s for a resource or a conference, “any grant money is advantageous for an individual’s career.”

This is stupid. No, not all NIH awards are viewed the same with respect to an individual’s career, nor do all awards contribute to the career of the individual in the same way. So while it may be the case that any grant money is advantageous, it is not all equally advantageous. I am particularly struck by the mention of the conference award (see R25, for example). Sure, kudos for organizing a conference and kudos for not being the one that cratered the long-running Gordon conference’s NIH support this year. But DUDE. Are you so unaware of the disproportionate expectation that women do service work? and the price they pay for doing so? And, it is to organize a conference. There is NO FREEKIN WAY a measly conference award contributes to the laboratory goals and the career of the PI in the same way as another R01 award.

And the R01 itself? Versus other awards? Sorry but being the PI of a P01 or P50/60 Center or a large U01 means different things in a career assessment. They are not all one mix of substitutable values. For that matter if you get the same amount of cash via R03 and R21 awards it is never going to be viewed in the same way as the R01. Jeremy Berg quote from the article was spot on.

Jeremy Berg, a former NIGMS director who is now editor-in-chief of Science, calls the study “sloppy” because it “mixes apples and oranges.”

An interesting pre-print discussion emerged on Twitter today in the wake of an observation

that members of study sections apparently are not up to speed on the NIH policy encouraging the use of pre-prints and permitting them to be cited in NIH grant applications. The relevant Notice [NOT-OD-17-050] was issued in March of 2017 and it is long past time for most reviewers to be aware of what pre-prints are, what they are not and to understand that NIH has issued the above referenced Notice.

Now, the ensuring Twitscussion diverted off into several related topics but the part I find worth addressing is a tone that suggests that not only should NIH grant reviewers understand what a pre-print it, but that they should view them in some particular way. Typically this is expressed as outrage that reviewers do not view pre-prints favorably and essentially just like a published paper. On this I do not agree and will push a different agenda. NIH reviewers were not told how to view pre-prints in the context of grant review by the NIH as far as I know. Or, to the extent the NIH issued instructions, it was to essentially put pre-prints down below peer reviewed work.

The NIH agrees that interim research products offer lower quality information than peer-reviewed products. This policy is not intended to replace peer-review, nor peer-reviewed journals …

Further, the NIH is instructing awardees to explicitly state in preprints text that the work is not peer-reviewed.  These two practices should help reviewers easily identify interim products.  The NIH will offer explicit guidance to reviewers reminding them that interim research products are not peer-reviewed. Further, since interim products are new to so many biomedical disciplines, the NIH hopes that these conventions will become the norm for all interim products, and will help the media and the public understand that interim products have undergone less review than peer-reviewed articles.

Given this, I would suggest that NIH reviewers are quite free to discount pre-prints entirely, to view them as preliminary data (and be grumpy about this as an effort to evade the page limits of the NIH application)…..or to treat them as fully equivalent to a peer reviewed paper because they disagree with the NIH’s tone / take on this. Reviewers get to decided. And as is typical, if reviewers on the same panel disagree they are free to hammer this disagreement out during the Discussion of applications.

I believe that pre-print fans should understand that they have to advocate and discuss their views on pre-prints and also understand that merely whinge about how reviewers must be violating the integrity of review or some such if they do not agree with the most fervent pre-print fans is not helpful. We advocate first by using pre-prints with regularity ourselves. We advocate next by taking advantage of the NIH policy and citing our pre-prints in our grant applications, identified as such. Then, if we happen to be invited to serve on study sections we can access a more direct lever, the Discussion of proposals. (Actually, just writing something in the critique about how it is admirable would be helpful as well. NIH seems to suggest in their Notice that perhaps this would go under Rigor.)