It has been a couple of years since I wrote this one and I was wondering to myself if study sections have been de-clustered. If you have an odd moment (and really, what else would you be doing the next couple of days) scan through your favorite study sections’ funded grant output and see how clustered those sections are at present. This post went up Dec 7, 2007 on the old blog.


We’ve been discussing the degree to which insular sub-groupings of scientists protect and maintain themselves and their peers through the grant review process. We’re using “bunny hopping” thanks to whimple and the NIH CSR calls this “clustering“. Note upfront that this analysis and discussion does not necessarily require overt malicious intent on anyone’s part. The presentation at the recent PRAC meeting from Don Schneider identified the IFCN (Integrative, Functional and Cognitive Neuroscience) group of study sections as top suspects in the “clustering” phenomenon. Can we derive a little more information one wonders?

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Colleagues who have served on NIH study sections in recent rounds are reporting being surveyed by the NIH/CSR process which has been evaluating grant review. The NIH Peer Review Advisory Committee (PRAC) links are a good place to start if you want to catch up. Or you can start with some posts on the old blog.
It is no secret that I think it idiotic that so much of this breast beating about the “broken” review system has preceded without obvious and significant input from current reviewers. Well, now they are soliciting input.

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The Director of the National Institutes of Health, Elias Zerhouni, has scheduled a press conference for later in the day and he is anticipated to announce broad ranging changes in the NIH. An official high up in the Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives would only speak off the record but listed a number of initiatives that are expected to be announced.

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We’ve been discussing the degree to which insular sub-groupings of scientists protect and maintain themselves and their peers through the grant review process. We’re using “bunny hopping” thanks to whimple and the NIH CSR calls this “clustering“. Note upfront that this analysis and discussion does not necessarily require overt malicious intent on anyone’s part. The presentation at the recent PRAC meeting from Don Schneider identified the IFCN (Integrative, Functional and Cognitive Neuroscience) group of study sections as top suspects in the “clustering” phenomenon. Can we derive a little more information one wonders? Read the rest of this entry »

The PRAC met 12/3 and their site has the slide files up already. I have some brief observations. Read the rest of this entry »

In a recent post, I suggested that official NIH-speak to the effect that a “majority” of respondents to a NIH Notice on the topic of shortening the R01 application was disingenuous. I was interested in the specific numbers and now we have them. There’s a nice PowerPoint by Robert Finkelstein (NINDS) and Don Schneider (CSR) up on the April 19, 2007 minutes of the Peer Review Advisory Committee (PRAC) site. From this we learn that of their sample (it is not clear if data are from the whole 5078 or from the 500 “randomly selected” for full analysis) 27% wanted to keep the 25 page format, 43% wanted to go to 15 pages, 22% favored 10 pages and 5% favored 5 page applications (3% no-response). So my suspicions are mostly unfounded but it still bears answering why they didn’t just report the bloody numbers in the first place. Nevertheless this bears some examination. 5 pages? I think we can safely assign this 5% to the unserious/nutcase/random response circular file. I mean, 5 pages, really. That leaves us with 71% of the serious sample in favor of shorter and 29% in favor of not changing. So yes, this is a pretty good majority in favor of shorter applications. My suspicions were unfounded thus far.

I’ve pointed out before why I think shorter apps will disadvantage the younger investigator. Despite the fact that in the PRAC data New Investigators are, if anything, more in favor of the shorter applications, 27% of the sample agrees with me that the New Investigator would be disadvantaged (43% say no disproportional impact on any of a number of categories). We also learn that 65% of respondents think that review criteria should be changed to emphasize ideas and impact (29% nay). Indeed. This is absolutely essential. Perhaps things are going to go in the right direction on this one.