Reviewing Peer Review: NIH needs your help!
Please take a few minutes to respond to the NIH Request for Information
on Peer Review at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-07-074.html
We all rely on the NIH peer review system to ensure that we support
the best biomedical and behavioral research in the world. Today,
we can all agree that the system faces challenges. These challenges
include, among others, a rising number of applications, rapid changes
in science, and increasingly competitive funding levels, all of
which require many investigators to apply multiple times to obtain
For more than half a century, the NIH peer review system has been
the gold standard for funding science of the highest quality. The
scientific community, including members of NIH advisory councils
and Institute and Center Directors, all agree that we must continue
to fund the best science and the best scientists, with a minimum
of bureaucracy. And so, like all things great, our peer review
system must be regularly examined, critiqued, and improved if we
are to maintain its quality. We have therefore arrived at
another juncture when it is time to review peer review.
The NIH Center for Scientific Review and Office of Extramural
Research are working to respond to these challenges. We are making
efforts to reduce review times, especially for new investigators;
experiment with new formats for review; and assess the need to
streamline the application, while successfully implementing electronic
submission for most grants. A series of open houses to review the
performance of each Integrated Review Groups (IRGs) is beginning.
We are also launching a comprehensive effort to examine the NIH
peer review process, one that is broader than many previous efforts. The
ultimate goal of this new study is to optimize the entire system
used by NIH to support biomedical and behavioral research. We welcome
suggestions about the review process per se, as well as
suggestions regarding how to structure our grant mechanisms in
order to facilitate review and reduce the need for scientists to
spend more time on the application process, rather than doing science.
This requires broad and comprehensive input from the scientific
community. We are particularly interested in creative suggestions
about how we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the
system, even if this involves radical changes to the current approach.
The entire NIH leadership, including myself, has decided to make
this issue a top priority for NIH this year.
And I am making a direct appeal to you to respond to our call
for ideas, spread the word to your colleagues about this effort,
and encourage their participation.
To help ensure we receive the most thoughtful advice possible,
I recently established two Working Groups, each with differing
experience and perspectives. These groups will work in concert
by gathering both external and internal input.
- One group is a Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director
(ACD), our outside scientific advisors. This Working Group is led by Drs.
Keith Yamamoto and Larry Tabak and will focus on gathering input from
the extramural community. Members of this group (http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/rosters/acd.html)
will also identify a number of scientific leaders, who will be asked to
serve as liaisons between various scientific communities and the Working
Group. Each liaison will survey their community about the key elements
of the system used to support science and ideas for change. To ensure
we receive the broadest input possible on the strengths and weaknesses
of the current system and ideas for improvements, this Working Group will
also conduct a series of regional meetings around the country with external
scientists and the broad stakeholder community. This will also be done
through a web-based request for comment.
- In a parallel effort, an internal NIH Working Group, led by Drs. Jeremy Berg and Larry Tabak (http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/rosters/adhoc.html), will gather input on the peer review process from the NIH community, complementing input already received from NIH staff, including NIH Institute and Center Directors.
The Working Groups Mandate for Change and Coordination with
the ongoing activities in the Center for Scientific Review
The two Working Groups will then integrate their findings in the
form of a white paper that will prioritize issues with the current
system and articulate the best approaches towards effecting change.
They have a wide-ranging mandate to examine and discuss any and
all potential approaches to enhance the entire system. These
ideas will then be transformed into a series of implementation
pilots that will be designed to address both feasibility and effectiveness.
This will take into consideration ongoing efforts recently undertaken
by the Center for Scientific Review to streamline and improve the
efficiency of the current peer review system by shortening review
cycles, decreasing the length of the applications, and enhancing
the use of electronic reviews. The final recommendations, including
modifications to peer review policies and practices, will then
be approved by NIH leadership, including both Institute and Center
Directors, the NIH Director, and in consultation with advisory
Ultimately, NIH will develop new policies that could include,
- Exploring ways to integrate a broader understanding of the scientific
context into the Peer Review process;
- Ensuring that creativity, impact, and significance are emphasized in the applications themselves, as well as in their review;
- Improving the culture of review by encouraging the most accomplished
scientists to want to serve on study sections; and,
- Devising alternate strategies to support science that would better synergize with an enhanced peer review process while reducing the bureaucratic burden on our applicants.
Additional options will certainly emerge.
Because these issues can have an impact on the entire NIH community,
I am committed to absolute transparency as NIH conducts this study
and subsequent policy development. Please visit the
website: http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/ for more background
information and for up-to-the-minute updates as we move forward
with this effort.
Thanking you in advance
Again, I urge you to participate, either by responding fully and
candidly to committee members if asked, or by offering your direct
input at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-07-074.html.
Because of the level of interest in this effort, we have just extended the closing
date of the Request for Information
on Peer Review to September 7.
NIH will continue to ensure that our processes serve the overarching
mission of NIH — making important medical discoveries that
improve health and save lives — during this unprecedented
time of scientific advancement and opportunity. I know you share
this goal and I am counting on your help!
I invite you to share any comments you have with me, directly,
Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., Director
National Institutes of Health
For information about NIH programs, useful health information,
and additional resources, see the NIH web site at www.nih.gov.
An archive of the Director's Newsletter is available at http://www.nih.gov/about/director/newsletter/archive.htm.