The (free access) Editorial in this week’s Nature (Nature 449, 115; 2007) argues that “the peer-review system used by the $29-billion National Institutes of Health (NIH) is more than half-a-century old, and is showing its age. It has become stretched by the breadth of today’s science, in which inter- and multidisciplinary grant applications are common, and by the sheer volume of submissions in an era in which one-grant labs have gone the way of the dinosaur……A radical transformation is urgently needed.”
The Editorial describes how the NIH solicited ideas from leaders of scientific societies in Washington DC this summer, and will contine to gather opinons at meetings in Chicago, New York and San Francisco this month and next. About 2,000 electronic opinions were also submitted. The goal is to create concrete recommendations by early this winter, with pilot projects to follow as soon as next spring.
The NIH have asked for ‘creative’ and even ‘radical’ ideas. One such, states the Nature Editorial, is the proposal of the Association of American Medical Colleges to “allow individual scientists to have only one application of a given kind in the system at any one time. Multiple grants could still be held by one scientist, but he or she could have only one application per mechanism under review. This would compel self-selection of the best proposals by scientists upstream of the review process. To be workable, this would necessitate a funding cycle that lasts at most six months rather than the current ten. But that compression is highly desirable in any case and has already been accomplished in pilot trials.
Such an approach can only help the most creative scientists by stemming the current deluge of applications. It’s a radical idea but, for that reason at least, an excellent one.”