Many grants to few researchers

In an analysis reported in a News story in Nature this week, 222 NIH grants: 22 researchers (Nature 452, 258-259; 2008), it emerges that 200 scientists received six or more grants each from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2007. One principal investigator was awarded 32 grants, and many others got eight or nine. This is counter to the recommendation last month by the advisory panels reviewing the NIH peer-review system that researchers should devote at least 20% of their time to any project awarded a research grant (see Nature 451, 1035; 2008).

According to the Nature news story, NIH director Elias Zerhouni says that the inequities between the haves and have-nots were caused by a doubling of NIH funding between 1998 and 2003. As funding levels rose, many new PhD positions were created. Established investigators, using data produced by the new PhDs, were able to submit better grant proposals. But hordes of these grant-hungry PhDs were left standing when NIH funding flattened out after 2003. The agency now funds significantly more people over the age of 70 than under the age of 30. “We’re eating our seedcorn,” says Zerhouni. Changes to the NIH peer-review system will be unveiled in mid-April.

See the related article by Gene Russo in NatureJobs (Nature 421, 381; 2008).


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