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Thu Dec 13, 2012, 06:06 PM

Researchers claim NIH grant process is 'totally broken'


John Ioannidis, a researcher at Stanford University has, along with graduate student Joshua Nicholson, published a commentary piece in the journal Nature, taking the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to task for maintaining a system that they say rewards conformity while ignoring innovation.

NIH is an agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services, and is the primary federal vehicle involved in offering money in the form of grants to researchers working to make new discoveries in the biosciences. The agency reportedly has a grant budget of approximately $30 billion a year. In their commentary piece, Ioannidis and Nicholson suggest that the process used by those in charge at NIH favors those who wish to work on incremental increases in current fields rather than rewarding those seeking funds for innovative, but more risky ventures.

To back up their claims, they ran a search on research papers published in major journals over the past decade and found 700 papers that had been cited by authors in other papers at least 1,000 times. Of those papers, they say, just 40 percent of those listed as primary authors were working under an NIH grant. To determine who to give grants to, NIH uses what are known as Study Sections. Their job is to read proposals sent to them by prospective researchers and then to decide whether to offer a grant to carry out the things discussed in the proposal. The Study Sections are in reality a group of people a panel made up of scientists in the biomedical sciences.

And that's part of a big problem at NIH, Ioannidis and Nicholson write, because people that serve on the panels tend to get more of the grant money. They note that just 0.8 percent of the 700 oft cited papers listed NIH panel members as a primary author. They contend that being highly cited is a credible measure of the degree of innovation of work.

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Reply Researchers claim NIH grant process is 'totally broken' (Original post)
Celebration Dec 2012 OP
man4allcats Dec 2012 #1
Celebration Dec 2012 #2
momto3 Dec 2012 #3

Response to Celebration (Original post)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 07:08 PM

1. The commercialization of science will

only lead to technology, and technology is easily provided by engineers. While you may well find useful and marketable products from this source, you will not find the creativity and insight of a Darwin, a Mendel, an Einstein, a Pauling, a Bohr or a Hawking. That is the difference between engineers and scientists.

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Response to man4allcats (Reply #1)

Thu Dec 13, 2012, 08:20 PM

2. you nailed it

Sad. Government money should support the most innovative ideas. Let industry support the immediately marketable stuff.

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Response to man4allcats (Reply #1)

Sat Dec 15, 2012, 05:31 AM

3. I disagree.

The greatest advances in technology, especially biotech, will have to come from collaborations of basic scientists, engineers and clinicians. I am fortunate to work in a setting that fosters these types of collaborations, and I can tell you from personal experience, that engineering, chemical, biological and medical sciences are co-dependent. This is especially true in fields such as bioengineering, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

The real problem stems from the fact that the NIH current methods of funding do not support collaborative science. Nor does promotin and tenure eligibility in academic settings. Proof of "independent" research is required. But this is almost impossible to do, when funding for new NIH grants is around 7%. The NIH has to report all progress to congress in order to obtain budget increases (which is not happening anyways) and the only way to maintain funding levels is to show successful research. This means guaranteed research and nothing risky.

Many scientists have turned to the DoD, which has a fairly large research budget. The DoD is much more likely to fund innovative and novel research (think DARPA). But, these funds are also being cut.

It is a very bleak time for all science fields in the US. We are quickly losing our place in the world as leaders in these fields. Smart, young scientists are leaving the field, while older more established scientists (less novel?) retain the majority of the funding. I am not optimistic about the futur of science in our country.


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