In an interview with Heidi Hamm, President of the American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, the NIH Center for Scientific Review director Toni Scarpa (& yes, he looks like a Soprano) said that “During the first 3 days [of the request for information on re-engineering the R01 application], NIH received 1,200 responses, with 80% of them in favor of shortening the application.” The CSR currently uses about 18,000 reviewers (most ad hoc) annually, and they are looking into whatever might make this process easier and more desirable for qualified scientists to participate.
One more reason to write that optional cover letter requesting specific IC and IRG/study section assignments [per Dr. Scarpa]: “A major goal is to automatically assign applications directly to IRGs and study sections using text fingerprinting and artificial intelligence software.”
And it sounds like cheap hotel conference rooms might be on the way out for study section meetings: “We are having some success with video enhanced reviews, using mini-cameras and associated software, and also with asynchronous electronic reviews, using secure online discussion (chat) boards. The review process for both is much the same: the reviewers review their applications and post preliminary scores and critiques online. The difference is that, instead of traveling to a meeting, they discuss the applications on camera or on a secure Web site after 2-3 days.”