The Great Zerhouni got an earful from Science readers this week regarding his Nov 2006 Policy Forum commentary on the paradox of tighter paylines in the post-doubling period, particularly with regard to the foundation mechanism, the R01.
Dr. Werner from the Rockefeller University offers some real analysis: “As of the end of fiscal year 2005, the R01-equivalent represented 12% less of the overall grant budget relative to 1998, the year the NIH budget began to double. During this same period, there has been an increase in the total number of awarded grants, but these increases did not include a sustained increase in the total number of R01-equivalents awarded. … Moreover, the number of new investigator R01-equivalent grants has remained essentially unchanged since 1981, including the doubling period 1998-2003.”
Dr. Avantaggiati of Georgetown University further notes (with supporting data analysis of her own): “On the contrary, the success rate of true investigator-initiated grants has decreased dramatically, while NIH continues to promote multiple special programs through the R01 award mechanism. Consequently, if an appropriate balance between NIH-solicited-and investigator-initiated proposals is lost, the scientific community risks disenfranchisement of its role in guiding scientific directions. … [and on funding levels]… The anemic budgets awarded by NIH hamper everyone’s ability to realistically perform research. Hence, the vicious cycle: less money is awarded per single grant, and fewer grants are available per single investigator, which begs for more grant writing efforts. This further saturates the system by increasing the load of submissions and negatively impacting upon success rates. Zerhouni does not explain how his proposals solve this ill-fated Catch-22.”