NIH Peer Review Notes

Literally … the Jan 08 issue, complements of the Center for Scientific Review. Seems as though the big news is that formal recommendations on enhancing peer review will be made to the Great Zerhouni et al. in February 2008. In the meantime, you can check out the revolutionary ideas in the Insider’s Guide to Peer Review for Applicants prepared by current and retired study section chairs. Seriously, though, nice concise compilation of sound advice.

Also of possible interest … study sections can expect to have one meeting a year held somewhere other than Bethesda/Rockville & environs, specifically in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. SROs (scientific review officers, formerly known as SRAs) can seek approval to use other major west coast cities.

The newsletter also reports improvements in speed, ease of use, and convenience of the online message board-based review system (asynchronous electronic discussion) … and the availability of reports for individual open house workshops on re-aligning various integrated review groups and the promise of a comprehensive final report soon.

Speaking of which, CSR replaced the current Division of Clinical and Population-based Studies with a new Division of Healthcare, Population and Behavioral Sciences and split the current Health of the Population IRG into two new IRGs. Altogether, the Division will have 5 IRGs: Biobehavioral and Behavioral Processes; Risk, Prevention and Health Behavior; AIDS and Related Research; Epidemiological and Population Sciences; and Healthcare Delivery and Methodologies.

And elsewhereNature Neuroscience has an editorial that does a nice job recapping the peer review review & revamping effort.


  1. delenn said

    Thanks so much for this post.
    I just wrote an email to an investigator telling him that it is my opinion that he, under no circumstances ,should submit his RO1 proposal (it was obviously written in a hurry by a non-English speaking native, and badly written at that; it did not have an overarching hypothesis – just five separate, unconnected hypotheses in the specific aims; shall I go on?). The ‘Insider’s Guide to Peer Review..” is only two pages, but it says OH SO Much! I’m going to send it to my investigator with a hope and a prayer that he doesn’t destroy his reputation forever with this submission!

    Oy. Know the scenario only too well. I’m going to print out a stack to hand out liberally when meeting with new investigators and trying to reason with just this sort of PI. -writedit

  2. whimple said

    I’m sure all the New Investigators are going to love the helpful advice in the box of the “Insider’s Guide to Peer Review for Applicants” from Rozanne M. Sandri-Goldin, University of California, Irvine: If you really want to know how to write a good application, serve on a study section.

    She looks happy sitting there petting her golden retriever. Evidently life for her is pretty good. Of course, you can’t sit on a peer-review study section until you’ve been funded, since until then you’re not a peer. Sure enough, her contribution to the “Insider’s Guide” is to say the best way to get funded is to be an “Insider”. What an asshole.

    Whimple, I might add to what iGrrrl notes below that you can probably serve on internal review panels (for intramural pilot funding ops and/or for NIH applications before they are shipped out) … or just informally offer to review applications by your colleagues if no formal internal review mechanism exists at your institution. No prerequisites there, and you will learn a LOT … while serving as a good research citizen at the same time. – writedit

  3. iGrrrl said

    It may annoy you, whimple, but she’s right, and she didn’t get to be department chair by playing with the dog. Reviewing other people’s grants in any capacity, from internal competitions, to foundations, to NIH or NSF, will teach you a lot about what works and what doesn’t. That doesn’t make you an “insider,” but if you’re paying attention and able to apply what you learn as a reviewer to your own writing, it will help.

    Also, NIH has special emphasis panels, etc., and IME, not all reviewers on those panels have R01s. You can also volunteer to review at NSF.

  4. Not so much to promote my blog but rather to raise attention about the story of Marcy Speer: a little background on the newly-announced Marcy Speer Outstanding Reviewer Award in this same issue of CSR Peer Review Notes.

    Abel Pharmboy, this is fabulous. Thank you so very much for taking the time to pull this together. I remember reading the brief blurb about Dr. Speer when the award was announced, but you’ve brought the story to life. Everyone – this “little background” is REQUIRED READING! – writedit

  5. bikemonkey said

    Did you honestly like that NN editorial? I thought it was a bit toothless myself. There’s more interesting stuff in shortest of comments to a blog post. Aren’t editorials supposed to, you know, editorialize???

    Well, BM, that’s why I described it as doing a nice job recapping … nothing revolutionary, but it covers the major concepts in one tidy narrative. I myself was wondering why it fell under the “editorial” category … though they do insert a little commentary beyond reporting (something I wouldn’t want to see in a straight news item) and raise the issue of actually funding the infrastructure needed to test and implement these proposed changes. It’s not like the Great Zerhouni can cooly state, “Make it so” … and voila, the NIH is light years ahead in terms of peer review. – writedit

  6. PhysioProf said


    Translation: “putting a year’s worth of NIH press releases in a blender, setting it on ‘whip’ for five minutes, and then pouring out a few paragraphs”


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