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NIH revises grant review process to try to reduce possible reputational bias

October 26, 2023
By: Jerry Coughter

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced last week that it is adopting modified criteria in its grant review process beginning on January 25, 2024. The new system will continue to focus on the scientific merit of proposals (i.e., importance, rigor, and feasibility), while de-emphasizing criteria that may introduce bias into the review. New grant applications will be evaluated for whether the applicant demonstrates sufficient expertise and resources, but without considering the reputation of the institution or the investigator.

In its press release, NIH says the changes will help reviewers focus on the potential for the proposed research to advance scientific knowledge and improve human health. Reviewers will be able to focus on a proposal’s scientific merit because administrative responsibilities will be handled by NIH personnel.

The possibility of reputational bias is something NIH has grappled with for many years due to concerns over fairness and fears of new investigators dropping out of a system that favors established scientists at prestigious institutions. As SSTI previously reported, various approaches to reducing reputational bias have been analyzed, including making awards by lottery, capping funding for individual researchers, and increasing funding targeted at newer grant applicants. In the process of establishing the new review criteria, NIH received hundreds of comments from scientific societies, academic institutions, and individuals.

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