The latest issue of Academic Medicine features a commentary by Leslie Costello called “Is NIH Funding the ‘Best Science by the Best Scientists?‘” In it, she contends that changes to the NIH review process of R01 grants have introduced elements that undermine the central mission to reward the most worthy proposals.
Deciding what constitutes the “best science” will always require subjective judgment. On a recent round of grants that I reviewed, I was curious to see the comments of my fellow peer reviewers. Applications that I had graded with the lowest score others had given the highest score. It was rare to find the grant that all three reviewers marked with the same score.
Subjective though it may be, grant reviewing does tend to identify the applicants who have thought most carefully about their proposed projects. Those scientists will be the most effective stewards of the money the committee awards.