This weekend I received the email below regarding the current policy to allow ONLY A SINGLE REVISION for a given grant at NIH. If you feel strongly that this policy is misguided (particularly in the current funding environment)- please respond to Dr. Robert Benezra by Email at: email@example.com
**UPDATE: I just received an email with a draft petition with nearly 1000 signatures attached. The text of this petition is posted here. If you would like to be added to this petition please email Dr. Benezra directly.
I am writing to solicit your help in changing a new NIH policy that I believe will have an enormous negative impact on our field. As most of you know, a recently adopted rule states that if a grant proposal is not funded on the first submission, only one revision can be submitted with the same specific aims. If that revision is not funded, the proposal must be “substantially” changed. As far as I understand, the rule was adopted to discourage “serial resubmitters”. While such a policy could make sense in an era of reasonable paylines, with the projected budgets rumored to be funding at the 7th percentile in some sections, this could have a dramatic and I would argue devastating effect on the research efforts in this country. Consider the following:
The rule will have a disproportionately negative impact on young investigators with early stage and therefore less diverse programs, or more senior investigators who also have more narrowly focused programs. How can a young investigator, for example, who is just starting “substantially” change their aims when they have to focus their efforts on a very limited number of projects undertaken with limited funds and staff. These people are often hired by senior faculty on the basis of their first projects and to be told they must change on the basis of applications that might fail despite being ranked better than 90% of grants submitted, seems patently absurd. And worse, it is likely to be profoundly discouraging and destructive.
All of us who have sat on study section know that we cannot distinguish a 15th percentile grant from a 5th percentile grant. It is simply beyond the resolution of the process. Therefore, this new rule will have the consequence of redirecting the science of many of our very best scientists on the basis of what will essentially be an arbitrary criterion.
The meaning of “substantially changed” has not been clearly defined. Program Officers themselves are not sure what this term means and are not being given adequate guidance. I have heard things from “51% different”, change the tissue or cell type you are working on, any aim included in either the first application or revision cannot be included, etc. We need clear and unequivocal guidance on this point, and I would argue we need it immediately as “new” applications are being prepared by a large number of investigators at this time.
The alternative that I advocate would be to go back to a system where at least 2 revisions of the same application would be allowed. While we will still obviously lose some superb applications if the pay line stays where it is, I think this would provide a much fairer assessment of the research proposals received by the NIH.
My intention is to let the feelings of a large number of scientists on this subject be known. If you are willing to sign an email that will be sent to both Francis Collins and Tony Scarpa (Director of Center for Scientific Review) that raises these points, please let me know by simply responding to this email and (if possible) forwarding it to 10 people who you know (not on the current recipient list) that might also want to sign. If I can accumulate a large enough number of signatures (100-500, say) I will draft a letter and send it first to all who have expressed interest in signing to get feedback.
I must say, I am not generally prone to such activism but I think things have just gotten to the tipping point.
I look forward to your responses.
(I’ve removed the institutions of the original signers of this email, because these are their personal views)