Possible NIH Reviewer Bias?
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsors $20 billion in research annually. H. Ledford (2008) reported the NIH peer-review process may involve unintentional and uncompensated reviewer bias. Valen Johnson (biostatistician, University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas) suggested the current NIH peer-review, proposal ranking system would benefit from an overhaul. Although many changes in the NIH protocols have been proposed previously (shorter application forms, special consideration for new researchers...), reviewer bias has not been previously considered.
Johnson evaluated some 19,000 proposals from 2005 and learned that on average, research proposals were NIH reviewed by only 2.8 reviewers. Therefore, with such a low quantity of reviewers reading each research proposal, reader-bias has a tremendous potential influence as to which proposals are favorably or unfavorably processed. Johnson's work indicates improvements can be made that would arguably facilitate more equitable funding. Johnson's work has been met with mixed enthusiasm thus far.
For More Information, References and Recommendations:
Johnson, V. E. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA doi:10.1073/pnas.0804538105 (2008).
Nature, 28 July 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.988, NEWS by Heidi Ledford