Center for Scientific Review Gets Feedback on Peer Review from Behavioral Scientists

The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held the second in a series of "open houses" designed to elicit feedback from scientists about whether the current constellation of peer review groups is working well. The first meeting, in March 2007, focused on the neurosciences.

The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held the second in a series of "open houses" designed to elicit feedback from scientists about whether the current constellation of peer review groups is working well. The first meeting, in March 2007, focused on the neurosciences. The second meeting, on April 25, involved behavioral and social scientists.

CSR last systematically examined the peer review infrastructure seven years ago with the "Boundary" process. Antonio Scarpa, PhD, Director of CSR, explained at the outset that CSR is determined to ensure that the Initial Review Group structure, and study section composition, serve science as well as possible and that continuous evaluation is needed to ensure that reviews are as fair and timely as possible.

CSR manages most of the peer review at NIH with standing study sections; the institutes themselves establish review for some projects. The study sections at CSR are designed not to be captive to one institute: so, for the most part, review of applications is not aligned with specific programs at NIH, and is not coupled with the question of what projects will be funded. Institutes determine which projects they will fund according to their internal rules and broad program priorities.

The roster of around 150 attendees showed that many psychologists were present whose expertise ranged from basic animal studies to human treatment research. Program officers from NIH institutes, members of NIH advisory committees, study section chairs, representatives from professional associations, and extramural scientists attended. Those present were given the opportunity to ask questions about the peer review process, but the meeting was designed primarily to focus on scientific questions. Attendees were asked to consider the following questions:

  1. Is the science of your discipline, in its present state, appropriately evaluated within the current study section alignment? Suggestions?

  2. What will be the most important questions and/or enabling technologies you see forthcoming within the science of your discipline in the next 10 years?
    While many scientists acknowledged that the peer review for their area of research often works well, there were suggestions about areas that CSR should carefully monitor. One attendee commented that some areas of psychology, e.g. Industrial/Organizational psychology, do not have good homes in the current NIH peer review structure. Another expressed concern that the peer review in developmental research tends to pull projects more toward application and away from basic questions. Another scientist commented that social psychology is an area that is currently well reviewed, but predicted that pressure from NIH institutes for direct application would soon extend to the peer review structure and make it harder for basic social psychology research to be well reviewed.

Attending from APA were Executive Director for Science, Steven Breckler, PhD, and Elizabeth Hoffman, PhD, and Pat Kobor from the Science Government Relations Office.

Additional information about this series of meetings can be found on the CSR website.