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Psychological Scientists Speak Out on NIH Peer Review

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently asked for comments about its peer review system--what works and what doesn’t. APA spread the word through division listservs, encouraging psychologists to respond. Here is a sample of the concerns and suggestions that psychological scientists shared with us.

By Patricia Kobor

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently asked for comments about its peer review system--what works and what doesn’t. APA spread the word through division listservs, encouraging psychologists to respond. Here is a sample of the concerns and suggestions that psychological scientists shared with us.

“My main concern with the peer review process is with the selection and qualifications of the reviewers. I understand it is becoming harder for NIH to attract senior investigators into the peer review process and many times applications are reviewed by reviewers who in reality are not peers of the applicant, either because they are not expert in the field of the application, or because they have never obtained a competitive application, or are in reality junior investigators. My suggestion is that NIH should find a way of providing incentives to senior investigators to form part of the review process. This could be done in a number of ways; either the criteria for selection of reviewers becomes more specific and stringent, or ways are developed to motivate senior experts.”
Glorisa Canino, PhD
University of Puerto Rico

“… No one without tenure should be on a study section. Takes too much time better spent getting work out. Until the entire system is changed, I think it’s cruel to ask an assistant professor to do such a huge service job.”
Evelyn Satinoff, PhD
University of Delaware

“…Although we can certainly offer our personal opinions of what works (and what doesn’t) from a consumer or reviewer’s point of view, we can also encourage the NIH to make use of the extensive empirical and theoretical work on decision making. One example is the article by Hal Arkes in Psychological Science that encourages the use of disaggregated ratings…: (www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-9280.01410).”
Noel Brewer, PhD
University of North Carolina

“…Reviewers should be paid reasonable consulting rates for both the time spent in reviewing proposals and attending the panel meetings. In exchange, reviewers should not submit proposals to be reviewed by the panel on which they serve during their tenure on that panel.”
Norman Hoffmann, PhD
Evince Clinical Assessments

“The most important aspect of an application is creativity, but it is probably insufficiently rewarded. It is extremely hard to get innovative research funded because NIH is too risk-averse, and you can’t have innovation without risk…There is too much emphasis on incremental contributions to science and not enough on creative redirections and reinitiations.”
Bob Sternberg, PhD
Tufts University

“…I think it is also important to have behavioral scientists be part of the review process for the multidisciplinary applications, especially for clinical research. Many of the multidisciplinary applications are reviewed by special study sections, which are appointed by Scientific Review Administrators. Behavioral issues will not get enough attention unless behavioral scientists participate in the review process.”
Karen Matthews, PhD
University of Pittsburgh

APA submitted comments on behalf of its member scientists, encouraging that NIH increase training of study section members, including training that adds value to the experience of serving on study sections, and develops pilot data on proposed changes in the peer review system before implementing them broadly. Comments from APA members helped form the basis of the association’s comments.

While the NIH comment period has closed for now, the APA ‘comment period’ never closes. We remain interested in your opinions about NIH peer review. Please share your views by contacting Pat Kobor.