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NIEHS Tool Tracks Grantee Publications

By Colleen Chandler

NIH's extramural side has always had its share of challenges — managing substantial portions of the budget with a limited number of staff. But the selection of and justification for funding extramural research projects just got a little easier at NIEHS.

Administrators have always grappled with how to measure scientific productivity and impact. NIEHS employees have created their own tool to help them through the process. The Scientific Publications Information Retrieval System, better known as SPIRES, was specifically designed to track grantee publications and citations.

"Publications are the fruit of our labor in extramural," and represent the midpoint between taxpayer money and public health, said Ben Van Houten, head of the Program Analysis Branch at NIEHS.

The branch is responsible for assessing the scientific and public health impact, but until now did not have an effective tool to do so, Van Houten said. Individual grantees are required to make annual progress reports to their respective NIEHS program administrators, however this information is not captured electronically. Now NIEHS has a means to rapidly and collectively look at the scientific and public health impact of the projects it funds.

SPIRES tracks grantee publication and citation data by linking information from the National Library of Medicine and the Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects, or CRISP, system, a web-based interface used to query contracts and grants data electronically. The CRISP system taps into the IMPAC II database, which is used for many extramural programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. IMPAC II, or the Information for Management, Planning, Analysis, and Coordination system, provides access to information on principal investigators, budgets, program administration, and duration of the grant as well as the grant abstract and the peer review summary statement.

Van Houten described SPIRES as a tool to assess productivity, providing information on the number and quality of publications that cite studies funded by NIEHS, impact factors that are computed using the number of citations and the prominence of the publication, and literature citations themselves.

The first tool within NIH to enable such searching and tracking, SPIRES is very versatile, Van Houten said. Users can search by grant award, principal investigator, author, organization or by specific word strings in either the publication or the grant.

Data from 1995 through August 2001, including information from 9,615 publications, has already been loaded. Van Houten said the program could expand in many directions and could eventually link much more information from existing databases. Eventually, he hopes to use it to analyze incoming grants, with a brief description of the project in a web-searchable database to track study sections and priority scores.

Van Houten is already getting inquiries from other NIH institutes and centers interested in the program, which uses robust algorithms that could be applied to data from any of the institutes or centers.


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