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NIH Adopts Explicit Statements of Review Criteria

NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus recently announced that five explicitly stated review criteria will be used to structure scientific peer reviewers' written critiques and discussions of research grant applications, beginning with applications submitted on or after Oct. 1, 1997.

The issue of more explicit statements of review criteria grew out of recommendations by the rating of grant applications committee, and was originally raised to focus the review of grant applications on quality of science and affect it might have on the field, rather than on details of technique and methodology.

These new statements of review criteria are part of a continuing effort at NIH to improve the peer review system, ensure that it keeps pace with changes in science and continues to identify high quality scientific projects for funding.

While using the criteria to structure their critiques and discussion, reviewers will continue to assign a single, global rating to each scored application. The rating they assign should reflect the overall affect the project could have on the field; the emphasis on each criterion might vary from one application to another, depending on the nature of the application and its relative strengths. These criteria statements should be of major interest within NIH, specifically to program directors and councils as they seek to develop research programs and funding plans. The criteria will apply to all unsolicited research project grant applications and will form the basis for review of other related grant mechanisms.

The new policy can be found on the Grants Page on the World Wide Web for easy access by the scientific community.

Officials here hope the criteria will not only help focus reviewers on the more global, overall impact of the research, but may encourage greater focus and succinctness in the investigators writing the applications. Use of these criteria will be monitored and reviewed after approximately 1 year, at which time any necessary modifications will be considered. The opinions of reviewers, applicants, and NIH staff will be solicited, and debate and discussion will be welcome.

Review Criteria

(Instructions to reviewers)

The goals of NIH-supported research are to advance our understanding of biological systems, improve the control of disease, and enhance health. In your written review, you should comment on the following aspects of the application in order to judge the likelihood that the proposed research will have a substantial impact on the pursuit of these goals. Please address each of these criteria, and consider them in assigning the overall score, weighting them as you feel appropriate for each application. Note that the application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely to have a major scientific impact and thus deserve a high priority score. For example, an investigator may propose to carry out important work that by its nature is not innovative but is essential to move a field forward.

(1) Significance: Does this study address an important problem? If the aims of the application are achieved, how will scientific knowledge be advanced? What will be the effect of these studies on the concepts or methods that drive this field?

(2) Approach: Are the conceptual framework, design, methods, and analyses adequately developed, well-integrated, and appropriate to the aims of the project? Does the applicant acknowledge potential problem areas and consider alternative tactics?

(3) Innovation: Does the project employ novel concepts, approaches or methods? Are the aims original and innovative? Does the project challenge existing paradigms or develop new methodologies or technologies?

(4) Investigator: Is the investigator appropriately trained and well suited to carry out this work? Is the work proposed appropriate to the experience level of the principal investigator and other researchers (if any)?

(5) Environment: Does the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success? Do the proposed experiments take advantage of unique features of the scientific environment or employ useful collaborative arrangements? Is there evidence of institutional support?

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