National Institutes of Health Peer Review: Challenges and Avenues for Reform
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The National Institutes of Health (NIH), through its extramural grant program, is the primary public funder of health-related research in the United States. Peer review at NIH is organized around the twin principles of investigator initiation and rigorous peer review, and this combination has long been a model that science funding agencies throughout the world seek to emulate. However, lean budgets and the rapidly changing ecosystem within which scientific inquiry takes place have led many to ask whether the peer-review practices inherited from the immediate postwar era are still well suited to 21st-century realities. In this essay, we examine two salient issues: (1) the aging of the scientist population supported by NIH and (2) the innovativeness of the research supported by the institutes. We identify potential avenues for reform as well as a means for implementing and evaluating them.
This paper was prepared for the NBER meeting on Innovation Policy and the Economy. We are grateful to Scott Stern, Josh Lerner, Danielle Li, George Chacko, Stefano Bertuzzi, and Paula Stephan for helpful conversations and to the National Science Foundation for support. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.