Author Archive : noni

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Race & Peer Review

Posted by Noni Byrnes">Noni Byrnes on June 12, 2020

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis is just one of the latest disgusting examples of the systemic racial bias that has plagued this country for centuries. While our Black/African-American colleagues have to deal with this in their everyday lives, the recent incidents have led the rest of us to do some soul-searching about the part that we play in perpetuating this bias, either by our actions or by our failure to act. Here at the Center for Scientific Review, our mission includes words such as “fair”, “independent” and “free from inappropriate influences”. And bias, in all its many insidious forms, is the very antithesis of fairness. As indicated by several published studies over the last decade, and NIH’s own analyses, there remains a serious and disturbing disparity in NIH R01 award rates between White and Black applicants. Isolating the effect of race in the peer review process is a
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Broadening the Pool of NIH Reviewers

Posted by Noni Byrnes">Noni Byrnes on January 24, 2020

The scientific peer review process benefits greatly when the study section reviewers bring not only strong scientific qualifications and expertise, but also a broad range of backgrounds and varying scientific perspectives. Bringing new viewpoints into the process replenishes and refreshes the study section, enhancing the quality of its output. In this context, CSR recently removed the requirement to have at least 50% full professors on committees. This had sometimes led to a misguided attempt to “do better than the metric” by aiming for a committee of all full professors. We are now encouraging scientific review officers (SROs) to focus on scientific contributions (demonstrable in a range of ways, e.g. recent publications, R01 or equivalent extramural funding from other sources, etc.), expertise, and breadth instead of trying to meet a career-stage metric. Our goal is to achieve a balance of perspectives by including a mix of qualified senior, mid-career, and junior
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Revitalizing the Early Career Reviewer Program

Posted by Noni Byrnes">Noni Byrnes on November 15, 2019

In June I wrote that we intended to re-evaluate our Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program. Thanks to the work and ideas of many people, including some of you, I can provide you with an update. In July, I convened a CSR Advisory Council Working Group, comprising two members of the CSR Advisory Council (Drs. Mark Peifer and Elizabeth Villa), two CSR SROs (Drs. Kristin Kramer and Antonello Pileggi), and four scientists who recently served as ECRs (Dr. Vinay Aakalu, University of Illinois at Chicago; Dr. Stephanie Cook, New York University; Dr. Lisa Jones, University of Maryland; and Dr. Manuel Llano, University of Texas at El Paso). I am very grateful to all the members of this working group for their thoughtful recommendations, which were informed by the members who had direct experience as ECRs, as well as by ECR survey results and input from the broader scientific community of early
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CSR Statement in Support of Diverse and Inclusive Meetings and Conferences

Posted by Noni Byrnes">Noni Byrnes on July 28, 2019

Diversity and inclusion in all areas of research, including at scientific meetings and in conference representation, helps bolster innovations in science. On behalf of the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR), I stand in full support of NIH Director Francis Collins’ commitment toward greater diversity and inclusivity in the biomedical research community. As Dr. Collins pledged, “Too often, women and members of other groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing in the marquee speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences. Starting now, when I consider speaking invitations, I will expect a level playing field, where scientists of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly for speaking opportunities. If that attention to inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda, I will decline to take part.” I share Dr. Collins’ concerns and I will decline speaking invitations when attention to inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda. Scientific innovation proceeds at a
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Improving the Early Career Reviewer Program

Posted by Noni Byrnes">Noni Byrnes on June 24, 2019

The Center for Scientific Review established the Early Career Reviewer (ECR) program in late 2011 with two major goals – 1) to expose early-career scientists to the peer review process, with the ultimate goal of helping them to become more competitive as applicants, and 2) to enrich and diversify NIH’s pool of trained peer reviewers. We are delighted that the program has generated a lot of interest over the years. However, the strong response has also resulted in a significant backlog of potential ECRs, one that has existed since the program’s inception almost eight years ago. At this time, we have over 2,500 qualified ECRs in our system – a number that is increasing as we continue to publicize the program. In the past few years, we have made attempts to clear the backlog, with mixed results. We instituted a requirement to include an ECR on every recurring R01 study
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Ensuring Integrity & Impartiality in Peer Review

Posted by Noni Byrnes">Noni Byrnes on March 25, 2019

It is critical for the NIH and for CSR to ensure the integrity and impartiality of the peer review process. Service on peer review is neither a right nor a requirement. As an agency, we can exercise discretion on who we invite to serve, or continue to serve, on a peer review committee. We are not arbitrary in our actions, but there are many reasons we may choose not to include specific individuals on our peer review committees. For example, some individuals may have too many conflicts of interest, or too much review service, resulting in undue influence over an area of science. We may remove or not invite back a reviewer who has a pattern of submitting reviews late, requiring applications to be rereviewed. And we are particularly concerned when evidence arises that a peer reviewer may have breached confidentiality of the review process. These are just a few
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Welcome to the Center for Scientific Review (CSR)

Posted by Noni Byrnes">Noni Byrnes on February 14, 2019

I am honored to have the opportunity to work with an incredibly dedicated staff in fulfilling CSR’s vital mission of ensuring that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely reviews—free from inappropriate influences—so NIH can fund the most promising research. CSR’s singular focus on the first level of review based on scientific merit, its independence from any specific NIH funding institute or center, and its efficient operation make it a critically important link in advancing new and exciting discoveries across a broad spectrum of biomedical research. Below, I have outlined a few initial priorities for the Center. What binds these together is my personal commitment to strengthening the peer review process in a transparent manner, combining objective, data-driven approaches with significant engagement of the scientific community: Evaluating the quality of review and reviewers – making study sections nimble enough to adapt to rapidly evolving, increasingly multidisciplinary scientific fields,
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