Everybody deserves a second (third) chance?

Feb 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Maybe.  Below is the proposed petition that has been making its way through the intertubes and might have even landed in the inbox of your Google machine.  What is being suggested is to not do away with the A2, which the NIH has just shitcanned.  So if your original grant submission (A0) gets set on fire and beaten with a stick by reviewers you only have the A1 revision left in which to secure funding with that exact proposal.  If your A1 goes about as well as your A0, then you have to create a new proposal.  Exactly how new this is remains to be seen.  Can you just change one aim, shift your model system, or does this require a radical change in your proposal.  Which might not be such a bad idea depending upon how bad you did in the review process.

A reason for bringing back the A2 that is tossed out there in this petition is that, elimination of the A2 is inherently unfair and will be detrimental to new investigators.  Their thought process is that as a new PI are at a severe disadvantage because they don't have a developed research program that could make a "substantial" change in their aims/focus while they are dealing with limited people and funds.  I guess they don't want you burning up your playbook just trying to get your first major award or that maybe you dont' have a big enough playbook.

On the first point, this is all based off the old data where we had the system that included the A2 revision, which some say is being removed to eliminate serial resubmitters or to eliminate the systematic approach of making researchers wait through first or second review before being funded on the A2.  This is a gray area and I understand concerns on both sides of the A2, but I think we have to sit tight and see what happens.  If it can break the pattern of reviewers shelving a fundable proposal until its "their" time, then that would be great.  Besides, if removal of the A2 is a giant flop, who's to say they won't reinstitute it.

On the second point, you gotta have a decent playbook.  If you aren't creative enough to be able to sell your science on different fronts to different ICs, then you are in serious doodoo as the first President Bush used to say.

To see more on this debate, check out BlueLabCoats for the pro-side and CPP for the con side.  The scientific blogosphere awaits an a response from the venerated Drugmonkey.  As for me, I'm not a PI, I'm going to shut the fuck up and sit on the fence and see how this goes.

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to solicit your help in changing  a new NIH policy that I believe will have an enormous negative impact on our field. As most of you know, a recently adopted rule states that if a grant proposal is not funded on the first submission, only one revision can be submitted with the same specific aims. If that revision is not funded, the proposal must be "substantially" changed. As far as I understand, the rule was adopted to discourage "serial resubmitters". While such a policy could make sense in an era of reasonable paylines, with the projected budgets rumored to be funding at the 7th percentile in some sections, this could have a dramatic and I would argue devastating effect on the research efforts in this country. Consider the following:

The rule will have a disproportionately negative impact on young investigators with early stage and therefore less diverse programs, or more senior investigators who also have more narrowly focused programs. How can a young investigator, for example,  who is just starting "substantially" change their aims when they have to focus their efforts on a very limited number of projects undertaken with limited funds and staff. These people are often hired by senior faculty on the basis of their first projects and to be told they must change on the basis of applications that might fail despite being ranked

better than 90% of grants submitted, seems patently absurd. And worse, it is likely to be profoundly discouraging and destructive.

All of us who have sat on study section know that we cannot distinguish a 15th percentile grant from a 5th percentile grant. It is simply beyond the resolution of the process. Therefore, this new rule will have the consequence of redirecting the science of many of our very best scientists on the basis of what will essentially be an arbitrary criterion.

The meaning of "substantially changed" has not been clearly defined.  Program Officers themselves are not sure what this term means and are not being given adequate guidance. I have heard things from "51% different",  change the tissue or cell type you are working on, any aim included in either the first application or revision cannot be included, etc. We need clear and unequivocal guidance on this point, and I would argue we need it immediately as "new" applications are being prepared by a large number of investigators at this time.

The alternative that I advocate would be to go back to a system where at least 2 revisions of the same application would be allowed. While we will still obviously lose some superb applications if the pay line stays where it is, I think this would provide a much fairer assessment of the research proposals received by the NIH.

My intention is to let the feelings of a large number of scientists on this

subject be known. If you are willing to sign an email that will be sent to

both Francis Collins and Tony Scarpa (Director of Center for Scientific

Review) that raises these points, please let me know by simply responding to this email and (if possible)  forwarding it to 10 people who you know (not on the current recipient list) that might also want to sign. If I can accumulate a large enough number of signatures (100-500, say) I will draft a letter and send it first to all who have expressed interest in signing to get feedback.

I must say, I am not generally prone to such activism but I think things have just gotten to the tipping point.

I look forward to your responses.

With kind regards,

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