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Science  21 Apr 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5772, pp. 363
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5772.363e

ZERO ERROR RATE. Perfection is rare. But last year the National Science Foundation (NSF) batted 1.000–35 for 35—in rejecting the final appeals of disgruntled grant applicants.

The appeals represent the fourth try for scientists who think NSF erred in declining their requests for funding. Program managers field the first plea for reconsideration, followed by division directors and the heads of the particular research directorates. If an institution still believes that NSF has made a procedural error—a conflict of interest by a reviewer, for example, says NSF's Nathaniel Pitts—it can ask the NSF deputy director to review the case.

As head of the Office of Integrative Activities, Pitts says that about one-third of the requests sent to him are worthy of reconsideration. But if a losing complainant persists all the way to the final round, “there has to be something egregious” for the top brass to reverse the decisions of its staffers. So last year's batting average suggests to Pitts that the system is working. “I'm actually surprised that any of the requests succeed at that level,” he says about the tiny percentage (see graph) of petitioners who have won their appeals in the past.

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