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NIH's peer review stands up to scrutiny

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Science  24 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6233, pp. 384
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6233.384

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Summary

The debate over whether peer review can pick out the research most worthy of funding has heated up in the past decade, as competition for federal dollars has become more intense. Two new studies support claims that peer review works at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—that is, that it produces the desired outcome. One study, on page 434 of this week's issue of Science, examined the outcomes of 137,215 research project grants awarded between 1980 and 2008. It found that grant proposals rated more highly by NIH study sections generated more publications and more citations than proposals that received lower scores. A second study, which will appear in the July 2015 issue of Research Policy, found that the additional proposals funded after the agency received billions of dollars from the 2009 economic stimulus package garnered fewer citations and publications. But some experts say the papers' definition of success ignores important factors, meaning that the debate is sure to continue.