As many readers know, the bulk of my research falls under the purview of NSF, but I have begun to shop some of what we do to NIH. As an initial foray into NIHland, we've actually done respectably considering I thought there was little to no chance I could make the case that NIH should fund our particular brand of science. I'm not prepping an R01 for October and looking to take a full swing at the NIH pinniata.
But in a lot of ways, NIH remains a bit of a mystery to me because it is set up in a very different way than NSF at almost every level, from day-to-day business to the philosophy that drives how the money gets distributed. Perhaps because I don't run in the circles that counts NIH as the only funding game in town, it all has a foreign and unwelcoming feel, even if that sounds ridiculous.
But part of that philosophy is what has Drugmonkey all giddy today. Apparently NIH is considering actually allowing n00bs into the inner review sanctum.... sort of. I guess that participation of Assistant Professors in review has been something that NIH has recently been trying to reduce even further than the <10% of reviews they have gotten from that population in the past. In an effort to change that trend this year NIH is now saying that they will bring in as study section reviewers, investigators who have not yet attained NIH funding. BUT, there shalt only be one per study section, they shalt not take on more than 2 reviews and will not be given primary status on even that review load!
NIH gives n00b reviewers their first chance to get on the review highway.
While I will admit that getting the experience of being in the room is a valuable thing, WTF is that? In my NSF panel experience, POSTDOCS had more review responsibility than that and there were two of those on the panel. I know that NIH loves to trot out the mantra (as quoted in DM's post) "And even though we generally use more senior and experienced reviewers on our panel because they have the depth and breadth of expertise that allows them to give a more knowledgeable assessment of the applications", but this is a bit fucking ridiculous.
People who do not have NIH funding might certainly need some assistance when it comes to things like feasibility in the time frame or maybe even broader picture significance, but is it really the case that they can't even be trusted to review the science of more than two proposals as a non-primary reviewer? Puleeez! It's not hard to understand why NIH has so much trouble with discrimination against the ESI crowd when it is actively propagated from the top down.