Where we’ve been: Attending the September NIH Council of Councils meeting

 

Last week, the National Institutes of Health’s Council of Councils met to discuss program updates and policy changes across the agency.

Highlights from the meeting are below. You can watch a recording of the meeting here, and we’re including timestamps on our highlights for your quick reference.

  • 1:11:53 – Three ongoing studies of the NIH’s grant-review process, meant to evaluate the impact of implicit biases in proposal reviews, were presented. The studies are looking at how racial and gender stereotypes as well as panel discussions influence the outcomes of proposal evaluations.

Using textual analysis of R01 written critiques, researchers found that critiques for proposals by women included more standout adjectives like “excellent” or “outstanding,” while critiques for proposals by men included more negative descriptors like “unfocused” or “illogical.”

For renewal R01s, proposals by women received lower priority scores than those by men.  However, critiques referencing ability and standout adjectives were still more positive for renewals by women than for renewals by men.  Gender could be introducing biases in the evaluation of proposals. Future studies will look at the effect of race, institution, study section and other factors that may carry some biases.

The effects of subjectivity on study section meetings was examined to gauge if panel discussions affect final scores on proposals. Using a mock study section, researchers at the University of Wisconsin—Madison found that convening in study sections caused scoring variability to decrease between reviewers for a given proposal.  Inter-panel agreement, however, decreased after individual panels convened.

  • 2:03:00 – Francis Collins, director of the NIH, updated the council on fiscal 2018 funding for NIH, research programs that are yielding promising results, the agency’s response to the opioid crisis, and the Next Generation Research Initiative.
  • 2:52:25 – The council approved concepts for NIH’s Common Fund to enable the agency to develop programs that investigate mechanisms of pain and somatic-cell genome editing. Additionally, an overview of the Kids First program was given.

The remainder of the meeting included an update on the All of Us research program, an overview of NIH’s implementation of its clinical trials and transparency reforms, and an update from the Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office.

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