Peak medical research lobby proposes peer reviewing change

As part of establishing a new grant scheme, the National Health and Medical Research Council asked for assessments of its peer review process. Peak lobby, the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes does not like all that it found.

According to the AAMRI, existing peer review has a few failings; two first-stage assessors is too few, different outcomes from different grant review panels indicate “poor reproducibility of current peer review processes”, there are inexperienced members of grant review panels, and an over-reliance on the two “spokespersons” for a grant.

AAMRI proposes substantial changes including; full applications, with no expressions of interest stage, a single pool of reviewers, ending the existing split between assigners and assessment panels, assessors ranking projects on basis of scores. The top 25 per cent projects, at most, should be considered by panels of one to 12 “non-conflicted” members focusing on a project’s proposed budget. Applicants should receive qualitative feedback, with near-misses allowed to re-apply in the next round.

“The outcome of an application is too heavily influenced by the view of the primary and secondary spokespersons. An increased number of reviews would reduce an over-reliance on the primary spokesperson’s assessment of a grant application. The more times a grant application is reviewed the greater the confidence we can have in the outcome,” AAMRI asserts.

The association proposes saving resources by abolishing rebuttals from applicants and expanding the expert pool by making participation in peer reviewing compulsory for everybody holding an NHMRC grant.