Fund the best science, by the best scientists, with the least amount of administrative burden…
Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Director, NIH   
June, 2007    



The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a longstanding history of supporting the most promising and meritorious biomedical and behavioral research using a broad range of approaches, strategies and mechanisms.  While the world-renowned peer review system is a cornerstone of NIH, the increasing breadth, complexity, and interdisciplinary nature of modern research has created many challenges.  

To address these challenges, in June 2007, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the NIH Director, initiated the effort to formally review the NIH peer review system.  External and internal working groups deliberated on challenges and recommendations regarding enhancements to the review system.  Input was sought and received, with significant dialogue, from both internal and external communities.  The year-long effort, resulting in selected recommendations and key actions, included the following phases:


Diagnostic Phase

The diagnostic phase involved an in-depth evaluation of the current NIH peer review system.  In June 2007, Dr. Zerhouni, established two working groups:  Externally – The Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group (ACD WG) co-chaired by Dr. Keith Yamamoto of the University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. Lawrence Tabak, Director of the NIH National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR); and Internally – The Steering Committee Working Group (SC WG) co-chaired by Dr. Tabak and Dr. Jeremy Berg, Director of the NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).  The working groups solicited formal input from key stakeholders and deliberated on challenges and recommendations.  The Final Draft Report issued February 29, 2008, documents the outcome of the diagnostic phase and describes recommendations.

Please see CALENDAR OF EVENTS for a listing and links to all source documents of the diagnostic phase.

Design Implementation Plan

In March 2008, Dr. Zerhouni established the Steering Committee Peer Review Implementation Group to draft implementation plans for each recommended action.  The committee convened subgroups led by Drs. Berg, Tabak and Story Landis, Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).  Subgroup membership consisted of NIH program and review officers, planning and evaluation experts and statisticians.  Feedback was solicited from both NIH internal and external communities.  This feedback, together with careful consideration of the pros and cons of both individual and combined recommendations, informed decisions on enhancements to the peer review system.   

On June 6th, 2008, Dr. Zerhouni announced the Peer Review Enhancements and Implementation Plan (see the Press Release at http://www.nih.gov/news/health/jun2008/od-06.htm) and Dr. Tabak presented the Implementation Plan to the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD). For detailed information on the Implementation Plan please see Slides

The Implementation Plan is organized into the following priority areas:

  • Priority 1 – Engage the Best Reviewers - The excellence of peer review is directly correlated with the ability to recruit and retain the most accomplished, broad-thinking, and creative scientists to serve on NIH study sections.
  • Priority 2 – Quality & Transparency of Review - The peer review process must strive for maximum clarity, fairness, and consistency and help applicants determine a best course of action once reviewed. The process of review should focus on the potential impact, originality, and feasibility of the proposed research.
  • Priority 3 – Provide Balanced and Fair Reviews Across Scientific Fields and Career Stages - Peer review should fairly evaluate proposals from all scientists, regardless of their career stage or discipline, and avoid bias towards more conservative and proven approaches at the expense of innovation and originality.
  • Priority 4 – Continuous Review of Peer Review
    The last priority is to develop a permanent process for continuous review of peer review. Peer review should continuously adapt itself to the evolution of science. The NIH peer review process will commit to a continuous quality control and improvement process based on a rigorous and independent prospective evaluation that favors innovative approaches to review and program management.

Begin Implementation of Selected Actions

In July 2008, Dr. Zerhouni established a Peer Review Oversight Committee (PROC) (link) to initiate implementation.  The PROC, chaired by NIH Deputy Director, Dr. Raynard Kington, established subgroups consisting of NIH program, review, grants management, and evaluation staff to assist with the implementation effort. 

On September 12, 2008, the PROC and subgroup chairs presented to Dr. Zerhouni the first of the preliminary implementation plans for the 2009 through 2010 calendar years. 

Although the subgroups are continuing to work out specific details, the first set of implementation plans are listed at IMPLEMENTATION UPDATES.


This page was last reviewed on September 17, 2008
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