Urgent ACTION: Contact the NIH Next Generation Researchers Initiative Working Group with your comments

Urgent ACTION: Contact the NIH Next Generation Researchers Initiative Working Group with your comments

The National Institutes of Health currently have a working group discussing what action to take under a Congressional mandate to address the production of the next generation of biomedical researchers. The Advisory Council to the Director’s Working Group, which is described in further detail here, is charged with advising NIH leadership on the development of an NIH-wide policy. You can also find the working group’s charter here.

 

This follows on from the recent discussion of the Grant Support Index (GSI), which was abruptly introduced and abruptly dropped as an idea to cap the amount of NIH support a researcher can receive, roughly equivalent to three major research project grants. Board member Adriana Bankston summarized her thoughts and recent discussions on the funding cap in this post.

 

 

What does the NGRI look like in comparison? A number of concerns have been raised, and there was a discussion held recently by the eLife Community as part of their #ECRWednesday series. Key concerns that have arisen are that without a cap mechanism, money will just be taken away from smaller mid-career or late-career labs; that because this is not a centralized NIH initiative (like the GSI was) but will instead be at the discretion of individual institutes, there will be a lack of transparency that could compound racial and gender funding disparities that NIH already has; and there is no consideration of what happens to investigators once they move from early to mid-career stage, and so we just may end up with more people shutting down labs rather than sustaining the generation through all career stages. You can find some of the discussion in this Storify from eLife.

 

 

As this is a working group, and not an advisory committee, how the deliberations are carried out are different in nature. There has been no formal Request For Information (RFI) issued to give the working group public comment. There will be an in-person meeting on November 9th of the working group, and so the time to contact the working group with comments and thoughts is now. There are claims that the GSI proposal failed because it was based on incorrect data (there are certainly caveats to the preliminary data released, but no conclusive analysis proving the NIH’s conclusions to be wrong has been published), and there is also a claim that people did not write into NIH to support it (the emails sent to NIH are public records and do not support this).

 

Therefore it is vital that you take actions to push for evidence-based decisions NOW:

 

  1. Sign this petition if you wish for the idea of a funding cap to be part of the initiative. The petition was set up by Dr. Mark Peifer of UNC Chapel Hill and has nearly 1500 signatures at time of writing.
  2. Email the working group (please use subject “NGRI Feedback”) with your thoughts.
  3. Get your scientific society involved. Groups like ASBMB and ASCB already have responses and initiatives – urge your societies to make sure your voices are heard.
  4. Join our #NGRI Tweetchat October 31st 2017 at 10am PST/1pm PST with NGRI Working Group Graduate Student member Juan Pablo Ruiz (@HappyStemCell)
  5. Read up on the issues involved:
    • Much of the discussion of this issue is based around the false premise that science is a meritocracy and that this system favors the most talented scientists. Some of the evidence that challenges this was summarized by Dr. Needhi Bhalla as part of the #ECRWednesday discussion:
      • Women experience similar success rates for Type 1 R01s (new) but a persistent disparity in success rate of women for Type 2 R01s (renewals) – see Ley and Hamilton, Science, 2008 and Sally Rockey, 2014
      • Women get worse scores on Type 2 R01s, despite reviewers using more standout adjectives (e.g., “outstanding,” “excellent”) and making references to ability in more of their critiques – see Katz et al., Academic Medicine, 2016
      • Women take longer to get their 1st R01, even with the same number of citations – see this article in the Harvard Business Review
      • Black and Asian applicants to NIH are less likely to get funding, and have to resubmit more times before being awarded an R01, than White applicants – see The Ginther Report, Science, 2011
      • Women of color experience a “double bind”: Black and Asian women are less likely to receive NIH funding than White women, with differences in funding by race/ethnicity being more prominent than those by gender – see Ginther, Kahn and Schaffer, Academic Medicine, 2016.
    • A recent report has also shown how funding has become more concentrated among a smaller number of investigators and institutions, which would appear in direct conflict when considering stabilizing the biomedical enterprise, which has been allowed to expand continuously since the Second World War.
    • The arguments for diversifying the NIH portfolio are also summarized in a preprint by Mark Peifer. 

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