Thursday, April 9, 2009

Peer review inhibiting science?

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research CouncilImage via Wikipedia

This study from Canada helps to make the point concerning wasted dollars in the whole research cycle that might be better spent on actual science: Cost of peer review exceeds the cost of giving every researcher a grant

Using Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Canada (NSERC) statistics, we show that the $40,000 (Canadian) cost of preparation for a grant application and rejection by peer review in 2007 exceeded that of giving every qualified investigator a direct baseline discovery grant of $30,000 (average grant).

The article goes on to make the point that perhaps we should be spreading the funding around with the hopes of seeing more diversity and innovation in discovery.

It's just another example of the massive overhead and waste in the current system, and how some disintermediation of the control points just might lead to better science. We need some new models that better reflect what the new technologies have enabled.

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Ezra said...

What is your suggestion about how to fix it?

Kevin Gamble said...

If the goal is to get more money in the hands of researchers and less in the hands of intermediaries-- then I can think of several strategies.

Perhaps the readers have some suggestions too? We could make a list.

1) Lottery...
2) ...

Ezra said...

Guess I misunderstood. Your post was missing a point in the abstract: "Control of quality is assured through university hiring, promotion and tenure proceedings, journal reviews of submitted work, and the patent process, whose collective scrutiny far exceeds that of grant peer review."

Regulation always sounds like waste until someone looks at the data and realizes the unregulated approach generates a high amount of waste.

Peg said...

You might want to take a look at the vision and concrete work of the Loka Institute.

From the vision statement: "In this high-stakes century, community-initiated and community-directed policies for research and technology are among the most powerful new tools available to nurture the health of families, communities, and the local ecologies they depend upon. Families and neighborhoods under the most stress stand to gain the most from such social change. Research and technology policies are now primarily driven by the competitive needs of corporations and militaries - not by collaborative community efforts to address our most pressing social and environmental problems. Community-driven policies will shift public attention and financial resources from that top-down approach to grassroots priorities. They will foster far more democratic collaborations that empower communities both to address their own urgent local needs and to champion the broad public interest in national and international debates about the design and use of advanced new technologies. This social change is critical because technological advances are happening so rapidly and are having such dramatic impacts on every facet of human culture - from the engineering of food and electronic diversions from family relationships to the increasing threat that weapons of mass destruction could become widely available."

Loka has pioneered several tools (intellectually/academically rigorous) to help effect this democratic transition. Among them: science shops, community-based research, and citizen consensus panels

Well worth a little close scrutiny.

DairyScienceMark said...

We live in a world where those who don't like a certain approach/position/concept look for the most extreme example of how it doesn't work, and then they portray that extreme example as the norm. Peer-review is the shield, the suit of armor, is the missile defense system that helps protect the research environment from effective criticism by those jealous of the system. While I agree that it is not the most efficient system, I also know of no approach that's better and helps avoid the kind of 'roasting' that we'll take from the aberrant extreme example of grant funding abuse.

Kevin Gamble said...


So there are no possible benefits to come from a R2.0 approach? No efficiencies to be gained? The public is receiving the best possible return on their investment?