When a scientist sends a grant application to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and it goes through peer review, the entire process is supposed to be shrouded in secrecy. But late last year, NIH officials disclosed that they had discovered that someone involved in the proposal review process had violated confidentiality rules designed to protect its integrity. As a result, the agency announced in December 2017 that it would rereview dozens of applications that might have been compromised.
Now, NIH says it has completed re-evaluating 60 applications and has also begun taking disciplinary action against researchers who broke its rules. “We are beginning a process of really coming down on reviewers and applicants who do anything to break confidentiality of review,” Richard Nakamura, director of NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR), said at a meeting of the center’s advisory council earlier this week. (CSR manages most of NIH’s peer reviews.) Targets could include “applicants who try to influence reviewers … [or] try to get favors from reviewers.”
“We hope that in the next few months we will have several cases” of violations that can be shared publicly, Nakamura told ScienceInsider. He said these cases are “rare, but it is very important that we make it even more rare.”