Bush administration adopts NIH plan to shorten applications

I had to laugh, through my tears of course, that the Bush administration’s bill requesting $700 billion for the Treasury Department to purchase failing mortgage assets is not even three pages long.
Where did the idea come from for such a concise funding request???
Those of us with NIH research funding received e-mails last week on the outcome of “Enhancing Peer Review,” a year-long effort by the funding agency to “fund the best science, by the best scientists, with the least amount of administrative burden.”
One of the outcomes garnering the greatest attention has been the proposal to reduce the application page-limit of the R01 from 25 pages to 12 pages. This code, R01, is the NIH’s term for the bread-and-butter, investigator-initiated research grant that is the basis for any academic biomedical research career and the primary metric for promotion and tenure. The R01 generally provides $250,000 of support per year for up to five years; while this sounds like a great deal of money, one must pay part of one’s salary plus two to four individuals in the lab, plus a fringe benefit rate of 20-35% as prescribed by one’s institution, plus any materials and operational costs (yes, research associates and postdocs: the university tells you that they pay your retirement and benefits but it is actually your boss who earned the grant from NIH).
Many words have been spilled elsewhere to note that the shortened proposal length will disproportionately place junior investigators at an disadvantage since senior investigators can replace pages with reference citations that they have been doing technique X since the Magna Carta.
But hey, even 12 pages for $250,000 per year is a good deal. Even if one considers a total project period of $1.25 million, that’s just over $104,000 per page (yes, I’m not getting into the other 50 or more pages of supplemental information required.)
In contrast, the Wall Street rescue bill is even more direct: $233 billion per page (and that’s an underestimate since it is less than three pages.) Assuming that one page is 250 words, that’s $933 million perword.
Hence, I believe that NIH overestimated the page limit for their $1.25 million grant applications.
A simple comma would be more than enough.

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