A Fool's Errand: How Not to Conduct a Research Solicitation



In early December 2009, I participated in a panel review of proposals submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy's Atmospheric System Research Program in response to a call for proposals from early-career investigators. Fourteen panel members, each of whom had reviewed four to eight proposals, spent a day discussing and evaluating 28 proposals. Yet all was not what it had seemed.

Early-career research awards, which fund scientists for 5 years at approximately US$150,000 per year, are highly sought by tenure-track investigators because they provide support for an extended period of time and serve to move young scientists forward in their careers. The concept of such a program is thus much to be lauded. The particular call for proposals for which I served as a reviewer was undertaken as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with the objective of promoting useful governmental activity while stimulating the economy.