Luck + Merit = Grant



Granting approval to proposals submitted to the National Science Foundation (NSF) depends about as much on luck as it does on the scientific merit of the proposal, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on Science and Public Policy (COSPUP). In addition, concealing the names of the authors of the proposals, a practice known as ‘blinding,’ would not significantly change the outcome of the grant-awarding process.

‘The fate of a particular grant application is roughly half determined by the characteristics of the proposal and the principal investigator, and about half by apparently random elements which might be characterized as the “luck of the reviewer draw,”’ according to Stephen Cole, Jonathan R. Cole, and Gary A. Simon in the COSPUP report summary, published in the November 20 Science. If researchers' proposals for NSF grants were rated again by an equally qualified group of reviewers, between 25% and 30% of NSF funding decisions could be reversed, they said.