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To Clarify 'Merit'

The National Science Foundation is making some changes, reports ScienceInsider's Jeffrey Mervis. The two "subtle but potentially important changes" will affect how grants are reviewed at NSF, and could mean changes as to how the "merit" of the work is defined, Mervis says. NSF's oversight body released a report last month to help researchers evaluate what NSF calls the "broader impacts" of their work, a requirement for getting an NSF grant. NSF guidelines currently outline eight possible impacts, like attracting more women or more minorities to science. But NSF felt that the list had become a "de facto definition of broader impacts, in other words, a blueprint of the ideas investigators believe NSF is most likely to fund," Mervis says, and that is not entirely true. So now, NSF's proposed changes put more emphasis on the intellectual merit of the work, to give researchers more freedom to be creative when submitting proposals.

The report also acknowledges critics who say that NSF shouldn't be forcing researchers to measure the impact of their work beyond publication, Mervis says. The NSF report says that while impact is an important measurement of the success of the work, it may make more sense to evaluate a group of grants given out by an NSF program, rather than one grant at a time. "NSF hopes to put the new guidelines into effect in January 2013 as part of the next version of its Grant Proposal Guide. That will allow time for the agency to hold workshops for both staffers and the community on how the changes will be implemented," Mervis says.

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