Blogger DrugMonkey says that when it comes to NIH grants, a little failure can be a good thing. NIH/CSR review panels seem to be fixated on preliminary data, DrugMonkey says, perhaps because the reviewers think part of their job is to separate the projects that will succeed from those that will fail. But what does it mean to fail? Sometimes the concept is easy to understand, DrugMonkey says — for example if an experimental design looks like it would never provide any clear evidence of importance to the hypothesis, or if the investigator couldn't possibly build and validate the experiment with the time and money requested. But whatever the criticism, he adds, there should be some good rationale to back it up. "I urge reviewers to do the best they can to focus on exactly what it is that they are predicting. To be clear about whether they are confusing their experimental-outcome predictions with an evaluation of whether a good empirical test of various experimental outcome predictions will be conducted," DrugMonkey says. "The latter is an appropriate area of concern; the former is far less frequently a valuable critique." And anyway, he says, sometimes, "failure can be a good thing." There has been a rush to grant funding to safe, "unrisky me-too proposals," he says, which are supported by the preliminary data. But that comes at the cost of ignoring other projects which may be risky, but could be "high reward" if they succeed. "Remember NIH, if you aren't crashing some of the time then you aren't really trying to get better," DrugMonkey cautions.
Failure is an Option
May 19, 2010