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Risky Science and Grants

John Niederhuber, the director of the National Cancer Institute, responds to the recent criticism on how cancer-related grants are doled out — the New York Times' Gina Kolata said that it leads to researchers avoiding risky projects that she thinks may have better payoffs. Niederhuber says that Kolata's criticisms are nothing new and that despite its flaws, the peer-review system "remains the envy of the world—and one of the most duplicated." He also says that while scientists "put their best science forward in their R01 grant proposals," there are other ways to fund riskier science. "In my interview for the Times story, I suggested to Ms. Kolata that the very nature of cancer science is beginning to undergo fundamental change and that not all scientific risk takes place in the realm of the classic R01 or similar grants," he adds.

Michael White at Adaptive Complexity says that Niederhuber's response actually helps support Kolata's thesis. "Note that he equates the 'best science' that goes into R01s with non-risky science — he essentially admits that he believes risky science is not the best science," he writes, adding that he did consider the Times piece "too dismissive of the progress that's been made in the understanding and treatment of cancer."