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Shake it Up

The tightening US science-funding budget offers an opportunity to alter how grants are awarded by the National Institutes of Health, writes Frederick Grinnell, a cell biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Nature. The process, he says, could be "made stronger, more resilient, and more diverse."

By linking funding decisions to percentile scores, Grinnell says that a certain number of high-ranking grants could be fully funded while those that are closer to the cut-off line could receive partial funding, possibly allowing some labs to keep their doors open.

He also suggests changing how productivity is measured. He notes that a preliminary study has doing that a lab's productivity peaks at about $750,000. If productivity measures were normalized to grant dollars, smaller labs might gain an edge, leading to a broader dispersal of funding.

Grinnell also argues that principal investigators' salaries take too much of a bite out of grants, and that researchers' institutions should pay more of their scientists' salaries.

Lastly, he says that the broader effect of research grants needs to be considered — giving a certain amount of money to an underfunded research institution would have a greater effect than giving same number of dollars to a wealthier one.