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Allocating the Grant Pie

How medical research funds are allocated in the US might not mean the best ideas actually get funding, writes Aaron Carroll at the New York Times. He adds that it could be time for a change to the system.

Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, notes that it has gotten tougher for researchers to even get a slice of the funding pie: paylines at the National Institutes of Health are between 10 percent and 15 percent.

And how that funding is awarded may not be reliable, Carroll adds. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March found no agreement between peer reviewers in a mock study session, he notes. The University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers concluded that peer reviewers couldn't distinguish between good and actually great grant proposals

Carroll writes that the current system favors low-risk research and experienced researchers and shows bias against women and minorities. "We may be missing out on a lot of excellent, and perhaps novel, work that can't break into the top 10 percent because of structural problems," Carroll writes. "There are things we could do to fix that."

For instance, he notes that not only could funding simply be increased, but other ideas such as funding researchers instead of their research, letting scientist vote on who gets a portion of funding, or using a lottery system could be implemented.