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Public Consultation on the NHMRC Draft Principles of Peer Review submission

This submission reflects the views of
Individual Background: 
Researcher – biomedical
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General Comments

As a long-term member of numerous review panels, and a holder of grant funding for many years, I believe there is an important principle missing from the Draft Principles of Peer Review, that of "Integrity". Another way of framing it might be to call it "Scientific Quality". At present the principles are very long on process and very short on substance. They do not stipulate that the NHMRC seeks to ensure that the process supports the highest quality research or that it will provide mechanisms to assist researchers to improve the quality of their research.

A specific issue that illustrates this gap is that although there is a principle called Transparency, it only discusses the more superficial aspects of transparency, which ensure that everything may be seen to have been done fairly and appropriately. There is no stipulation that Peer Review Panels will be held accountable for the actual content of their decisions. Since the removal of GRP reports this has become a major issue (at least for Project Grants, with which I am most familiar), with panels free to score grants more or less at will, as long as the appearances of appropriate process are followed. In particular, there is no requirement for panels to document the basis on which the final ranking is awarded to each grant. This has led to many examples of applicants receiving rankings that are quite inconsistent with the written assessor reports, with no guidance on the reason for this and so no information on how the grant might be improved.

Unless the principles include some mention of an intention to ensure quality and integrity in the system, researchers will become increasingly frustrated with the process, which is seen by many as bureaucratic rather than collegial. I would be happy to contribute to further discussion of mechanisms by which greater integrity could be developed in the review system.

Page reviewed: 19 February, 2013