The National Institutes of Health and many of our biomedical institutions face significant budgetary challenges that are likely to persist for the foreseeable future. The paylines for Research Project Grant (RO1) applications to the NIH will be near or below the tenth percentile, and many investigators are growing increasingly concerned about maintaining their research programs. One of the most concerning potential results of limited grant dollars is the natural tendency for researchers to propose conservative projects that are more likely to succeed, to do well in peer review, and to be funded, but that may not dramatically advance the field, and a concurrent tendency among study sections to reward proposals that are seen as safe, if uninspiring. Established and well-respected investigators may be (perhaps appropriately) given the benefit of the doubt when compared with less-established colleagues and may therefore command a growing percentage of the total available grant dollars, while simultaneously avoiding bold and potentially groundbreaking approaches. At the same time, fewer dollars are available for new investigators with unproven track records and for the expansion of newly successful programs.
Jonathan A. Epstein