Reviewing Research Grant Applications - Case C1

Don Fletcher is a full professor at a renowned university and has a reputation as an outstanding scientist. His work has had a number of potentially profitable practical applications, which led him to join with some venture capital partners in forming a company to commercialize his inventions. Now several years old, the company is a financial success.

Dr. Fletcher is also a member of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study section -- one of the many peer review groups at the NIH that evaluate the scientific merit of grant applications. Despite the long hours, he is pleased to serve since he recognizes the importance of his contributions to the peer review system. In addition, he believes it is an excellent way of keeping absolutely current with the work done in his and related fields. He is very aware of the importance of confidentiality as reiterated in the statement read before each study section meeting.

Dr. Fletcher just returned from reviewing a fascinating grant application from a scientist working in a closely related area of research. After evaluating the application's preliminary work report, Dr. Fletcher came to realize that much of his own current NIH-funded and corporate research was proceeding down a blind alley. A meeting to review his research team's progress is fast approaching, and he is due at corporate headquarters tomorrow to discuss his company's research and development projects.


  1. What could Dr. Fletcher report to his research team? To his company?
  2. Should Dr. Fletcher have proceeded differently in the case of this grant review?
  3. Some people may have difficulty in segregating ideas that they gain in the course of reviewing grant applications from ideas they develop on their own or glean from non-confidential sources. If you were in Dr. Fletcher's situation, how would you ensure that you did not benefit inappropriately from information or ideas acquired during the course of your duties as a study section member?
  4. Policies for peer review involve both the need for expert assessment and the avoidance of breaches of confidentiality. Develop a set of rules that you believe should guide the peer assessment.


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