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NIH Abandons Grant Cap, Offers New Help to Younger Scientists

Published on: 6/22/2017

After fierce pushback from many researchers, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, is dropping a 1-month-old plan to spread funds to more investigators by capping the amount of support any individual scientist could receive. Instead, NIH is creating a new fund that will eventually devote $1 billion a year-about 3% of the agency's current $34 billion budget-specifically to funding proposals from early- and midcareer scientists.

The new plan, unveiled on June 8, is a stunning shift from the cap announced on May 2. The earlier policy would have tallied a researcher's NIH support using a metric called the Grant Support Index, or GSI (Science, 12 May, p. 574). The agency planned to set a GSI cap for individual principal investigators of 21 points, or the equivalent of three standard R01 research grants. Agency officials said the cap would have affected about 6% of NIH's grantee pool, or about 1950 of 33,000 lead investigators, and freed up enough money to fund 1600 additional grants.

Many researchers feared that such a rigid cap would harm collaborations and force large, productive labs to downsize. Critics also attacked an underlying analysis that NIH cited in justifying the plan. It suggested that, in bigger labs, productivity gains slow with each additional grant, and that the agency could move funds from large labs to small ones without lowering overall productivity (Science, 9 June, p. 997).

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