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Bullet peer-review · Aug 29, 2022

Is Peer Review Risk Averse?

Peer review is a common process used for determining scientific research funding, but some have suggested evaluators have a preference for lower risk, incremental projects. In an effort to examine this phenomenon, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and Washington State University have published the results from an experiment of peer reviewers’ evaluations.

  • The study examined reviewer scoring of mock proposal evaluations in which the level and sources of risks and weaknesses were manipulated.
  • The data suggest that proposal risks more strongly predicted reviewers’ scores than proposal strengths 
  • The evaluation of risks dominates reviewers’ evaluation of research proposals and is a source of inter-reviewer variability.  

Overall, these results suggest that reviewers could benefit from additional training on interpreting proposal risk to improve the reliability of reviews. The current valuation of risk drives proposal evaluations and likely reduces the chances that risky, but highly impactful science, is selected for funding. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (1951132 and 1951251).