AIBS Study Investigates Conflict of Interest in Biomedical Research Peer Review Panels

A new research study from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) found that peer review managers play an important role in identifying potential conflicts of interest (COI) in biomedical research grant peer reviews. The study,[Frequency and Type of Conflicts of Interest in the Peer Review of Basic Biomedical Research Funding Applications: Self-Reporting Versus Manual Detection, was published in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics.

Peer review is the widely used process by which panels of experts evaluate research proposals to help funders identify the best research to fund. A cornerstone of the process is the integrity of the review panel, which includes a fair and non-conflicted evaluation of the proposed research. Despite this and the widespread belief that peer review is a foundation upon which U.S. science is built, few studies of the peer review process have actually been conducted.

"Peer review is so central to the way we do science, it is important that we study the process. With good data, we can ensure the vibrancy of peer review and develop models and best practices that promote the integrity of peer review," said Dr. Stephen Gallo, AIBS Technical Operations Manager and the lead author of the study.

This research is the most recent study from AIBS, which has conducted peer review of research proposals on behalf of government and non-government research funders for over 50 years.

To inform the future of peer review, Gallo and colleagues conducted a retrospective analysis of COI data from peer review panels that evaluated 282 biomedical research applications. The overall 'conflicted-ness' of these panels was significantly lower than that reported for regulatory review panels, which have been studied by others.

The AIBS study found that 35 percent of conflicts were self-reported by review panel members. Importantly, peer review panel managers identified 65 percent of conflicts.

"The people who organize panels play an important role in identifying conflicts of interest," said Gallo.

Overall, this study suggests that the scientific community should dedicate some energy to improving COI reporting and detection methods. In light of increasing demands on reviewers' time, administrators will also need to make this process as efficient as possible while maintaining the highest ethical and review standards.

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Natural Science Collections Community Expresses Concerns with Interior Plan

Last week the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), Society for the Preservation for Natural History Collections (SPHNC), and various natural history museums asked the White House Office of Management and Budget to carefully consider a request from the Department of the Interior (DOI) to initiate a new information collection from non-federal collection facilities that hold DOI specimens. Although facilities recognize the need for the DOI to identify where its specimens are located, there was general concern about the amount of time and resource that would be required to comply with the request, as well as whether the most efficient method of gathering useful information had been identified.

The DOI has long been criticized for how it, including its various bureaus, manages museum specimens and objects. Indeed, an article by Cynthia Ramotnik, "The Illusion of Responsibility: USGS Stewardship of Scientific Collections," argues that the US Geological Survey - the DOI's science agency - has done less than stellar work with its scientific collections. The article was published as an Advanced Access article in BioScience on February 19, 2015.

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Another Leader, Champion of Science Announces Retirement from Congress

On 2 March 2015, Maryland’s senior U.S. Senator, Barbara Mikulski (D) announced that she would not seek a sixth term.

From her posts on the Appropriations Committee, Mikulski has been a promoter and defender of federal investments in research, particularly at the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NASA.

Announcing her retirement from Congress, Mikulski noted that she deliberated about whether she wanted to spend the next two years raising money and campaigning for her seat or campaigning for the interests of the residents of Maryland.

“Because every day, I want to wake up thinking about you — the little guys and gals, the watermen, automobile workers, researchers, small business owners and families,” Mikulski said. “I want to give you 120 percent of my time with all of my energy focused on you and your futures…That’s what it takes to be a good senator by my expectations and by my standards.”

Mikulski outlined her priorities for the balance of her tenure: “I’ll be fighting for your jobs. Creating jobs today in construction rebuilding America’s roads, bridges and water plants. And creating jobs for tomorrow in the new economy through research and discovery.”

A true trailblazer, Mikulski was the first Democratic woman Senator elected in her own right, and was one of only two women Senators serving when she entered the Senate in 1987. She became the longest serving woman in U.S. Senate history in January 2011. In March 2012 she became the longest serving woman in Congress when she surpassed the tenure of Representative Edith Nourse Rogers.

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Short Takes

  • Beyond the Box Digitization Competition has answered new questions. Check the website to get the latest on identifiers and other things - see the FAQ section of This is your chance to solve a problem, win $1,000,000, and become a celebrity at your local insect collection - don't miss out. Contest closes September 4, 2015.
  • Do you have innovative ideas about how to enhance complex data integration across scales and disciplines? Please share them today at
  • AIBS Interim Co-Executive Director Robert Gropp to testify this month before Congress on importance of federal support for United States Geological Survey.

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Participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day ??

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are invited to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.?? This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal funding for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation, as well as other federal agencies.??BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.?? This year’s event will be held on 13-14 May 2015 in Washington, DC. The first day of the program is a training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.?? There is no cost to participate in this event, but space is limited. BESC and its member organizations are not able to pay/reimburse participants for their travel expenses.?? Learn more about the event and express your interest in participating at The deadline to sign up is 13 March 2015.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to to get started.

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