Funders should evaluate projects, not people

Elsevier, The Lancet, Volume 393, Issue 10171, 9–15 February 2019, Pages 494-495.
Jennifer Raymond and Miriam Goodman

Since the Cold War, public and private funding agencies have relied on peer review to guide their investments in science. This process allows funders to make informed bets when allocating resources to advance their goals. In The Lancet, Holly Witteman and colleagues suggest that a traditional, project-based grant review process outperforms the increasingly popular people-not-project funding schemes. Their analysis leverages a natural experiment created by the decision of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to divide its funding into Project and Foundation grant programmes in 2014. This change in policy enabled the authors to compare traditional peer review procedures evaluating both the project and the scientist with those focused either primarily on the project or on the scientist. When the peer review focused on identifying the best scientific ideas (Project programme), the proposals from male and female investigators were funded in roughly equal proportions. By contrast, when the review focused on assessing the scientist (Foundation programme), male investigators were an astounding 1·4 times more likely to receive funding than female investigators, a disparity that persisted after adjustment for age and domain of research.