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NIH to limit the amount of grant money a scientist can receive

US agency creates point system to address imbalance in distribution of research funds.

For the first time, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) will restrict the amount of funding that an individual scientist can hold at any one time, on the basis of a point system. The move, announced on 2 May, is part of an ongoing effort to make obtaining grants easier for early- and mid-career scientists, who face much tougher odds than their more-experienced colleagues.

"Because scientific discovery is inherently unpredictable, there are reasons to believe that supporting more researchers working on a diversity of biomedical problems, rather than concentrating resources in a smaller number of labs, might maximize the number of important discoveries that can emerge from the science we support," NIH director Francis Collins wrote in a blogpost. In doing so, he added, the policy could improve "returns on taxpayers' investments".

According to the agency, just 10% of grant recipients win 40% of the agency's research money. Advocacy organizations and groups that advise the NIH director have been urging the agency to address this inequality for more than a decade. They are also concerned that increasing competition for grant money drives researchers to spend more time on paperwork and personnel issues associated with grants, and less time in the lab.

The latest NIH policy does not set a hard limit on the number of grants or the dollar amount of funding that an individual researcher can receive — an acknowledgement that some topics are inherently more expensive than others to study. Rather, Collins says, the agency will introduce a metric called the Grant Support Index (GSI), which assigns a point value to each type of grant on the basis of its complexity and size.


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Michelle Maclay, Communications Director