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From funding agencies to scientific agency

Collective allocation of science funding as an alternative to peer review
Johan Bollen, David Crandall, Damion Junk, Ying Ding, Katy Börner

Author Affiliations

  • Johan Bollen, 1School of Informatics and Computing Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA
  • David Crandall, 1School of Informatics and Computing Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA
  • Damion Junk, 1School of Informatics and Computing Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA
  • Ying Ding, 1School of Informatics and Computing Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA
  • Katy Börner, 1School of Informatics and Computing Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA

Publicly funded research involves the distribution of a considerable amount of money. Funding agencies such as the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the European Research Council (ERC) give billions of dollars or euros of taxpayers' money to individual researchers, research teams, universities, and research institutes each year. Taxpayers accordingly expect that governments and funding agencies will spend their money prudently and efficiently.

Investing money to the greatest effect is not a challenge unique to research funding agencies and there are many strategies and schemes to choose from. Nevertheless, most funders rely on a tried and tested method in line with the tradition of the scientific community: the peer review of individual proposals to identify the most promising projects for funding. This method has been considered the gold standard for assessing the scientific value of research projects essentially since the end of the Second World War.

Investing money to the greatest effect is not a challenge unique to research funding agencies and there are many strategies and schemes to choose from

However, there is mounting critique of the use of peer review to direct research funding. High on the list of complaints is the cost, both in terms of time and money. In 2012, for example, NSF convened more than 17,000 scientists to review 53,556 proposals [1]. Reviewers generally spend a considerable time and effort to assess and rate proposals of which only a minority can eventually get funded. Of course, such a high rejection rate is also frustrating for the applicants. Scientists spend an increasing amount of time writing and submitting grant proposals. Overall, the scientific community invests an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and effort into the writing and reviewing of research proposals, most of which end up not …

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