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Peer review: maintaining trust in research funding decisions

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Ensuring that the peer-review process adapts as medical research changes

Researchers in Australia have recently criticised peer review of applications for grant funding, arguing that the process involves too much work, is too arbitrary and is too conservative in identifying the best grants.1

These criticisms need to be addressed, but they must also be balanced by other considerations, especially the interests of the wider community.

Public research funding bodies like the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council rely on peer review when deciding who and what to fund. Because Australians’ taxes pay for the funding, funders have responsibilities to ensure that peer review is able to identify the most valuable research to fund, and to do so fairly, free from bias and self-interest.

The NHMRC’s funding decisions depend almost entirely on researchers’ peer review. It is remarkable that the public trusts us researchers with towards a billion dollars a year of their money, and we have a responsibility to maintain this trust.

Peer reviewing is an essential part of being a scientist, and we can expect to spend a sizeable amount of our time providing reviews of other researchers’ applications for funding (and publishing). It is a type of mutual obligation — participation in the peer-review process is…