GrantDoctor: How Do I Appeal A Grant Review? What Are Sources of Alternative Medicine Funding?


How Do I Appeal A Grant Review?

What Are Sources of Alternative Medicine Funding?

What should an applicant do upon discovering that his or her grant has been reviewed unfavorably by a committee that included someone who has a personal conflict with the applicant? This actually happened to the principal investigator of a grant I was on as co-investigator. The PI did nothing about it, because he was not able to offer any concrete evidence that the person with whom he had the disagreement influenced the direction of the review. -- Karen, Texas

Dear Karen,

Yours must be an extremely frustrating position, especially because getting an award is difficult enough without these kinds of problems. Final review outcomes do reflect group decision-making--not just one person's judgement. However, it is up to the chair and presiding agency officers to ensure that reviewers refrain from being excessively opinionated or vocal.

I would be interested to hear how you found out who reviewed your application, as funding agencies usually keep the identities of their reviewers confidential--the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, never releases such information. After winning a "significant victory" in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996, the National Science Foundation (NSF) also retained the right to keep its reviewers anonymous.

Having said that, it is possible to obtain rosters of review committees which list those who sit on review groups but do not reveal the primary reviewers of specific applications. Finding out someone is a committee member does not mean he or she participated in an application's review. They can withdraw themselves from the discussion and leave the room should they realize a conflict is apparent. Whatever the circumstances, it would be prudent to document how you came to know of their involvement.

An applicant can appeal an outcome, as long as it does not concern differences of scientific opinion between investigators. Federal grants processes are bound by strict regulations, and there are specific guidelines for handling rebuttals.

To help circumvent such controversies, applicants submitting to the NSF may suggest scientists they don't want to review their proposal. Other agencies also consider such written requests in cover letters that accompany applications. You might want to consider including such preferences when submitting in the future.

Upon contacting the NIH, they will recommend that you:

  • resubmit a revised version of the application, addressing the reviewers' comments, or

  • send in a new application.

If both options are unacceptable, a formal letter of appeal may be submitted specifying the "perceived flaws in the review" and explaining why the comments are thought to be unfair or inappropriate. Be confident that you can defend your actions: Legitimate review criticisms will demonstrate impartiality, making it difficult to prove that someone has been overly aggressive or inappropriately judgmental during a review discussion.

If it is concluded that there was a breach of scientific ethics, a rereview by either the same or another group can be recommended; the person who has the conflict (or alleged conflict) with the PI would be excluded from the second review.

Be aware of time constraints when requesting reconsideration of a review. The NSF, for example, requires appeals to be submitted in writing "within 90 days after the date of declination."

In conjunction with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the University of Texas, Houston, Health Science Center has a toll-free Compliance Hotline (1-888-472-9868) that serves "any member of the UT-Houston community--faculty, staff, resident, or student." You may report in confidence activities such as conflicts of interest or violations of federal law or university policy. The service acts as a go-between, registering concerns and forwarding them to the appropriate personnel within the university. They deal with in-house disputes but may be able to suggest alternative ways of dealing with your case.

If you were seeking state (Texas) funding and believe your attempt to secure a financial grant was seriously damaged by individuals involved in the review process, you may seek counsel through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Their advisory council, composed of industrial and academic scientists, may offer local advice.

Your question raises an important concern of many Next Wave readers. Keep a lookout for upcoming articles describing in detail the appeals process and your legal scientific rights.

National Institutes of Health "Appeals of NIH Initial Peer Review"

National Science Foundation "Grant Policy Manual" (see chapter IX for information on reconsideration/suspension and termination/disputes/misconduct in science)

National Science Foundation "Grant Proposal Guide"

University of Texas, Houston, Health Science Center Compliance Hotline

University of Texas "Guidelines on Conflicts of Interest and Commitment"

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

-- The GrantDoctor

I have a B.A. in transpersonal-holistic healing and an M.A. in holistic health education and have been diligently seeking a grant for my Ph.D. study in bioenergetic medicine with no success. Do you know of any institutions, foundations, or private parties that would be receptive to a proposal on alternative/holistic health? Thank You, Allondra

Dear Allondra,

Bioenergetics is defined by the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology as the "study of the transformations of energy in living organisms"--a sort of psychotherapy for the body. The practice of applying such studies to human illness and well-being has flourished in the past decade. During 1990, over 60 million Americans spent nearly $14 billion on alternative ways to cure and treat medical disorders, from back pain and chronic renal failure to HIV and AIDS. Current research is advancing rapidly, so there are funding opportunities out there!

Congress created the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in 1992, and 3 years later the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) established its Extramural Affairs unit at NIH. Its purpose is to oversee research in alternative health care practices. NCCAM funds a range of investigator-initiated projects that may be useful to someone at your career stage:

  • F31 Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Awards

  • T32 Institutional Training Grant

  • Short-Term Research Training for Health Professional Students

For comprehensive details about programs and research activities, contact the NCCAM Clearinghouse in Silver Spring, Maryland. Their toll-free telephone number is 1-888-644-6226.

NCCAM also funds a number of Specialty Centers around the country that focus on developing alternative treatments for health problems. Check these institutions for further funding opportunities.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

Other organizations and links:

American Association of Acupuncture and Bioenergetic Medicine

The University of Pittsburgh Alternative Medicine Home Page

Links to national and international schools that provide training and licensure in alternative medicine

The Florida Society for Bioenergetic Analysis has a training program and awards a Bioenergetic Certification after successful completion of a preclinical phase and a "certification track."

-- The GrantDoctor

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