What was Italy thinking? And, for that matter, NIH? From Science:
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is gearing up to begin a review of about 1,000 biomedical research grant applications for the Italian government, an experimental collaboration that comes at an inconvenient time for the US funding agency.
The outsourcing agreement was made last year at the request of Ferruccio Fazio, now Italy’s deputy minister for health in the welfare ministry, who is looking to improve the department’s peer-review system for awarding competitive research grants…
Most biomedical research funds in Italy are dispensed through government appropriations to institutions, not through a competitive grant system. Many of the national peer-review systems that do exist, and which work in response to irregular funding calls, are plagued by accusations of conflicts of interest among a small pool of reviewers.
“We want to change the culture. We need a peer-review process that is more transparent, and less prone to suspicions of bias,” says Giovanni Lucignani, a diagnostic-imaging specialist at the University of Milan.
It will be interesting to see how this changes Italian science. But I don’t think the Italians know what they’re getting into. And neither did the NIH:
“We took on this project before the Recovery Act was passed, and we never would have taken on the Italian applications if we had known what our workload would be now,” says Antonio Scarpa, director of the NIH’s Center for Scientific Review. “Nonetheless, we are honoured to assist the Italians.” It is the first time the NIH has provided systematic technical support for another country’s grant applications, he says.
I’ve been asked to review grants for other countries’ peer review boards. But this is weird.