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Frequently Asked Questions
Confidentiality In Peer Review

Initial Posting: January 15, 2015
Last Revised: January 15, 2015


  1. The rules say that I can’t share applications with someone who has not been officially designated to participate in the peer review process. How do I know who has been officially designated?

    Applications, proposals, and confidential meeting materials cannot be shared with anyone who is not a member of the study section where those documents and information are being reviewed.  Officially-designated members include appointed members, temporary or ad hoc members, the Scientific Review Officer, and NIH staff with a need to know.

     

    Sharing applications, proposals, and confidential meeting materials with someone on another NIH study section is also a breach of confidentiality, because the person on the other study section has not been designated to participate in your meeting.  

  2. My mentor used to be on an NIH study section and now I’ve been asked to serve on another panel. Can I ask her to help me with my reviews?

    Not without permission.  Even though your mentor was once an official member of an NIH study section, she is not an official member of the study section on which you will serve.  Therefore, if you wish to ask for her assistance, you need to contact the Scientific Review Officer who is running your review and ask permission to share the applications with her. 

     

    If you want to ask her general advice on the review process, you do not need permission.  NIH encourages its reviewers to serve as sources of information on the general review process.

  3. My friend said that her department chairman came back from a study section and told her how her application did in review. Is that right?

    No!  Your friend’s chairman should have been recused from the discussion and evaluation of her application, because they are from the same component of the same institution and have a supervisory/employee relationship.  

  4. I’m extremely busy this semester and don’t see how I can finish all my critiques in time. What’s the harm in asking my senior postdoc to help me out?

    In order to share the applications and meeting materials with anyone who is not on the panel, you must contact the Scientific Review Officer and ask permission to do so.  Your postdoc would need to sign a confidentiality certification, conflict of interest certifications, and be added to the meeting roster.  

  5. My students want to learn about NIH peer review and it seems like showing them the applications that I’m assigned to review, and then discussing them, would be a fabulous learning experience. Since they don’t vote on the applications, can I send the applications around to my lab staff?

    No!  Showing applications or other confidential meeting materials to anyone who has not been officially designated to participate in the process is a breach of confidentiality, and subject to consequences.

  6. What would NIH do to me if they thought I had broken confidentiality in peer review?

    If NIH determines that you committed a bona fide breach of confidentiality in the peer review process, we could contact you and your institution, and ask you to step down from an appointed term of service on a study section.  Depending on the severity of the breach, the NIH may refer the matter to the NIH Office of Management Assessment and possibly to the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services, which could result in further administrative actions such as debarment or even criminal penalties.  If the matter is referred to these authorities, the NIH would be unlikely to contact you or your institution first, as it now involves possible criminal violations.

  7. How would NIH know about breaches of confidentiality in peer review?

    Information about possible breaches of confidentiality come to the NIH in numerous ways.  Often, an applicant will report that data, figures or text from his or her grant application appears in a publication published by a reviewer on the panel where the application was reviewed.  In addition to being a breach of confidentiality, this may also constitute research misconduct in the form of plagiarism.

    We sometimes learn about breaches of confidentiality from other reviewers, colleagues and students of reviewers, or even members of the media.  We also have internal controls to monitor access to our computer systems.  

Go to the Peer Review Policies & Practices Page





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