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Taking Action – Case Studies in Research Integrity

If you see something, say something. 

A series to raise awareness and inspire creative problem solving of the challenges in maintaining integrity in peer review

The NIH defines a breach of review integrity as any violation of a core value of NIH peer review. Review integrity concerns not only compromise our NIH peer review process but also raise other questions and potential concerns, including about an individual's authority and responsibility as a designated PI on NIH applications and awards. Moreover, review integrity concerns lead to concerns that  the relevant institution(s) may not be fully cognizant of their responsibilities and of the potential consequences Link to External Site of integrity breaches, which are leading to violations of the terms and conditions of their NIH awards.  When the core values of peer review are compromised, funding decisions may be based on improper or inaccurate information; proprietary information may be compromised; the public may lose trust in science; and patients in clinical studies may be harmed. 

Learn more about Integrity and Confidentiality in Peer Review (including this NIH Guide Notice).

Case Studies

The following cases are anonymized, but based on real events.

A cautionary tale about a breach of review integrity in the guise of a normal professional interaction. 

An NIH peer reviewer was approached by a well-known professional grant writing service to assist a client in preparing an NIH grant application. The service advertised phenomenal success in securing NIH funding for its clients. What would you do?

Sharing an Application Being Reviewed Link to External Site

Sharing an application with anyone who has not been officially designated to participate in the peer review process is a big no-no. And it is specifically prohibited by NIH peer review policy.

Review Integrity - Abuse of Power Link to External Site

What would you do if, as the Dean of Research at a major university, a group of students, postdocs, and junior faculty reported that they had been pressured into writing reviewer critiques for a senior faculty member?

Embellished Credentials in a Grant Application Link to External Site

What happens when the NIH discovers that an investigator has embellished his or her credentials in an NIH grant application? Or even fabricated credentials?

Undisclosed Conflict of Interest Link to External Site

What happens when it is discovered that one of the reviewers currently set to review an application, had been listed as one of the key personnel on an application with the same PI in another, recent study section?

Asking for Favorable Treatment Link to External Site

What happens when a former colleague contacts you, a reviewer, out of the blue to ask if the application on which he is a principal investigator could be treated favorably at the review meeting? Do you brush off the investigator and figure you will not let the contact influence your review of that application? Or do you instead immediately notify NIH?

This Application Feels Familiar Link to External Site

In this case study, we discuss how plagiarism in the grant application process is handled at NIH and remind the research community about the importance of maintaining confidentiality of the peer review process. 

Banned From Supervising, Can’t Go in Lab, but No Impact on NIH Funded Research? Link to External Site

Too often we hear from institutions that a PI has violated the institution’s policies and is no longer permitted to supervise students or staff, but there will be “no impact on NIH-funded work.” We have a problem with this response.

You Can Disagree, Without Being Disagreeable Link to External Site

Unfortunately, we are seeing a number of cases of uncivil behavior coming from individuals outside of NIH, directed at NIH extramural staff.

Double Double toil and Trouble Link to External Site

We discuss here what you and your institution should consider when submitting the same applications to multiple funders.