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Almost two thirds of the total $4-billion NIH budget, $2.3 billion, is spent on extramural research grants to individual investigators. The responsibility for operating much of the decision-making machinery that evaluates the relative merits—and hence the funding—of the applications these investigators submit falls on the oldest, but perhaps least-known, division at the NIH, the Division of Research Grants.
Established in 1946 for this specific purpose, the division channels some 20,000 competing grant applications received each year by the NIH through evaluation—if the research is sufficiently meritorious—to funding. The division's staff keeps track of the reviewing process through which these applications are put, whether they are approved, rejected, or deferred for further consideration.
In the performance of its task, the division relies heavily, indeed virtually entirely, on peer review of these applications by knowledgeable scientists in the field. The theory is that independent scientists familiar with the subject are best qualified
Marwick C. What happens to those grant applications? JAMA. 1984;252(16):2323–2327. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350160183053
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