Here is a link to an online survey being conducted by EPSRC, soliciting feedback on their peer review process, used for research grant proposals. Dissatisfied as I am with this process, I felt the urge to contribute. (The survey's closing date is November 7th.)
The general problem with their procedure for peer review, is that it is very primitive, in comparison with the process by which conference submissions are reviewed. You send in a grant application, you get 3 or 4 reviews, you get to submit a response, and these get considered by the panel. A specific problem with this is the shortage of interaction amongst the parties. Suppose that two reviewers think the proposal is excellent, and another thinks it's rubbish. The correct thing to do, surely, is to get the reviewers to settle their differences via a discussion, and preferably solicit another review. This is exactly what program committees do when papers are selected for conferences. In some conferences that I have been involved with, the authors of a submitted paper make a response to the reviews, the reviewers then continue their discussion in the light of the author's response. The whole thing is much more interactive, and helps to ensure transparency and accountability.
Given that it is more significant to get a research grant than to publish a paper (both for the grant applicant/author, and for the taxpayer) it is bizarre in the extreme that EPSRC still uses such a primitive system. There is a case for still more effort being directed towards ensuring that good choices are made. For example, perhaps research grant applicants should be interviewed by the panel (however, suggestions like that go beyond the scope of the above mentioned survey).
Happy Birthday, Jonathan Richman!
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