Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Meddling in peer review?

Members of Congress had a new opportunity to display how readily they will speak out on matters they know nothing about. They are supposed to be finalizing the budget for 2005 -- which start on Friday -- and have not done so. Have you ever wondered why these things take so long? At Biomedcentral, in The Scientist section, we see one of the things that has slowed them down:

Members of the US House of Representatives last week (Sept. 9) approved an amendment to the NIH fiscal year 2005 budget (HR 5006) that would prohibit NIMH from further funding grants "studying the decorations of dorm rooms and college students' Web pages" and "studying what makes for a meaningful day," as Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) characterized the grants last week.

The amendment is largely symbolic because the two grants already have been obligated. [...]
OK, they wrote and passed an amendment that does absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, we are all wondering when they will do something about the 9-11 Commission Report. What is taking so long? Oh, that's a rant tangent. Back to the point. I have to agree, it is not obvious immediately what value the studies will have. But that often is the case. For example, as I was writing this, I grabbed a journal that happened to be laying around. One study in the journal: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Macaque Monkeys Performing Visually Guided Saccade Tasks. Perhaps a few readers will know what made that study worth funding. Most will not. The fact is, most research is extremely obscure, and much of it seems pointless, taken out of context. In order to understand why it is important, it is necessary to understand what already has been done in the field, what else is being done currently, and how the proposed study will fit in among the rest. That is why we have peer review.