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Funding grant proposals for scientific research: retrospective analysis of scores by members of grant review panel

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 27 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4797
  1. Nicholas Graves, professor of health economics1,
  2. Adrian G Barnett, associate professor1,
  3. Philip Clarke, associate professor2
  1. 1School of Public Health and Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, 60 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove, Qld 4059, Australia
  2. 2School of Public Health, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: N Graves n.graves{at}
  • Accepted 29 June 2011


Objective To quantify randomness and cost when choosing health and medical research projects for funding.

Design Retrospective analysis.

Setting Grant review panels of the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

Participants Panel members’ scores for grant proposals submitted in 2009.

Main outcome measures The proportion of grant proposals that were always, sometimes, and never funded after accounting for random variability arising from differences in panel members’ scores, and the cost effectiveness of different size assessment panels.

Results 59% of 620 funded grants were sometimes not funded when random variability was taken into account. Only 9% (n=255) of grant proposals were always funded, 61% (n=1662) never funded, and 29% (n=788) sometimes funded. The extra cost per grant effectively funded from the most effective system was $A18 541 (£11 848; €13 482; $19 343).

Conclusions Allocating funding for scientific research in health and medicine is costly and somewhat random. There are many useful research questions to be addressed that could improve current processes.


  • We thank the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia for allowing us to access their peer review data as part of their commitment to improving their reviewing processes, and the 42 researchers who completed our survey on preparation times.

  • Contributors: All authors conceived and designed the study, analysed and interpreted the data, drafted the article or revised it critically for important intellectual content, approved the version to be published, and are the guarantors.

  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethical approval: This research has not been approved by an ethics committee. We believe the data are non-threatening, are reported in summary, do not identify any individual, and have been used to increase knowledge of how health and medical research is funded.

  • Data sharing: No additional data available.

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