Next time you’re ranting about your latest grant review…

…spare a thought for your colleagues in Bulgaria.

I had to read the fifth paragraph of this Nature News piece two or three times to make sure I’d fully understood the depth of the (alleged) problems at the Bulgarian National Science Fund:

The report claims that many of the 230 reviewers who were chosen to assess the proposals had no science degrees or academic position. “One professor of English reviewed a paper in biochemistry,” says Horozov. Each of the reviewers was allowed to select which grant proposals he or she would review from the whole list, a practice that is unheard of in funding agencies. As the reviewers were paid for each review they produced, Horozov believes that this system may have been abused by some reviewers to boost their fees. “Several referees, even those without any form of scientific qualification, managed to comment on 100–200 applications within just two months.”


Just… WOW.

There are also accusations of ignored reviews, manipulated scores, and other discrepancies. If true, this system is horrifically unfair to researchers already working in very difficult conditions.

I think I’m going to print the article out and keep it close by for the next round of reviews.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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13 Responses to Next time you’re ranting about your latest grant review…

  1. Bob O'H says:

    I’m moving to Bulgaria. By the sound of it, it doesn’t even matter that I don’t know any Bulgarian.

  2. Wow, that’s crazy….first thought is, how do I get in on getting paid to read grants I know nothing about?

  3. SB says:

    Yep. Bear in mind that corruption and nepotism within the scientific enterprise are commonplace in many countries within the region. It’s a terrible system for many reasons, not the least of which is that it provides a strong impetus for honest people to leave. Given the opportunity to do science elsewhere, I know I would not have the energy or patience to stick around trying to “change the system”.

  4. Schlupp says:

    One has to admit, though: With those reviews, ignoring them may be the best thing to do….

  5. Heather says:

    I’m completely with SB on that. One only has so much time in which to live and to work, and if one has the desire to be a scientist, it’s usually not because one wants to be a politician or a martyr. With any luck for “the region”, though, a brave few will sacrifice themselves, and faced with better examples from elsewhere and the brain drain, things will change over future generations. I don’t have that sort of courage. I might have done once, but even butting my head against my local iniquities has flattened it.

  6. wow, another (missed?) opportunity to earn some dough!

  7. Amelie says:

    Wow. And I’m afraid SB and Heather are right. The more energy you have to spend changing (sometimes: fighting) the system, the less remains for your science… it’s a sad situation.

  8. Bob, good point. There’s clearly good money to be made, if you don’t mind screwing people over for a living…

    Funk, I guess you move to Bulgaria!

    SB, for sure – it’s hard enough without having the system stacked against you.

    Schlupp, excellent point! Maybe the people who use the reviews to rank applications actually have more sense than their colleagues who solicit the reviews!

    Heather, I agree – I don’t think I lack courage, necessarily, but I don’t think I have the stubbornness and sheer bloody-mindedness to keep bashing my head against a brick wall like that when there are other options available.

    Grrl, I’d be astonished if these problems are limited to just one country. Perhaps you can find somewhere that’s keeping these practices under wraps, rather than trying to out and fix them?

    Amelie, it is indeed. But kudos to the whistle blower who’s trying to fix the system.

    Ricardipus, I felt the same way – like I said, I had to read the article several times for it all to sink in.

    I’ve just remembered a post I wrote a couple of years ago about Italy outsourcing some grant reviews to the NIH. A very interesting discussion followed – I wonder if a similar scheme might help the Bulgarian NSF get back on their feet?

  9. Dr. O says:

    So sad (and unfair); it’s hard to believe that any institution could justify a system like this.

    And I don’t care how much someone pays me – I’m not reviewing grants I know nothing about. It’s enough of a struggle to read through some of the ones that are near and dear to my own research.

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