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Public Affairs Update

  • NIH peer review system being considered for improvements . . . . Concerns about the efficiency of peer review expressed by the scientific community have prompted NIH leadership to consider as a priority reengineering the peer review system. The debate is not whether peer review is still important and necessary, but what to do to revamp the system. Antonio Scarpa, Director of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR), emphasized at a recent public meeting the “strategic national importance of peer review” and called it the “heart and soul of NIH.” Major concerns from the scientific community relate to the peer review process being too slow and lacking sufficient senior and experienced reviewers. Scarpa said that part of the problem is intellectual and part of it is structural, given that the process was designed for face-to-face meetings of reviewers. One of the challenges and opportunities facing NIH peer review is a mechanical issue—reassigning and improving administration and organizational systems and procedures. The second challenge is cultural—facilitating the identification and advancement of more significant, innovative, and high impact research. NIH plans to shorten the review cycle, improve study section alignment and performance, increase recruitment and retention of high-quality reviewers, and decrease the burden on applicants and reviewers. NIH also wants the input of the scientific community. For more information, visit www.nih.gov.

  • New website allows exploration of data on metropolitan areas . . . . Diversitydata. org allows visitors to explore how metropolitan areas throughout the United States perform on a diverse range of social measures that comprise a well-rounded life experience. Diversitydata.org, developed by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Center for the Advancement of Health and support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, provides a dataset of socioeconomic indicators for metropolitan areas in the form of tables, thematic maps, and customizable reports. Some domains used include housing, neighborhood conditions, residential integration, education, and health factors such as disability rates, health insurance, births to teenager mothers, births to unmarried mothers, prenatal care, smoking during pregnancy, preterm births, and low birth-weight rates. To accompany the new website, Diversitydata.org has planned a series of reports based on the data indicators. The first report, released in conjunction with the launch of the new website, is titled Children Left Behind: How Metropolitan Areas Are Failing American Children. The report examines the well-being of children in the 100 largest metropolitan areas and scores those areas for the living conditions they provide to white, black, Hispanic, and Asian children based on indicators of health, family income, home ownership, residential and school segregation, and neighborhood and school socioeconomic environment. Using a summary measure of neighborhood socioeconomic conditions, the report shows the metropolitan areas with worst and best neighborhood environments for children of different racial/ethnic groups.

  • Two social scientists are appointed to NIH Advisory Committee of the Director . . . . The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected seven new members to serve on the 13-member Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD). Two of those new members—Alan I. Leshner, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Barbara L. Wolfe, University of Wisconsin-Madison—have strong social science backgrounds. The ACD advises the NIH Director on policy and planning issues important to the NIH mission of conducting and supporting biomedical and behavioral research, research training, and translating research results for the public. Leshner is chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and executive publisher of its journal, Science. Previously, Leshner had been Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the NIH, and Deputy Director and Acting Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Before that, he held a variety of senior positions at the National Science Foundation. In 2004, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Science Board. Wolfe is Professor of Economics, Population Health Sciences, and Public Affairs and Faculty Affiliate at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, where she also is currently serving as Director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs. Her research focuses broadly on poverty and health issues. Her current projects examine the effect of expansions in public health insurance on health care coverage and labor force outcomes and the role of income on health. Additional information is available at www.nih.gov/about/director/acd/index.htm.

  • Recommended improvements in federal statistics on STEM workforce . . . . While the federal statistics community does an admirable job of producing data on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals, opportunities exist for improvement according to a Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST) report. The white paper, released in January by CPST and titled Improving Federal Statistics on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Workforce, is a product of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation-funded STEM Workforce Data Project. It makes several recommendations, including changes to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes and improvements in implementations of the new North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Check online for the white paper www.cpst.org/STEM_Report.cfm and related press release www.cpst.org/STEM_Press.cfm.