After hearing comments at the Experimental Biology meeting that responses to the NIH Request for Information (RFI) about a potential "emeritus" award were substantially more positive that those posted on the Rock Talk blog on the subject, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain what I could about the RFI responses.
Yesterday (less than 6 weeks after I made the request), I received the response. The key item was an Excel spreadsheet with meaningful responses from 195 individuals and 3 scientific societies (American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Genetics Society of America, American Association of Immunologists). The names and email addresses of the individuals (as well as some other bits of information) were redacted although institutional affiliation information was included where provided.
As a first pass at the analysis, I coded each response as Supportive of an Emeritus Award, Not Supportive of an Emeritus Award, or Mixed. The results were almost evenly divided with 92 Supportive, 85 Not Supportive, and 21 Mixed.
Some of the responses disclosed that the respondent was a senior scientist who would potentially have been or would be a potential applicant for an emeritus award. I searched the responses for such disclosures and identified 17 individuals. All 17 were supportive of the concept of a potential emeritus award.
I also examined the institutional affiliations of the respondents where provided. The institutions for which more than 2 responses were received included:
Harvard Medical School (including Brigham and Women's, Mass General, and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospitals) 11
Johns Hopkins University 6
University of Colorado 5
University of Washington 4
University of Michigan 4
University of Maryland 4
University of Massachusetts Medical School 3
Tufts University 3
University of Kentucky 3
Note that this parallels, to some extent, institutions that have a large number of grantees (Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins , University of Michigan, and University of Washington are in the top ten in terms of overall NIH funding. However, Harvard Medical School and the three affiliated hospitals listed account for approximately $300M in NIH funding (or ~1 %) yet they accounted for 11/198 = 5.5% of the responses; 7 out of these 11 responses were scored as positive.
I will continue to examine the responses and share some of the more interesting comments.
What are the take-home lessons here?
First, the response rate is typical for this sort of RFI at a few hundred responses. This represents a very small selection of the biomedical research community, substantially less than 1% of grantees and applicants. Note that I used the term selection instead of sample since their is certainly bias in who chose to take the time to respond.
Second, the responses are more substantially more positive than those seen on blogs. Of course, the blog response is likely biased toward those who are younger and more likely to be negative while the RFI response may be biased toward those with self-interested positions.
Third, the FOIA process here was relatively painless and quick in this case.
I urge you whenever NIH issues an RFI on a topic of interest to you or your colleagues, take the time to take a look at it and respond as appropriate. Your voice can't be heard if you don't speak out and it only takes a few minutes to respond.