[Taxacom] NSF LETTER - Reconsider pre

Scott L. Gardner slg at unl.edu
Thu Aug 23 16:11:32 CDT 2012

Sending a forward of a request to write to the National Science 
Foundation to reconsider the pre-proposal dance that they have recently 

August 21, 2012

Dr. Subra Suresh, Director, National
Science Foundation
Dr. Cora Marrett, Deputy Director,
National Science Foundation
Dr. Dan Arvisu, Chair, National Science
Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Vice Chairman,
National Science Board (NSB)
Dr. Bonnie Bassler, Member, NSB
Dr. Alan Leshner, Member, NSB
Dr. G. P. “Bud” Peterson, Member, NSB
Dr. Douglas Randall, Member, NSB
Dr. Joseph Travis, Chair, Advisory
Committee for Environmental Research
and Education (AC-ERE)
Dr. Anthony Janetos, AC-ERE
Dr. Stephanie Pfirman, AC-ERE
Dr. José Nelson Onuchic, Chair,
Directorate for Biological Sciences
Advisory Committee (BIO AC)
Dr. Carol Brewer, Member, BIO AC
Dr. Katherine Gross, Member, BIO AC
Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, Member, BIO AC
Dr. John Wingfield, Assistant Director,
Directorate for Biological Sciences
Dr. Joann Roskoski, Deputy Assistant
Director, Directorate for Biological
Dr. Parag Chitnis, Division Director,
Division of Molecular and Cellular
Dr. Judith Verbeke, Acting Division
Director, Division of Biological
Dr. Jane Silverthorne, Division Director,
Division of Integrative Organismal
Dr. Alan Townsend, Division Director,
Division of Environmental Biology
Dr. Chuck Liarakos, Senior Policy Advisor,
Directorate for Biological Sciences

Dear Directors,

Chairs, and Members of Boards and Committees:

We are writing as members of the ecological and environmental biology 
community to voiceour disappointment with the newly adopted process by 
which proposals are reviewed in the Directorate for Biological Sciences 
(1). We recognize that increasing proposal submissions
and declining funding rates are creating undue burdens on Program 
Directors, investigators, and the community of reviewers. Nevertheless, 
we feel that the new preproposal process is slowing the pace of science 
at a time when societyʼs need is increasing for timely and
sound science to inform solutions to tough environmental problems. 
Moreover, the new process does not ensure that the best science is 
funded with the limited funds that are available.

(1) The new process consists of a single preproposal due date in January 
each year followed a single full proposal submission deadline in August 
each year (by invitation only). An individual may be PI, co-PI, or lead 
senior investigator of a subaward on only two preproposals per year.


The preproposal process slows the pace of science in the following ways:

• The process creates an exceedingly long lag between the time when 
ideas are first proposed and when funding becomes available to 
investigators. Even if the twopreproposals allowed per Investigator per 
year are successful, it takes over one yearfrom submission to funding 
(as opposed to 6-9 months in the former system). Thislag time increases 
to over two years or longer if a preproposal is unsuccessful. 
Theincreased lag period comes at a time when the rapid pace of 
environmental change requires science-based solutions to address 
societal needs. It also hinders the development and deployment of new 
tools and technologies (e.g., molecular andinformatic) that inform 
solutions that address such rapid environmental change. Thelong lag 
between idea generation and funding is particularly hard on junior 
scientistswho are establishing their research programs, but also hinders 
progress of moresenior scientists seeking to sustain active research 
programs and to educate thenext generation of scientists. 	
• The process limits the scope of science by (1) selecting against 
complex,interdisciplinary science that cannot be convincingly described 
in four pages and (2)hindering collaboration among scientists (by 
limiting the number of submissions per investigator per year) at a time 
when research programs and teams need to be increasingly multifaceted, 
innovative, and interdisciplinary to address complex issues. 	
• The process limits feedback to scientists, slowing the pace at which 
creative ideas advance during the iterative submission-resubmission 
process, because of the lack of ad hoc reviews for proposals. Although 
investigators faced low rates of proposal success with the former 
process, it at least offered comprehensive feedback and allowed for 
relatively quick resubmission, increasing the chances for success with 
future submissions. 	
• The delays, the reduced opportunities for collaborative proposals, and 
the more limited feedback are likely to have a disproportionate effect 
on young scientists and members of groups who are not yet well 
represented in our science. We fear that this new process will result in 
the loss of some very promising people from the pipeline who are already 
discouraged by bleak prospects for funding research.
We are optimistic that thoughtful modifications of the new preproposal 
process, made in consultation with the ecological and environmental 
sciences community, will ensure that science progresses as rapidly as 
possible given the level of funds available, thereby providing maximum 
benefit to society. In any such modifications, we believe it is 
essential (1) to ease current restrictions that limit collaboration and 
the pursuit of high-risk, high-reward ideas and (2) to provide two 
deadlines per year, even if that requires taking other measures, such as 
reducing the number of ad hoc reviews or reducing proposal length, to 
ensure reasonable workloads for NSF staff and the reviewer community.


Scott Lyell Gardner, Ph.D.
Curator and Professor
Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology
W-529 Nebraska Hall
University of Nebraska State Museum and
School of Biological Sciences
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0514

e-mail:   slg at unl.edu
Web:      http://hwml.unl.edu
ASP Page: http://asp.unl.edu

Phone:    402-472-3334
Fax:       402-472-8949
Cell:       402-540-9310


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