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Are Peer Reviews Of Grant Proposals Reliable? An Analysis Of Esrc Funding Applications

The Social Science Journal

John Jerrim, Robert Vries


Peer review is widely used throughout academia, most notably in the publication of journal articles and the allocation of research grants. Yet peer review has been subject to much criticism, including being slow, unreliable, subjective and potentially prone to bias. This paper contributes to this literature by investigating the consistency of peer reviews and the impact they have upon a high-stakes outcome (whether a research grant is funded). Analysing data from 4,000 social science grant proposals and 15,000 reviews, this paper illustrates how the peer review scores assigned by different reviewers have only low levels of consistency (a correlation between reviewer scores of only 0.2). Reviews provided by “nominated reviewers” (i.e. reviewers selected by the grant applicant) appear to be overly generous and do not correlate with the evaluations provided by independent reviewers. Yet a positive review from a nominated reviewer is strongly linked to whether a grant is awarded. Finally, a single negative peer review is shown to reduce the chances of a proposal being funding from around 55% to around 25% (even when it has otherwise been rated highly).

Funding, Grant Proposals, Esrc


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