Gambling Disorders 360°

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Advancing the Science of Gambling Research through Peer Review

by: Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H. and Christine Reilly | Feb 11, 2010

The Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders this week announced significant changes in its competitive research grants program. These modifications, the product of a recent review of the grants program by the Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board, will offer twice as many grants, provide new opportunities for researchers beginning to explore gambling disorders and enhance the quality of research funded by the Institute—while increasing the number of investigators working in the field. (Details about our new grant categories and funding priorities can be found in the Project Grants section.)

In addition to these developments, the Institute is focused on improving its review of grant applications by following the recent recommendations from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research in the United States. These recommendations are discussed in the “Enhancing Peer Review” report, released in March 2008, which describes NIH’s self-study of its peer review procedures.

Peer review, the process of subjecting scientific or scholarly work to the scrutiny of fellow experts in the field, has been the cornerstone of NCRG-funded grant programs since their 1997 inception. All grant applications submitted to the Institute, the independent program of the NCRG charged with administering the research grant programs, are evaluated by researchers who are experts in the field of addictive behaviors. Rigorous review ensures that scientific merit solely determines the basis upon which the projects receive support. Peer review also ensures that a firewall exists between NCRG funders (the gaming industry), and the investigators.

Our goals are for the Institute’s peer review system to be rigorous, fair, efficient and effective. For example, we have adopted the NIH’s revised rating system, which provides peer reviewers with the opportunity to grade applications on a broader scale so that clearer distinctions can be made between different research proposals. As the NIH report observes, “The most reliable, consistent rating system is one that reflects reviewers’ abilities to discriminate” (National Institutes of Health, 2008).

Another challenge we face, similar to that of the NIH, is assembling the pool of peer reviewers. Although the NCRG and the Institute have been fortunate to have had distinguished expert researchers participating in our peer review panels during the past 13 years, recruitment of reviewers has become more difficult because of the time commitment required to travel to meetings. Beginning in 2010, all of the Institute’s peer review meetings will be convened by telephone conference call, as is now standard practice at the NIH. This will allow us to expand the number of experienced reviewers evaluating applications and recruit reviewers who previously were unable to participate due to time or travel restrictions. It also will save money, which will allow us to fund more grants.

The quality of peer review is an issue of vital public interest. The Internet has become one of the leading sources of health information for the public, and in a 24/7 news environment that churns out scientific news at a prolific rate, it can be hard for the public to distinguish between studies that are scientifically sound and studies with numerous flaws. If we can teach the public about the importance of peer review and explain why it helps to safeguard scientific integrity and quality, the public will reject the latest fads and junk science and be more discriminating consumers of information about science and health. Funding sources and scientific journals should be as transparent as possible about the peer review process to strengthen the public’s understanding of new scientific developments. As we roll out the new system, we will keep everyone informed and continue the discussion about our grants program and how we are working to improve the public’s health.

About the Authors

Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., is professor of epidemiology in the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, and chair of the Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board. Christine Reilly is the executive director of the Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders.

Reference

National Institutes of Health. (2008). 2007-2008 Peer Review Self-Study. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/diagnostic_phase.html.

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