Review of Research Proposals by Outside Experts

The practice of requesting outside experts to review scientific proposals submitted to the PRF was initiated in 1961. The objective is to provide assistance to the Committee on the Petroleum Research Fund in the selection of proposals for funding. Reviews have always been regarded as supplementary information for the consideration of a proposal by the PRF Committee, and there has never been any intention that ratings or commentary by outside peer reviewers should automatically affect the selection of proposals by the Committee.

The use of outside peer reviews was considered by the Board of Directors Committee on Grants and Fellowships (now Grants and Awards) in March, 1962, and endorsed. The Committee particularly considered whether the opinions of outside peer reviewers should be sought on the question of the appropriateness of a proposal to the “petroleum field.” The Committee voted “that outside reviews shall be restricted by request to the scientific and technical aspects of the proposed research and the competence of the investigators.” Thus, a decision on the appropriateness of each proposed project under the terms of Article Second of the “Agreement of Transfer of Trust Creating the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund” remains the unshared responsibility of the Committee on the Petroleum Research Fund.

When an investigator submits a research grant proposal to ACS PRF, the investigator is asked to name at least six experts in the field of the proposed research, who may or may not be familiar with the applicant’s work. These must not include collaborators, coauthors, mentors, students, relatives, or colleagues at a current or former institution.

Typically, the staff request reviews from some of the experts (no more than three) named by the applicants. Exceptions to this practice may occur, due to one of the following disqualifying reasons:

  1. The reviewer has already been asked for the maximum number of reviews in a year.
  2. The reviewer has previously asked ACS PRF not to send proposals for review, for a period of time, or perhaps, indefinitely.
  3. The reviewer has recently reviewed another proposal by the P.I.
  4. The reviewer has recently been asked to review a proposal by another investigator, or has a current review request still pending for another proposal.
  5. The reviewer currently has their own proposal under consideration by ACS PRF.
  6. The reviewer has recently had their own proposal denied funding by ACS PRF.
  7. The reviewer’s record of responding to review requests indicates that it is unlikely that a review would be forthcoming.
  8. The reviewer is or was a coauthor, collaborator, colleague, mentor, student, or relative of the Principal Investigator.

Office Staff also select at least four additional reviewers from a variety of other resources and their own personal knowledge of the field. These reviewers are screened by the same criteria listed in the paragraph above. Our Staff exercise their judgment in selecting additional peer reviewers, keeping in mind the objective of providing the PRF Committee with sufficient high-quality evaluations of each proposal to facilitate a prompt and fair decision. More staff-requested reviews may be sought in cases where an earlier reviewer has (a) declined to review, (b) returned a review of questionable usefulness, or (c) suggested another particularly suitable reviewer for the proposal.

Staff members are always glad to learn of potential reviewers, particularly younger colleagues who may not be mentioned frequently by applicants, but who may be expected to provide expert and conscientious reviews. Occasionally, a question or information is relayed to an applicant at the request of a peer reviewer.