The NIH has made public how often they fund grants below the payline. 18% of R01s scored below the nominal cutoff get funded anyway. A good chunk of those are grants from new investigators.

This is a good thing - not because lower quality grants are getting funded; they're not - these just-below-cutoff grants are likely to be just as good. New investigators frequently get screwed by study sections. With smaller labs, a shorter track record, and less experience working the system, new investigators are at an intrinsic disadvantage in the current grant review system. Given two research proposals of equal quality from a new and a senior investigator, the senior investigator is more likely to get funded. As everyone who's gone through the process, as an applicant or a reviewer, knows, study sections can on occasion trash a grant proposal for dumb reasons, and the NIH program officers should have some latitude.

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