NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Coordinating Committee Open Meeting 

The new National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research (OBSSR), Dr. Jane Simoni, welcomed attendees on October 6th to the quarterly open meeting of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Coordinating Committee. This meeting brings together scientists across all institutes, centers, and individuals from the public to attend. FABBS is a regular participant. Dr. Simoni provided several brief updates: 

  • OBBSR Deputy Director – This search is moving along with panel interviews scheduled for the coming weeks. 
  • OBSSR Strategic Plan – A final draft will be presented to NIH Council of Councils in January for approval. 
  • Annual BSSR Festival will take place on December 5, 2023 and will be fully virtual.  

Dr. Valerie Durrant, Director of the Division of AIDS, Behavior, and Population Sciences in the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) provided an overview of the office and presented updates relevant to the BSSR community. The mission of CSR is ‘to ensure that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely scientific reviews – free from inappropriate influences – so NIH can fund the most promising research.’  

Dr. Durrant explained the role of CSR staff to optimize peer review by supporting continual improvement of composition and output of study sections, training and burden on reviewers, and the integrity of the process to mitigate bias. Dr. Durrant reminded attendees that scientific review officers (SROs) review rosters and ensure that all reviewers have the opportunity to speak to the full set of panel application.  

CSR launched the Evaluating Panel Quality in Review (ENQUIRE) Initiative in 2019 to systematically and continually use data to evaluate study section activities. CSR is currently evaluating nine study sections in the Social and Behavioral Studies Cluster and are working towards presenting at the March 25, 2024 CSR Advisory Council.  

[See FABBS’ response to the NIH RFI on simplifying review criteria]

CSR Initiatives to Address Bias in Peer Review include bias awareness and mitigation training, reporting avenues for bias, broadening the reviewer pool, and exploring changes to review to make it more fair and effective. CSR continues to track progress by diversifying reviewers by gender, race and ethnicity, and career stage. See CSR resources for additional information. 

A second presentation from Dr. Dana Schloesser, Health Scientist Administrator at OBSSR, addressed Brain Behavior Quantification and Synchronization (BBQS). Dr. Schloesser explained the importance of understanding the neural origins of behavior, the primary output of brain activity and the need to improve tools for measuring the full richness of species-appropriate behaviors. A current funding opportunity, Brain Behavior Quantification and Synchronization (R61/R33 Clinical Trial Optional) R61/R33 Phased Award supports biphasic applications for novel tool and sensor development (i.e., hardware/software) in the R61 phase, followed by the integration/synchronization of these novel tools with established methods for recording human neural activity in the R33 phase. See the RFA-MH-23-335 announcement for additional details and specific instructions. The application due date is February 15, 2024.