Request for input - are there any rules regarding posting text of one's own NSF (or other) grant proposals?

In response to a series of posts from Karen James (who is a biologist now in Maine and is director of the HMS Beagle Project) on Twitter, I am posting here to ask for input from the crowd.  On Twitter, Karen has been discussing her putting together an NSF proposal and was then celebrating a few days ago when it was done.

I have posted some of the twitter conversation below.  But to get directly to the point the question I have for everyone here is - are there any rules at the National Science Foundation that would prevent one from sharing with others a grant proposal that one has submitted?  Are there any rules against this at any agency?  I think there are none but apparently some are telling Karen otherwise.

Any information on this would be useful. Some of the twitter conversation is below:

kejames
So, @phylogenomics and others, with whom is it appropriate to share a submitted NSF proposal? Anyone? No one? Something in between?
1/12/12 6:15 PM

phylogenomics
@kejames what do you mean by "appropriate"
1/12/12 6:15 PM

johnhawks
@kejames If I were you, I'd share the whole thing in public and make the reviews public as well. But I'm a minority view.
1/12/12 6:16 PM

kejames
@johnhawks Thanks, I've thought of that, actually. It is a federal agency after all. I'd need to redact confidential budget info, though.
1/12/12 6:18 PM

johnhawks
@kejames Yes, and possibly key personnel. My attitude is the success rate is so low, it can't hurt and might draw visibility pre-review.
1/12/12 6:19 PM

kejames
@phylogenomics Best practice. My instinct is to share it with colleagues, collaborators and associates I think might be interested in it.
1/12/12 6:16 PM

phylogenomics
@kejames what is the potential reason to not share?
1/12/12 6:17 PM

kejames
@phylogenomics That's what I'm asking. Is there any rule or custom that prohibits sharing it far and wide?
1/12/12 6:19 PM

phylogenomics
@kejames none that I know of - only reason not to is if you are worried about people "stealing" your ideas
1/12/12 6:19 PM

kejames
@phylogenomics Not worried about that in the slightest. If anything sharing it widely establishes it as "my" idea. Thanks.
1/12/12 6:20 PM

kejames
@johnhawks Or I could ask the key personnel if they're okay w/ it. I think it would be nice to include them if they want to be included.
1/12/12 6:21 PM

phylogenomics
@kejames I think Rosie Redfield posts hers on her blog http://t.co/g73Xb2Yz
1/12/12 6:25 PM

kejames
@phylogenomics Thanks for that. I notice she just posts the project description itself, none of the other "stuff"and doesn't list names.
1/12/12 6:28 PM

DoctorZen
@kejames NSF proposals are your choice who to share with. Probably not best to post publicly, though.
1/12/12 6:25 PM

kejames
@DoctorZen Why not? As @phylogenomics notes, @RosieRedfield posts her grant proposals on her lab's website: http://t.co/peWEmnvs
1/12/12 6:29 PM

kejames
Anyone else besides @phylogenomics @doctorzen @johnhawks want to weigh in on how broadly I should share my just-submitted NSF proposal? 1/2
1/12/12 6:31 PM

kejames
@rdmpage @RosieRedfield @DoctorZen @johnhawks @phylogenomics @kzelnio So I asked the collaborators on the proposal. One replied… 1/2
1/13/12 4:50 AM

kejames
@rdmpage @RosieRedfield @DoctorZen @johnhawks @phylogenomics @kzelnio 2/2…"Sharing not wise! Could disqualify proposal."
1/13/12 4:51 AM

rdmpage
.@kejames @rosieredfield @doctorzen @johnhawks @phylogenomics @kzelnio In other words fear of what grant agency will do trumps being open :(
1/13/12 5:10 AM

DoctorZen
@rdmpage I support being open; not sure every step always needs to be public. @kejames @rosieredfield @johnhawks @phylogenomics @kzelnio
1/13/12 5:18 AM

rdmpage
.@DoctorZen @kejames @rosieredfield @johnhawks @phylogenomics @kzelnio I agree, it's not that it HAS to open, but that it COULD be
1/13/12 5:27 AM

phylogenomics
@kejames @rdmpage @RosieRedfield @DoctorZen @johnhawks @kzelnio WTF? As far as I know there are NO NSF issues w/ sharing a proposal
1/13/12 7:00 AM

phylogenomics
@kejames @rdmpage @RosieRedfield @DoctorZen @johnhawks @kzelnio Yes, need to discuss w/ collabs & get permission but not angst any rules
1/13/12 7:02 AM

phylogenomics
@rdmpage @DoctorZen @kejames @rosieredfield @johnhawks @kzelnio agree w/ Rod - issue was whether it could be posted, not if it had to be
1/13/12 7:04 AM

kejames
@phylogenomics I'm following up w/ him to find out what he meant He's a seasoned NSF grantee and reviewer. Have also contacted NSF directly.
1/13/12 7:08 AM

14 comments:

  1. I appreciate @kejames perspective here - in this age of low funding rates, a nicely written proposal posted on your blog establishes your ideas and gets you response from the community.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've contacted NSF by Twitter (@NSF and @NSF_EHR) and by email. So far, I've heard back from @NSF_EHR: "Unless there is some special condition in the ISE solicitation, how you share your proposals is up to your institution."

    This makes sense considering that, for NSF (I don't know about other agencies) it's your institution that is actually submitting the grant. You write it and prepare it but your institution's grants officer or financial officer ultimately presses the "submit" button.

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  3. Karen

    That is great that NSF answered and I understand that from their point of view the Institution is the one who communicates with them. However, the Institution does not automatically "own" your proposal simply because they submitted it for you. And they do not necessarily get to decide what you can do with it.

    So - NSF is probably just answering that from their point of view - it is the Institution that communicates with them. But I think it is likely that the writers of the proposal have the rights to release it

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  4. Right, at IU Bloomington, the intellectual property policy on campus puts proposals in the "traditional works of scholarship" category, meaning that IU does not assert claim to copyright ownership, and the PI is the copyright holder and can distribute the proposal how they see fit.

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  5. Hmm… some food for thought, there.

    I've also heard back from one of the consultants named in my grant… the one who originally responded, "Sharing not wise! Could disqualify proposal." Here's what he said when I asked him to elaborate:

    "Proposals are held in the strictest confidence. Panel members have to show that they have destroyed them after reading at panels, for example. When proposals are funded they become part of the public record. But prior to that they are considered intellectual property. Why would you want to share it? If it were not funded this year—and it’s a really long shot to get a proposal funded first time around—would you want to resubmit it again?"

    …which prompts the question I've been turning over in my mind through all of this: what are the potential benefits to posting a submitted but not-yet-accepted grant proposal online?

    Here are some of the reasons I can think of:

    1. To generate buzz, discussion and new collaboration opportunities now, not in six months (or even years if at all) when the project gets funded.

    2. To establish intellectual property… 'ownership' of the ideas and new concepts put forward in the proposal.

    3. To potentially drum up financial support for the project through aforementioned buzz.

    4. Principle. I believe in the Open Access and Open Science movements. I like what Rosie Redfield, Rod Page and others are doing posting their proposals and preliminary data online.

    Any other ideas on why you would/wouldn't want to share a grant proposal online?

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  6. Well, I am going to try to be gentle here --- but OMG --- whomever you are talking to Karen I think is overly generous with the integrity of the grant review system --- according to Mario Biagioli here at UC Davis who studies such things --- plagiarism is sadly common in grant review --- see for example http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1868/1751 including reference 15 and others. I think the best way to have your ideas stolen is to put them in grant proposals and to not share them with others. This is especially the case if the grant is rejected but also the case if it is approved.

    To open up science I believe we desperately need to open up the process of peer review and grant review.

    Certainly, there would be risks with posting grant ideas and proposals online. However there are enormous risks with NOT doing it ...

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  7. Some other reasons:
    1 - to get feedback on your ideas from a broader community than just the random mix of scientists on the panel
    2 - to get visibility from other funding venues - like foundations

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  8. The confidentiality of proposals applies to reviewers, not authors. The reviewer doesn't have right to make the applicant's ideas public, but the applicant certainly does (or should). I've never had any administrator (or anyone else) tell me that there's any rule or guideline against making my proposals public, at any stage of the process.

    p.s. I got the idea of doing this from Matt Meselson, who had a proposal online c. 1995.

    p.p.s. I try to post mine as soon as they're submitted, though I've fallen behind lately with some failed proposals.

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  9. Online proposals, though very scarce, are valuable resources for beginners, who benefit for seeing different styles and approaches, and both successful and unsuccessful proposals.

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  10. Good points, Rosie. Thanks. I should probably add that I'm one of those beginners you mentioned. The NSF proposal I'm thinking of posting isn't my first-ever grant proposal, but it is my first back in the USA (I was in the UK for 8 years) and my first to a federal agency.

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  11. Adam Ratner https://plus.google.com/u/0/111222357445873209971/posts posted this on Google Plus:

    NIAID has several full R01 applications (including mine) with summary statements posted on their web site.

    http://www.niaid.nih.gov/researchfunding/grant/pages/appsamples.aspx

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  12. Why not call your program officer?

    They're usually happy to answer questions and talk with you about the pros and possible cons of doing something like this.

    I talked with my program officer before I started blogging about one of my projects. She thought it was great.

    The only negatives I see would be if blogging about your proposal could hurt your collaborators or there were issues with your University about possible IP.

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  13. One issue to think about for some grant programs is the anonymity of the submitted - some programs "blind" the names of the submitters from the reviewers. If you post the grant this could circumvent such a system and might be a problem. Note - this would only be an issue for programs that blind the submitters names (not sure how many places do this anymore) but it is worth considering.

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  14. I may do that, Sandra. Good idea.

    Good point, Jonathan, though our names are not blinded; in fact they are scattered throughout.

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