Chairman's Perspective on the CDC Peer Review Process
J. Pallin, MD
J. Pallin, MD, BWH director of research, Department of Emergency Medicine and chairman
of the BWH Clinical Investigation Committee, has chaired peer review panels in influenza
and immunization for the United States Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) Extramural Research Program Office (ERPO) over the past three years.
These panels have evaluated over 60 applications in response to nine funding opportunity
announcements, or FOAs.
ERPO peer review is a two-step process that includes an initial review of the
scientific and technical merit of the applications by external subject-matter experts
and a secondary review by CDC senior scientists not affiliated with the funding
divisions. Pallin shares his perspective on leading the CDC peer review
As a research scientist and clinician, what are
your thoughts on peer review?
review is critical for funding and publication decisions. A panel of peers is best
suited to judge the value of a project, without bias. Like jurors, peer
reviewers represent the interests of society, in helping to determine what
should be funded and what should be published.
peer review, it would be difficult to achieve broad-minded and unbiased decisions
about what should be funded. The discussion and debate that take place ensure
that a wide range of opinions is considered.
process ensures fairness and transparency, and is inherently democratic. Through
peer review, CDC leverages the expertise of the wider scientific community. If
it relied only upon its own experts, CDC-funded research would become inbred
qualities are important in a good chair?
good chair understands the ethical and procedural underpinnings of a successful
panel. The chair's effectiveness also depends on his or her ability to balance the
drawing-out of controversy, against the need to maintain order. The chair leads
the group in resolving diverse opinions into cogent judgment.
What role does the chairperson play in the peer
review has two ingredients: the reviewers and the process. The chair's role is
to catalyze interaction of the two. The chair is a little bit like a symphony conductor
who serves the musicians by taking responsibility for the big picture.
someone to protect the process, music is replaced by noise. The chair also
serves as a bridge from CDC to the reviewers, providing peer-level leadership that
further protects the objectivity and fairness of the process.
How do you prepare for the chair role of a panel?
prepare by studying three things: the review procedure, the FOA(s) and the proposals.
Without consistent procedures, panels cannot be fair and transparent-this holds
true across all panels.
an individual panel, the key is to understand the FOA(s). Proposals cannot be evaluated
in a vacuum, and the panel's work in judging proposals can only be meaningful if
it uses the FOA as the yardstick.
while it is the primary, secondary and tertiary reviewers who take the lead in presenting
and analyzing the content of individual proposals, my familiarity with the
proposals' content strengthens my ability to guide the discussion.