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Health Research Assessment Process Eliminates Bias

News Release

Monday, March 19, 2001


The Health Research Council today outlined the ways in which any biased applications for research funding are eliminated by its assessment processes. It was responding to media comment on an HRC contract awarded to the University of Otago last year for a project carried out by Professor Peter Davis and his team. The project, on the implications of hospital restructuring on outcomes for patients and the nursing workforce, was awarded $750,000.

Says HRC Chief Executive Dr Bruce Scoggins: "The HRC process uses experienced researchers in a particular field to assess applications in that field; this is called peer review. The process is completely independent of government and is highly regarded by health research funders and scientists in other countries."

Professor Davis' application competed with three hundred others for HRC funding in 1999. New Zealand-based and overseas experts reviewed his team's application according to four criteria - its significance for health, its scientific merit, its design and methods, and the expertise and track record of the research team.

Professor Davis' team, like all project applicants, then had an opportunity to rebut criticisms of the application by these reviewers. The reviews and the rebuttal were then evaluated against the same four criteria by an assessing committee made up of researchers experienced in a range of public health specialities. This committee ranked all their applications by score, and these rankings were combined with those of other applications assessed by other committees. Only the top 29% were funded. These contracts were then awarded to the researcher's host institution, which manages the contract.

Says Dr Scoggins: "The HRC process is very aware of researcher conflicts of interest. This is why it emphasises scientific merit, objectivity and scientific independence."

Professor Davis and his team have a successful track record in this highly competitive assessment process. As well as the current study of some effects of hospital restructuring, 11 of their projects have been awarded HRC contracts since 1992. These were for research evaluating general practice, occupational class and health and medical injury in New Zealand hospitals.

He has published his results often in international peer-reviewed scientific journals, which reject research that is not objective.

Comment - Dr Bruce Scoggins, HRC Chief Executive, phone 09 303 5203 (w) or 09 520 4662 (h)

Health Research Council of New Zealand Te Kaunihera Rangahau Hauora o Aotearoa PO Box 5541, Auckland 1 Aotearoa New Zealand Phone 09 303 5202 Fax 09 377 9988 Website www.hrc.govt.nz/ Visit the wow! it's science site www.science.net.nz/

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