Carmen Choi Case supplemental information.

Here is some further information about this case which you wouldn't necessarily know unless you've been asked by a federal funding agency to review grant proposals:

Officially, a grant proposal submitted for consideration by a funding agency is viewed as confidential information. Not only does this mean that the researchers asked to review the proposal are not supposed to share it with anyone else, but they are also usually instructed to destroy all paper and electronic copies of the proposal when they are done writing their review of it for the funding agency.

Many grant proposals now include a statement from the person submitting the proposal attesting to the fact that they themselves have written the proposal, come up with the ideas driving the proposed research, and affirm that the information presented in the proposal is, to the best of their knowledge, accurate. Federal funding agencies regard it as a serious matter if someone claims the work in a grant proposal is original and accurate when it is not.

Carmen Choi Case frequently asked questions

Given the confidentiality rules for grant reviewers, should Carmen even be worried that a reviewer would steal ideas from the grant proposals they are reviewing?

Well, consider whether the existence of a rule is enough to prevent someone from breaking that rule. There have been some confirmed cases of peer reviewers violating the confidentiality of the review process, and many more rumors of this happening.

Would a grant reviewer get in trouble for stealing information from a grant proposal they were reviewing?

If the granting agency found out about it, yes. However, it might be very hard to prove such theft, especially since (as noted in the case) peer reviewers are often working in the same scientific area -- and on some of the same hot problems -- as the people submitting the grant proposals. It might be possible for the reviewer to say they had already worked out the same experimental method themselves. It might even be true that they had worked out the same experimental method themselves!

Wouldn't knowledgeable peer reviewers be able to spot the error Carmen is thinking of intentionally introducing in her grant proposal?

It would depend on whether the error was part of an experimental method the reviewer knew about first hand (e.g., by working it out themselves). While grant reviewers are knowledgeable about the scientific area for the proposals they are reviewing (including the recent scientific literature in that area), it is not a standard part of the grant review process for reviewers to actually try to set up and run the proposed experiments themselves. In other words, substituting one element for another might be the kind of error that's only obvious to someone who has actually attempted the experiments in question — and if this is a proposal for new research, it's possible that no one besides Carmen has attempted these experiments yet!

Why does Prof. Gruen have to sign off on Carmen Choi's grant proposal?

Even though Carmen with be a postdoc with a PhD by the time she is conducting this research (and will be the PI on the research, since she's the one who thought of it and designed it), she plans to do the research in Prof. Gruen's laboratory at WestTech. Prof. Gruen is the one with a permanent institutional affiliation (as a faculty member at WestTech) and more scientific experience and credibility. Even though Carmen will not be her student, there is a way in which Prof. Gruen will be serving as her mentor. Part of that mentoring includes guiding Carmen (at least a little) through the process of submitting grant proposals. Prof. Gruen's signature on Carmen's NSF grant proposal indicates that she is willing to host Carmen as a postdoc in her lab, mentor her in the next phase of her scientific development, and willing to vouch for Carmen's research proposal — and for Carmen herself as a trustworthy young scientist.