Grant success rates at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) appear to have plunged to an all-time low in 2011. ScienceInsider has learned that an early estimate from the NIH Office of Extramural Research (OER) puts the success rate for research grants at 17.4% for the fiscal year that ended 30 September. A rate of 17% to 18% would be a historic low, NIH Director Francis Collins told a Senate panel in May. (OER chief Sally Rockey, who confirmed the 17.4% figure, notes that it is "very preliminary" and will likely rise a bit after her staff finishes cleaning up the data in early November.)
The success rate, which is the percentage of reviewed applications that receive funding, has slumped since peaking at 32% during a doubling of the NIH budget in 1999-2003. But until now, despite occasional warnings from NIH that the rate would slip below 20%, it has not. The new low reflects the fact that in 2011 Congress cut 1% from NIH's $31 billion budget—only the second reduction since 1970.