Missing Links: Why the NIH Doesn’t Allow Hyperlinks in Grant Applications

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Greg BISSONETTE,
Scientific health administrator,
Scientific Review Directorate (SRB)
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Hyperlinks and URLs (or Uniform Resource Locators – who knew?) Are a ubiquitous part of online work or play. From shopping to social media and even NIH guide reviews, our modern world is a large, interconnected and hyper-linked ecosystem of information.

So why is the NIH so strict on hyperlinks in grant applications? It all comes down to some of the core values ​​of the NIH Peer Review System (PDF, 773K).

Fairness, confidentiality and integrity

We strive to ensure that the review criteria are applied fairly to each grant application so that no applicant receives an unfair advantage. This means that we pay attention to seemingly mundane but important distinctions such as page limits, allowed font sizes, or attempts to bypass section space limitations. Allowing additional material in the application, accessible via hyperlinks, would unfairly benefit some applicants over others. An applicant would (rightly!) Be upset to learn that competing applications under review provided unauthorized additional material that reviewers accessed via hyperlinks.

The integrity of the NIH review system must always be protected to maintain public confidence. However, a simple click on a link in a grant application can be traced to the evaluator’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, thereby exposing their confidential identity. While this does not reveal the exact identity of the reviewer, one could guess to whom the request is assigned based on the institution from which the IP address originated. Doing so could compromise the integrity of the NIH peer review system, and the NIH takes all violations of review integrity seriously.

Dos and don’ts and some exceptions

The NIH Office of Extramural Research has compiled a list of the dos and don’ts of hyperlinks, emphasizing the aforementioned points. But it’s also important to understand that there are a few exceptions to the “no hyperlinks” rule:

  • If the FOA explicitly allows hyperlinks, you can include them. (Be sure to always read the entire text of the FOA.)
  • NIH allows hyperlinks to your “MyNCBI” profile in your NIH biosketch and in publication lists, as described in the Hyperlinks and URLs section of the Format Attachments page.
  • Moreover, if the hyperlinks are allowed, for transparency the full URL should be presented and appear in blue, as in https://www.nih.gov.
  • Note that there are no special permissions for links to NIH or government websites. In other words, you don’t get a free pass by logging into us. There is also no explicit permission for links in application sections, such as “Installations and other resources” that do not have page limits.

So I hope this helps explain why, for the above reasons and those specified by the NIH, unless the FOA explicitly provides otherwise, the inclusion of a single inappropriate hyperlink may be a major violation. rules governing the NIH peer review and may lead to an application being withdrawn from review.

So, before you copy that link to your facility’s facilities, lab website, or that exciting new data into a large online database on your next application, ask yourself if this is important enough for your application. be withdrawn from the examination. Check the FOAs and NIH guidelines to make sure the hyperlink you have in mind is allowed. If not, please follow the limits set by the NIH Grant Rules and General Principles, which help us ensure that all applications receive a fair and just review. If you have any questions, contact the NIA SRB or leave a comment below.


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