Objectives: To quantify randomness and cost when choosing health and medical research projects for funding. Design: Analysis of retrospective data from grant review panels. Setting: The National Health & Medical Research Council of Australia. Participants/Data: All panel members’ scores for grant proposals submitted in 2009. Main outcome measure: The proportion of grant proposals that were always, sometimes and never funded after accounting for random variability arising from variation in panel members’ scores; the cost-effectiveness of different size assessment panels. Results: 59% of 620 funded grants were sometimes not funded when random variability was accounted for. Only 9% of grant proposals were always funded, 61% were never funded and 29% were sometimes funded. The extra cost per grant effectively funded from the most effective system was $18,541. Conclusions: Allocating funding for scientific research in health and medicine is costly and somewhat random. There are many useful research questions to be addressed that could improve current processes
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