November 2011

Scarpa retires and Nakamura steps in at NIH Center for Scientific Review

 Antonio Scarpa

Antonio Scarpa retired in September as the director of the Center for Scientific Review at the National Institutes of Health. Scarpa, who was appointed to the position in 2005 by then-NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, played a key role in helping the NIH develop and implement the first major changes to its peer-review system in 65 years. CSR receives all and reviews most of the more than 80,000 grant application submitted to the NIH every year.

“My six years at CSR were exhilarating,” Scarpa said in a statement announcing his retirement. “I was privileged to serve in a period of unprecedented changes and opportunities in peer review. Thanks to a dedicated staff and reviewers, CSR excelled during this time, reviewing 50 percent more applications in addition to 40,000 applications for federal stimulus funds two years ago. This was only possible due to a shared passion and unfailing commitment to the quality and efficiency of peer review.”

Scarpa spearheaded efforts to shorten applications, implement new scoring schemes and accelerate review cycles. He also reorganized CSR’s review groups into five divisions to maximize efficiency and make sure the study sections covered evolving fields of research.

In an interview with Nature News after his retirement was announced, Scarpa said that he thought the changes he implemented were successful. He explained that as a result of shortening grant applications from 25 to 12 pages, peer reviewers were able to focus on the impact and significance of the proposed research. “Peer review is simple – I think it should ask only two questions. First: Is it worth doing? That is impact and significance. If the answer is yes, then you ask the second question: Can they do it? In the past we were asking those questions in reverse,” he said, adding that peer reviewers soon saw the benefits of the changes. “People can see that focusing on impact and significance is probably the way to go.”

Current NIH Director Francis S. Collins has appointed Richard Nakamura to take the helm of the CSR after Scarpa’s departure. Nakamura had a 35-year tenure at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he served as both scientific director and deputy director. He also served as acting director from 2001 to 2002. Nakamura’s expertise covers several areas, including cognitive and comparative neuroscience, science policy and funding, and ethics in science. He published 30 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, most related to neurocognition in primates. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has won leadership awards from the Federation of Behavioral Psychological and Cognitive Sciences and the International Society for Behavioral Neuroscience. “I look forward to working with the many dedicated individuals engaged in this great enterprise,” Nakamura said in a statement that announced his appointment. “It’s a privilege to help NIH identify research with the most promise for making our world more healthy and productive.”

Raj_MukhopadhyayRajendrani Mukhopadhyay ( is the senior science writer for ASBMB Today and technical editor for JBC. 

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