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Exclusion of non-scientific criteria in the review process

The DFG’s philosophy states the following: “The DFG’s core task is to competitively select the best research projects undertaken by researchers at universities and research institutes and provide funding for them”. The votes obtained on the proposals are evaluated “exclusively according to scientific criteria” by reviewers working in an honorary capacity. But how does the DFG Head Office proceed when non-scientific criteria are mentioned in externally obtained reviews and these are included in the evaluation?

As a matter of principle, non-scientific criteria such as absolute age, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, illness or disability must never be used to the disadvantage of applicants in DFG funding decisions. The instructions for the written review which researchers receive when they are requested to provide a review contain a notice regarding the avoidance of bias.

Evaluation of a funding proposal by a review board is likewise based solely on scientific criteria. In particular, the review group members only ever look at scientific performance to date based on the specific duration of a research career. This means that lengthier qualification phases, publication gaps or reduced stays abroad are not interpreted to the detriment of the applicant if they were unavoidable, i.e. if they resulted from having to provide care for children or relatives, or due to having suffered an illness or disability, for example. Such non-scientific criteria are only taken into account to compensate for the specific disadvantage.

The review boards also examine whether previous reviews refer to criteria which are non-scientific and therefore inadmissible. In such cases, the review board considers the relevance of the inadmissible criterion to the scientific content of the review: only if the review board considers such a criterion to be of marginal relevance can it draw on the scientific content of the review in arriving at its decision. In its own scientific evaluation of the funding proposal, however, the review board may not draw on the inadmissible criterion under any circumstances. If the review board considers an external review to be unusable in an individual case due to the non-scientific criteria listed, even in terms of the scientific content of the external review, it will reject the external review completely and request the DFG Head Office to obtain a new review.

This procedure guarantees that the review board’s funding recommendations and the subsequent final committee decisions are never based on non-scientific criteria but exclusively on scientific criteria – because this is the principle embraced by the DFG in all its funding activities..