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News Release 12-006

National Science Board Releases Report on NSF's Merit Review Criteria

Cover of NSB report on merit review criteria.

The National Science Board released its report on NSF's merit review criteria.

January 10, 2012

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Board (NSB) has released a report on the National Science Foundation's merit review criteria. The NSB report, National Science Foundation's Merit Review Criteria: Review and Revisions, is the culmination of a thorough review by the NSB Task Force on Merit Review to determine if the merit review criteria used by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to evaluate all proposals remain appropriate. NSF reviews two criterion, intellectual merit and broader impacts, for every proposal the agency receives.

In the report, the NSB did not recommend changing the two criteria, but it did recommend that NSF better define the two criteria for the benefit of the science community. In addition, the report contains three principles governing NSF's approach to utilizing these criteria and guidance addressing several issues associated with their implementation.

"NSF is now charged to implement the enhanced merit review criteria, which affects every aspect of NSF's business," said Ray M. Bowen, NSB chairman, in the memorandum to the report.

The NSB task force was put in place in February 2010, with a charge to examine the two merit review criteria and their effectiveness in achieving the goals for NSF research support of science, engineering and education. Based on the task force's analyses, the NSB concluded that the two current merit review criteria of intellectual merit and broader impacts remain appropriate for evaluating NSF proposals, though with revisions. The revisions to the criteria are described in the report.

Substantive input from a wide variety of stakeholder groups, internal and external to NSF, helped guide the work of the task force, which resulted in several thousand individuals providing feedback.

NSF's two-criterion merit review system was instituted in 1997. As part of the system, reviewers and proposers are asked to address or identify elements under these categories:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

NSF plans to develop a detailed implementation plan that will lead to the inclusion of the revised criteria in the next version of NSF's Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide and the Proposal & Award Manual.

The National Science Board is the 25-member policymaking body for the National Science Foundation and advisory body to the President and Congress on science and engineering issues. For more information on the National Science Board and its current Members, visit the NSB website.


Media Contacts
Dana Topousis, NSF, (703) 292-7750, email:

Program Contacts
Kim L. Silverman, NSF, (703) 292-4515, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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