I WAS interested to read Les Allen's proposals (THES, February 6) for awarding research grants on the lottery principle. This would have the advantage both of dealing with the known biases of the peer review system and of coping with the ever increasing costs of administering research grants schemes.
When I was a member of the Economic and Social Research Council's research grants board a few years ago, I suggested that (after an initial screening) all grant proposals be randomly allocated either to peer review or to the lottery system (further random allocation to be funded or not). Outcome measures would be easy to devise (project completion, grading of final report, publications, etc).
The procedure I proposed (which met with a stunned silence) would have provided us with valuable information both about the effectiveness of the current peer review system and about the practical workings of the lottery principle.
Ann Oakley. Professor of sociology and social policy, director of the social science research unit, Institute of Education, University of London