The BSF evaluates the applications it receives using a conventional peer review system. Because the regular staff of the BSF is small, it is assisted by a group of scientific advisors, covering the different areas of research. The advisors are mostly Israelis, in order to curb costs, but each area of research has at least one American advisor. Advisors are replaced periodically for obvious reasons, and although they do not represent their institutions, an effort is made to recruit them from different institutions. They are organized in panels (scientific review committees) according to areas of research, with one of them being the head of the panel. Because scientific research is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and specialized, it is not always possible to match the application to a panel member who is an expert in the field of the application. In an effort to at least partially cope with this problem, the BSF recently doubled the number of science advisors, and now has a larger variety of expertise among our advisors.
The first task of an advisor is to suggest names of potential reviewers from around the world. These names are then discussed by the panel, and the panel suggests additional names, including from a list proposed by the applicants. When it is required, additional names are also sought from the external reviewers, and the process continues until 4-5 substantial reviews are received. Typically, some 40% of the reviews are from the US, less than 15-20% from Israel, and the rest are from around the world. The senior BSF staff reads all of the reviews to make sure they are meaningful. The reviews are then passed to one, and in questionable cases two advisors, for summary and recommendations. The process is concluded in a series of panel meetings of advisors, who rank the proposals and determine an order of preferences. These final meetings are held in Jerusalem, with the participation of the American advisors. The final decisions are made after the Board determines the total number of applications that will be awarded a grant, based on the budgetary considerations. The Board usually does not discuss individual applications, and relies on the panel's decisions.
The following criteria are used in evaluating the proposed project:
- Scientific and technological merit of the research program including its originality, importance, novelty and uniqueness, and whether the research is at the cutting edge of its field;
- The strength of the cooperative arrangements between the Israeli and American investigators and the manner in which the joint research effort manifests itself, e.g., joint contribution, complementary research, exchange of materials or equipment, use of special research facilities, exchange of scientists, etc.;
- Anticipated benefits likely to result in advancing and developing the scientific area in question, and/or possible social and economic benefits;
- The suitability of the investigators and the means at their disposal, such as equipment and facilities;
- Scientific and cooperation record in existing or previous BSF grants (when relevant). If an applicant had a previous BSF grant, did it result in joint products such as joint papers with his collaborator?