One of the fundamental tensions during study section meetings to review NIH proposals is the desire to discuss a proposal extensively versus the need to review a larger number of proposals in a short period of time.
Reviewers are committed, but also want to get home. People want to give sufficient time for a thorough discussion, but the SRO (scientific review officer – an NIH employee who runs the logistics of the study section) and the chair (a seasoned member of the study section) are quite aware of the time constraints. More time on this application will likely turn into less time for that one.
Reviewers assigned to an application often have Views. The non-assigned members (IME) want to understand the pros and cons laid out for them. This pushes towards longer discussions. And nearly every study section I can remember was running late.
What does this mean to you, oh proposal-writer? The best proposal you can craft is more likely to be sufficiently clear that there isn’t a debate about what you meant. You don’t want your proposal to get into a lengthy discussion. As the chair of this study section said: the more discussion that occurs, the more flaws tend to get pointed out.