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National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Regional Office

Steller sea lions, photo: Dave Csepp

Center for Independent Experts

Center for Independent Experts

The Center for Independent Experts (CIE) is a program designed to promote independent participation in peer reviews of the science carried out by NOAA Fisheries.

The goal of the CIE initiative is to strengthen NOAA Fisheries Quality Assurance efforts under the current NOAA Strategic Plan. Under the program, participating scientists receive remuneration for the time spent in their review activities.

While NOAA Fisheries provides the funding and crafts the terms of reference for the peer reviews, the agency is NOT involved in the selection of reviewers nor can it influence the content of the review reports. All reviewers are selected by the CIE, working independently from NOAA Fisheries, and all work conducted by the reviewers is analyzed internally by the CIE prior to its submission to NOAA Fisheries.

The review activities consist of three types:

  • Independent reviews of stock assessments or science products;
  • Independent reviews through active participation in ongoing assessment working groups, stock assessment panels, or other science product groups;
  • Participation as chairs on advisory panels and working groups.

There are two modes of reviews: One, the reviews that are conducted on site, at NOAA Fisheries fishery science centers or other locations, in conjunction with NOAA Fisheries scientists; and two, the reviews that are performed at the participants' primary locations.

NOAA Fisheries establishes the terms of reference and statements of tasks for all reviews, in collaboration with CIE, to ensure that terms and statements meet CIE standards. These terms and statements are forwarded to the CIE, and that is where NOAA Fisheries' participation ends in running the peer review process.

The CIE team, comprised of a three-member Steering Committee and a three-member Coordination Team, selects reviewers and oversees the review process. The Coordination Team is a permanent component of the CIE, and it is comprised of a CIE Lead Coordinator and two CIE Regional Coordinators. The Steering Committee is comprised of three senior researchers (with no affiliation with NOAA Fisheries) with strong backgrounds in fisheries and other fisheries-related topics, who serve periodic terms.

In some cases, selected participants are chosen from a database of experts developed by the CIE. Depending on the nature of the review, experts may be assigned to focus on different aspects (based on their expertise) or to participate as meeting chairs. In cases where the expertise is not available within the CIE database, other experts are contacted and invited to participate. All efforts are made to recruit the most qualified participants and to ensure that candidates have no conflicts of interest. If the CIE or the candidate identifies a conflict of interest, the expert is rendered ineligible.

To ensure transparency, all background material provided to participants from NOAA Fisheries is also collected and housed at the CIE. The CIE also acts as the moderator for all review-related correspondence between participants and the NOAA Fisheries fishery science center scientists.

Participants are generally required to complete a summary of findings and recommendations in formal, independent review reports. All review reports are to reflect the independent opinion of the expert. That is, no consensus reports among two or more participants are accepted.

In reviews where the CIE provides a chair for a meeting, the duties of the chair may include facilitation of the meeting process and the production of a meeting report that reflects the consensus reached by the meeting participants. This meeting report is not a CIE review report. Instead, the CIE expert is asked to produce a report on the meeting process and is not required to express views about the science discussed during the meeting.

The CIE receives all reports electronically at the completion of the review period. Then, each member of the CIE Steering Committee and Coordination Team comments on the reports, sending all comments to the author of the report. Comments made by the CIE relate to formatting, clarity, and only to whether the report satisfies the terms of reference. Once the experts satisfactorily responded to all CIE comments, the reports are released to NOAA Fisheries.

The CIE liaison at NOAA Fisheries reviews all reports only to verify that the reports conform to the review's terms of reference.

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