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I write on behalf of several former chief scientists in charge of the US Department of Agriculture’s National Research Initiative (NRI) competitive grants program. We wish to clarify part of your Editorial “A chance for growth” (Nature 432, 257; 2004). The Editorial could be interpreted as suggesting that the department’s competitive peer-reviewed research programs are influenced by political interests. Such interests have played a part in dictating the general areas in which to conduct research, but as chief scientists in the competitive programs area, we did not observe interference with the peer-review process itself.