This was triggered by a tweet that seemed to be saying that life is hard for everyone, why should we buy anyone’s excuse. And that it might scare people out of using the Personal Statement as it was intended to be used by applicants and how, in my view, it should be used by reviewers.
As I said above, there is no formal obligation for reviewers to “buy” an explanation that is proffered.
It is not, of course, some sort of trump or get out of jail free card.
Reviewers are still free to view your productivity however they like, fairly or not.
And my personal view on what represents a jerky reviewer stance on a given explanation for a gap in productivity cannot possibly extend to all situations.
But I do think that all reviewers should probably understand that there is a very explicit reason why the NIH allows this content in the Personal Statement.
"Per NOT-OD-15-032, the new biosketch format allows applicants to include a link to a full list of their published work as found in a “publicly available digital database” such as My Bibliography. NIH cautions reviewers against accessing URLs that may compromise their anonymity.
The NIH prefers applicants use My Bibliography because the NIH can assure reviewers that their anonymity will be protected if they review publications at that site.
When it comes to PI productivity, past performance is only properly used to try to predict (imperfectly) future performance.
If the PI got in a bad car wreck and was in intensive care for two months and basically invalided for another nine months, well, this says something about the prediction validity of that corresponding gap in publications. And you’d have to be a real jerk to think that this PI deserved to be somehow punished (with a bad grant score) for getting in a car wreck.