NIH Biased Against Blacks?

A new study reveals that African American researchers are 10 percent less likely to receive funding from the federal agency than their white peers.

By | August 22, 2011

IMAGE COURTESY OF THE NIH

African American biomedical researchers applying for funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are less likely to be funded than white scientists, according to a study published last week in Science. The numbers are pretty striking, with the gap in success rates between black and white applicants amounting to 10 percent, even after accounting for factors like publication record, previous research awards, education, country of origin, training, and employer characteristics.

The study's authors, which included former NIH Deputy Director and African American scientist Raynard Kington, analyzed more than 83,000 applications for R01 grants submitted by white, black, Asian, and Hispanic researchers from 2000-2006 and found that 29 percent of the proposals submitted by white applicants were funded, compared to only 16 percent of applications from black scientists. In total, only 185 of the nearly 23,400 grants funded during that period were from black Ph.D. scientists—a mere 1 percent—though African Americans make up only 1.4 percent of R01 submissions.

The disturbing trend has the NIH's full attention. "The situation is not acceptable," NIH Director Francis Collins, told Nature. "It indicates that we have not only failed to recruit the best and brightest minds from all the groups that we need but, for those that have come, there is inequity."

The bias appears to occur in the NIH's initial review process, with many of the applications from African Americans failing at this stage. If applications made it through early review, they were equally likely to gain funding, regardless of their authors' races.

In an opinion piece that appeared in the same issue of Science written in response to the study, Collins, along with NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, outline steps the agency—which commissioned the report in the first place—will take to address the apparent racial inequality in grant awards. They include offering more grant writing assistance to minority applicants, increasing the number of early-career reviewers from ethnic minorities and forming advisory groups to recommend additional steps needed to close the gap. "Now we know, and now we have a chance to do something about it," Collins told Science. "The leadership here is absolutely committed to making that happen."

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Avatar of: SometimesBrian

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

Maybe the best and brightest minds know that the rat race that is Neuroscience is too stressfull and less financially rewarding than almost any other professional career....

Avatar of: What??????

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

Bias is everywhere. Whether or not you choose to accept that as fact is a personal decision that everyone must make for themselves. The more important question, is it intentional bias?

Avatar of: Oron

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

If ethnicity is not known to the grant examiners (which hopefully is the case) than the only thing revealed by this statistics is somehow an average very slightly (10%) lesser quality of grant application by the group defined as "black". The more significantly alarming information is that only 1.4% of applications were from "blacks" to begin with (indicative of lesser participation of "blacks" in scientific careers).

Avatar of: Trnsplnt

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

You have to apply the right amount of cynicism to understand these results.  The study section may not know the ethnicity of the losing black scientists, but, more often than the community likes admitting or thinking about, they do know the applicants that they're pulling for.  THERE IS NO LONGER ANY OBJECTIVE QUITERIA BY WHICH THE BEST APPLICATIONS CAN BE SELECTED.  The fraction of applications that can be awarded is now just too small.  When objectivity can no longer be relied on in the selection process patronage must inevitably play a factor.  I use the word "patronage" to cover a wide range of subjective preducial criteria that a study section member might use to review applications.  They may, for instance, not know the applicant with certainty, but they'll know the applicant's institution and some of people working there. 

The study sections aren't selecting against black scientists.  They're too busy selecting for the people that they know and like.

Avatar of: Trnsplnt

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

"Quiteria" of course being the Qbertland spelling of "criteria".  "Preducial" of course is the second infinitive, once removed, of "produce", and means the same as "prejudicial", which shouldn't have been used in any case.  The word I was looking for is "biased".

Avatar of: Pdccc

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

The assumption that all PhDs share similar skills and cognitive abilities are simply false especially when those people obtained their credentials and positions mostly though the affirmative action . This kind of political correctness nonsense must stop.

Avatar of: Vincent Rotello

Vincent Rotello

Posts: 1

August 22, 2011

hmmm...with a sample size of 185 grants grants by African-Americans funded, how were the investigators able to control for "factors like publication record, previous research awards, education, country of origin, training, and employer characteristics."? While there may or may not be bias in the system, given the sample size I am rather skeptical that one can reach a conclusion based on these data.

Avatar of: Sarb

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

The reviewers don't know the applicants' race, right?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

The assumption that all PhDs share similar skills and cognitive abilities are simply false especially when those people obtained their credentials and positions mostly though the affirmative action . This kind of political correctness nonsense must stop.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

hmmm...with a sample size of 185 grants grants by African-Americans funded, how were the investigators able to control for "factors like publication record, previous research awards, education, country of origin, training, and employer characteristics."? While there may or may not be bias in the system, given the sample size I am rather skeptical that one can reach a conclusion based on these data.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

The reviewers don't know the applicants' race, right?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Maybe the best and brightest minds know that the rat race that is Neuroscience is too stressfull and less financially rewarding than almost any other professional career....

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Bias is everywhere. Whether or not you choose to accept that as fact is a personal decision that everyone must make for themselves. The more important question, is it intentional bias?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

If ethnicity is not known to the grant examiners (which hopefully is the case) than the only thing revealed by this statistics is somehow an average very slightly (10%) lesser quality of grant application by the group defined as "black". The more significantly alarming information is that only 1.4% of applications were from "blacks" to begin with (indicative of lesser participation of "blacks" in scientific careers).

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

You have to apply the right amount of cynicism to understand these results.  The study section may not know the ethnicity of the losing black scientists, but, more often than the community likes admitting or thinking about, they do know the applicants that they're pulling for.  THERE IS NO LONGER ANY OBJECTIVE QUITERIA BY WHICH THE BEST APPLICATIONS CAN BE SELECTED.  The fraction of applications that can be awarded is now just too small.  When objectivity can no longer be relied on in the selection process patronage must inevitably play a factor.  I use the word "patronage" to cover a wide range of subjective preducial criteria that a study section member might use to review applications.  They may, for instance, not know the applicant with certainty, but they'll know the applicant's institution and some of people working there. 

The study sections aren't selecting against black scientists.  They're too busy selecting for the people that they know and like.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

"Quiteria" of course being the Qbertland spelling of "criteria".  "Preducial" of course is the second infinitive, once removed, of "produce", and means the same as "prejudicial", which shouldn't have been used in any case.  The word I was looking for is "biased".

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Maybe the best and brightest minds know that the rat race that is Neuroscience is too stressfull and less financially rewarding than almost any other professional career....

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Bias is everywhere. Whether or not you choose to accept that as fact is a personal decision that everyone must make for themselves. The more important question, is it intentional bias?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

If ethnicity is not known to the grant examiners (which hopefully is the case) than the only thing revealed by this statistics is somehow an average very slightly (10%) lesser quality of grant application by the group defined as "black". The more significantly alarming information is that only 1.4% of applications were from "blacks" to begin with (indicative of lesser participation of "blacks" in scientific careers).

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

You have to apply the right amount of cynicism to understand these results.  The study section may not know the ethnicity of the losing black scientists, but, more often than the community likes admitting or thinking about, they do know the applicants that they're pulling for.  THERE IS NO LONGER ANY OBJECTIVE QUITERIA BY WHICH THE BEST APPLICATIONS CAN BE SELECTED.  The fraction of applications that can be awarded is now just too small.  When objectivity can no longer be relied on in the selection process patronage must inevitably play a factor.  I use the word "patronage" to cover a wide range of subjective preducial criteria that a study section member might use to review applications.  They may, for instance, not know the applicant with certainty, but they'll know the applicant's institution and some of people working there. 

The study sections aren't selecting against black scientists.  They're too busy selecting for the people that they know and like.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

"Quiteria" of course being the Qbertland spelling of "criteria".  "Preducial" of course is the second infinitive, once removed, of "produce", and means the same as "prejudicial", which shouldn't have been used in any case.  The word I was looking for is "biased".

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

The assumption that all PhDs share similar skills and cognitive abilities are simply false especially when those people obtained their credentials and positions mostly though the affirmative action . This kind of political correctness nonsense must stop.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

hmmm...with a sample size of 185 grants grants by African-Americans funded, how were the investigators able to control for "factors like publication record, previous research awards, education, country of origin, training, and employer characteristics."? While there may or may not be bias in the system, given the sample size I am rather skeptical that one can reach a conclusion based on these data.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

The reviewers don't know the applicants' race, right?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

To my own experience and information provided by people who are close to NIH, there is no such thing as objective selection. To much politics. too much politcorrectness, too much nepotism. A good scientist, even a citizen of US, has much less chance to receive an aword than an AA, if his last name does not fit or belong to Big School.

The reviewers do not know the applicants ethnicity, they know his Lastname.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

The widespread perception of bias in grant awarding has been largely ignored by the NIH for a long time.  Now there is a report of a racial dimension to that bias, and suddenly there is an orgy of self-flagellation.  If this report triggers a thorough investigation of sources of bias in grant reviewing, it will be a good thing.  I'm afraid the more likely outcome will be a band-aid response, like some kind of set-aside program, that will achieve the politically mandated racial balance in funding, without addressing the deeper issues.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

Why should the race/ethnicity of an applicant for funding be relevant?  The best scientific ideas should be funded, not the proposal from the researchers of the required ethnicity/race - which is exactly what 'closing the gap' means here.  Science should be made more colourblind, not less.  Sadly - but typically - the NIH is missing this crucial point.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

To my own experience and information provided by people who are close to NIH, there is no such thing as objective selection. To much politics. too much politcorrectness, too much nepotism. A good scientist, even a citizen of US, has much less chance to receive an aword than an AA, if his last name does not fit or belong to Big School.

The reviewers do not know the applicants ethnicity, they know his Lastname.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

The widespread perception of bias in grant awarding has been largely ignored by the NIH for a long time.  Now there is a report of a racial dimension to that bias, and suddenly there is an orgy of self-flagellation.  If this report triggers a thorough investigation of sources of bias in grant reviewing, it will be a good thing.  I'm afraid the more likely outcome will be a band-aid response, like some kind of set-aside program, that will achieve the politically mandated racial balance in funding, without addressing the deeper issues.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

Why should the race/ethnicity of an applicant for funding be relevant?  The best scientific ideas should be funded, not the proposal from the researchers of the required ethnicity/race - which is exactly what 'closing the gap' means here.  Science should be made more colourblind, not less.  Sadly - but typically - the NIH is missing this crucial point.

Avatar of: sibirikanez

sibirikanez

Posts: 2

August 23, 2011

To my own experience and information provided by people who are close to NIH, there is no such thing as objective selection. To much politics. too much politcorrectness, too much nepotism. A good scientist, even a citizen of US, has much less chance to receive an aword than an AA, if his last name does not fit or belong to Big School.

The reviewers do not know the applicants ethnicity, they know his Lastname.

Avatar of: mightythor

mightythor

Posts: 1457

August 23, 2011

The widespread perception of bias in grant awarding has been largely ignored by the NIH for a long time.  Now there is a report of a racial dimension to that bias, and suddenly there is an orgy of self-flagellation.  If this report triggers a thorough investigation of sources of bias in grant reviewing, it will be a good thing.  I'm afraid the more likely outcome will be a band-aid response, like some kind of set-aside program, that will achieve the politically mandated racial balance in funding, without addressing the deeper issues.

Avatar of: DB

Anonymous

August 23, 2011

Why should the race/ethnicity of an applicant for funding be relevant?  The best scientific ideas should be funded, not the proposal from the researchers of the required ethnicity/race - which is exactly what 'closing the gap' means here.  Science should be made more colourblind, not less.  Sadly - but typically - the NIH is missing this crucial point.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 24, 2011

My thinking is that once you are funded once and may be the reviewers know you, you will be able to get in the second time. Whether this is based on race or not is not right. I guess all scientists who apply at a time need to be dealt each time. This is not meant to be a long way ticket for some.

Avatar of: Kolle

Anonymous

August 24, 2011

My thinking is that once you are funded once and may be the reviewers know you, you will be able to get in the second time. Whether this is based on race or not is not right. I guess all scientists who apply at a time need to be dealt each time. This is not meant to be a long way ticket for some.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 24, 2011

My thinking is that once you are funded once and may be the reviewers know you, you will be able to get in the second time. Whether this is based on race or not is not right. I guess all scientists who apply at a time need to be dealt each time. This is not meant to be a long way ticket for some.

Avatar of: Guest

Anonymous

August 28, 2011

For centuries white skinned  American Christians had regarded  themselves as superior to other races Naturally they treating black harshly.That bias never easily die.Now black president Obama must take initiative to  abolish this bias.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 28, 2011

For centuries white skinned  American Christians had regarded  themselves as superior to other races Naturally they treating black harshly.That bias never easily die.Now black president Obama must take initiative to  abolish this bias.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 28, 2011

For centuries white skinned  American Christians had regarded  themselves as superior to other races Naturally they treating black harshly.That bias never easily die.Now black president Obama must take initiative to  abolish this bias.

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