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Volume 89 Issue 34 | p. 8 | News of The Week
Issue Date: August 22, 2011

Race And Federal Grants

Research: Black applicants have lower NIH funding success rates
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: NIH, minority scientists
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Funding
About one in five black NIH grant applicants are successful.NOTE: Data are for all competing research project grants, fiscal 2000–06. NIH = National Institutes of Health. SOURCE: Adapted from Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1196783
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Funding
About one in five black NIH grant applicants are successful.NOTE: Data are for all competing research project grants, fiscal 2000–06. NIH = National Institutes of Health. SOURCE: Adapted from Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1196783

Black scientists are less likely to receive NIH funding than their white colleagues, according to an NIH-commissioned study published in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1196783). The study shows that black scientists were 10% less likely than white scientists to receive NIH funding in the years 2000–06, even after controlling for such factors as former training grants, publication record, and institutional affiliation.

The study also looked at grant success rates for other minority scientists and found no statistically significant differences between them and white scientists when comparing only those who are U.S. citizens.

“The problem has been there all along. Now we know about it,” says NIH Director Francis S. Collins, who admits that he and other agency brass are troubled by the study’s findings. “I am committed to making sure we don’t miss out on this opportunity to change the current situation for the better.”

Collins says NIH will examine potential causes for the skewed funding, including the possibility that educational and mentoring experiences of black and white scientists may differ, going back as far as kindergarten. And even though grant reviewers do not see information about an applicant’s race or ethnicity, he says, NIH will conduct experiments to address the possibility of bias in the peer review process.

Academic researchers who have been trying to increase diversity in their chemistry departments say NIH is heading in the right direction, but that the problem of racial imbalance in grant funding is complicated. “This is a symptom of a much more deeply rooted problem, which has to do with how to encourage and really bring minority candidates into the ranks at the very top level,” says Richmond Sarpong, associate professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, who has four black and three Hispanic students in his laboratory.

“We need to be creative and address this problem in the exact same way we address any scientific problem,” says study coauthor Raynard S. Kington, president of Grinnell College and a former NIH deputy director. “We need to understand what we are seeing, and this study is the first part of that,” he notes. “Then we need to try to understand causal pathways. Why do we see the patterns? We need to develop interventions, implement them, and test them.”

 
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