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NIH director apologizes for structural racism in biomedical research, vows change

by Andrea Widener
March 5, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 8


In a rare admission, the director of the US National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, apologized for structural racism at the agency and acknowledged that previous efforts to address well-known diversity issues have been insufficient. “To those individuals in the biomedical research enterprise who have endured disadvantages due to structural racism, I am truly sorry,” Collins says in a March 1 statement. “NIH is committed to instituting new ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, and identifying and dismantling any policies and practices that may harm our workforce and our science.” To address the systemic problems, the NIH has launched an initiative called UNITE, which aims to make biomedical research more equitable and remove barriers that hinder diversity in the biomedical workforce. The agency is also seeking comment through April 9 on how it should address the problems. Black, Hispanic, and other scientists of color are underrepresented among internal NIH researchers and external grant recipients.  “This is just the beginning of an effort that has a concrete goal of achieving racial equity but has no scheduled end point,” Collins says. “Our intention is to apply what we learn from this initiative to all future actions centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion for other groups who have been marginalized.”


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