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Friday, August 19, 2011

Black Scientists Less Likely To Get NIH Grants Than Whites

Black scientists are significantly less likely than white researchers to win grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to an NIH-initiated audit released Thursday.  The audit verifies a suspicions inside the agency about bias against African Americans.

The analysis of data from more than 40,000 researchers who submitted more than 80,000 grant applications to NIH between 2000 and 2006 found that only about 16 percent of those from black applicants were approved, compared with about 29 percent of those from white scientists.

Even after the researchers accounted for other factors that could help explain the discrepancy, such as differences in scientists’ education and training, black applicants were still about 10 percentage points less likely than whites to get NIH funding, the researchers reported.

The findings are troubling because they indicate that race remains a significant factor in who gets funding for research into diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other health problems from the premier funder of biomedical research.

NIH’s internal auditing indicates that there is a problem with bias in its scientific review process. The agency initiated and helped fund the study to investigate those concerns.

Officials agreed the new findings were alarming and outlined steps the $31 billion agency will take to try to address the problem.

Only 1.4 percent of applications came fromblack scientists, even though they account for about 12 percent of the U.S. population. Moreover, the applications from black scientists tended to receive poorer scores than those from whites, resulting in bleaker chances of getting funded.  The research showed that if you hold everything else constant and the only thing different between these two investigators is the color of their skin, that person is less likely to get funded.

NIH officials have stated that they intend to take steps to boost the number of black scientists on NIH committees that review grant proposals. Having served on such a committee appears to increase the chances of a researcher later getting a grant, the study found. (Wash Post, 8/19/2011)

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