From 2000-2006, black applicants were 10 percentage points less likely than white applicants to be awarded research project grants from the National Institutes of Health after controlling for factors that influence the likelihood of a grant award, according to an NIH-commissioned study in the journal Science. In an accompanying commentary, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, call the findings unacceptable and commit to immediate action by the NIH.
“NIH commissioned this study because we want to learn more about the challenges facing the scientific community and address them head on. The results of this study are disturbing and disheartening, and we are committed to taking action,” Collins said in an NIH press release. “The strength of the U.S. scientific enterprise depends upon our ability to recruit and retain the brightest minds, regardless of race or ethnicity. This study shows that we still have a long way to go. It is imperative that NIH and its partners in the biomedical research community take decisive steps to identify causes and implement remedies. NIH is already moving forward with a framework for action.”
Initial results also showed that Asian applicants were less likely to receive an award than white applicants. However, those differences disappeared when the sample was limited to U.S. citizens. Award probability for Hispanic applicants did not differ significantly from white applicants.
Also of concern to NIH is the low number of applications for NIH R01 grants from non-white applicants. Of the 40,069 individual applicants included in the 2000 to 2006 study, 1.5 percent self-identified as black or African-American (598), 3.3 percent as Hispanic (1,319), 13.5 percent as Asian (5,402), 71 percent as white (28,456), and 11 percent as other/unknown.
NIH has developed and is implementing a framework for action to:
- Increase the number of early career reviewers including those from underrepresented populations
- Examine the grant review process for bias and develop interventions
- Improve support for grant applicants
- Gather expert advice on additional action steps