NIH Bias No Surprise to Black Scientists

From The Bottom Line: Reaction to research disparity, plus cool condoms, new Chicago biz mag and other business news.


National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said that he was “deeply dismayed” and it was “simply unacceptable” that a study, “Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards,” reported that black NIH-grant applicants were 13 percentage points less likely than whites to get NIH investigator-initiated research funding. Winning such grants is crucial for young scientists who intend to earn tenure at a major research university.

The study, reported in Science magazine, also revealed that despite “controlling for the PhD applicant’s educational background, country of origin, training, previous research awards, publication record, and employer characteristics,” blacks were still 10 percent less likely than whites to win funding.

The NIH peer-review system supposedly ranks applications based on scientific merit, but the study says that while whites may accrue benefits throughout their careers, “insidious” bias may hold blacks back. Collins co-authored a response stating that the NIH will “assess the presence of hidden bias among reviewers and staff using tests of unconscious racial preferences.”

Twenty-one percent of NIH research-grant applications are from Asians, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans. Asians submitted 16.2 percent of the applications, blacks 1.4 percent, Latinos 3.2 percent, Native Americans 0.05 percent and whites 69.9 percent. Applicants whose backgrounds were unknown made up 9.2 percent of the pool.

In a article, Robert Dottin, a black medical geneticist at the City University of New York, said that the news of bias was unsurprising. Dottin, the founder and director of JustGarciaHill, a website dedicated to increasing minority representation in the sciences, said, “Intuitively, African Americans have known it.” 

Michael Price, writing in Science Careers, provides tips in “Overcoming the R01 [Grant] Race Gap.” The NIH Research Project Grant Program is explained here.

Morehouse Men Seek Profit in “Cool” Condoms

Jason Panda, Elkhair Balla and Ashanti Johnson saw the intersection of disease prevention and commerce as a means both to doing good and doing well. The Atlanta Post reports that the former Morehouse College classmates saw the disproportionate rates of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections in urban communities and decided to create b Condoms.