NIH Bias No Surprise to Black Scientists

Illustration for article titled NIH Bias No Surprise to Black Scientists

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.


The result, the Atlanta Post reports, is "a marketing campaign that positions b Condoms as the sexy, chic and high-end prophylactic," while similar in price to Durex and Trojan. The trio's venture also offers lower prices to nonprofits and grassroots groups working in low-income communities.

The company, B Holding Group, LLC, launched on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2010. It now has an office in New York City's Harlem, is working with more than 50 community groups and is the official condom vendor for the city of Baltimore. The firm hopes to sell its products in retail chains. See b Condom's products and follow its blog.


Black Consumer Expert Launches Chicago Magazine

Target Market News, the "Black Consumer Market Authority," has published the premiere print and Web issues of Black Business Chicago: News and Information to Empower Entrepreneurs and Executives.


The publication features John W. Rogers Jr. on its first cover. Rogers is the founder, CEO and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, the nation's oldest black-owned mutual fund company, founded in 1983. Ken Smikle, the founder of Target Market News and Black Business Chicago, says that since 1781 — when Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, a black man, possibly from Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), founded what became Chicago — black Chicagoans have "imagined, pursued and achieved the American dream of building their own business success."

Blacks Most Likely to Own Life Insurance

Many people hold on to their money rather than invest because they lack the cash. Others won't invest because they distrust the vehicles used to create capital or income: real estate, stocks, bonds or other securities.


But African Americans still invest in a traditional way: They purchase life insurance. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that LIMRA, a major insurance-industry association, and the nonprofit Life Foundation found that 76 percent of African Americans will likely own life insurance, followed by 62 percent of whites and 54 percent of Latinos, who can be of any race.

Today, black life insurance buyers may not see their purchase as a counter to the growing wealth gap between the races, but it has historical resonance. In the 19th century, black benevolent societies spawned insurance companies such as the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. and the Atlanta Life Insurance Co., which provided safe financial havens for blacks living under American apartheid.


Insurance policies were important because a disproportionate percentage of black incomes were low and funeral costs were high. Plus, black men and women saw insurance as the sure way to leave something of monetary value to their families.

Midwest Researchers Make a Breakthrough in "Cyberwear"

Two engineers have — well, let's quote the announcement to get this right — "developed a device platform that combines electronic components for sensing, medical diagnostics, communications and human-machine interfaces, all on an ultrathin skinlike patch that mounts directly onto the skin with the ease, flexibility and comfort of a temporary tattoo."


The multidisciplinary team is co-led by John A. Rogers, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Engineering, and Todd P. Coleman, an associate professor in the department of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego.

Coleman, an MIT Ph.D. in electrical engineering, says that "the technology can connect you to the physical world and the cyber world in a very natural way that feels very comfortable. We think this could be an important conceptual advance in wearable electronics, to achieve something that is almost unnoticeable to the wearer."


Smooth Moves

Delano E. Lewis has joined APCO Worldwide as a senior counselor. He is a former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of South Africa and former president and chief executive officer of National Public Radio. Lewis has a J.D. from Washburn University School of Law.


Latraviette Smith has been hired by American Express as vice president of global diversity and inclusion. She is responsible for developing and embedding American Express' global diversity and inclusion practices companywide. She also has oversight for worldwide talent-segmentation initiatives. She was previously senior vice president of global communications for Edelman.

Dot Harris was selected by President Obama to become director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact at the Department of Energy. She was president and CEO of Jabo Industries, LLC, a minority-woman-owned management-consulting firm concentrated primarily in the energy, information technology and health care industries.


Before opening her own firm, Harris was an executive at General Electric Co. in the energy and industrial-systems businesses. She is national secretary for the American Association of Blacks in Energy and has an M.S. in technology management from Southern Polytechnic State University.

New Leaders to Know

The New Leaders Council is a nonprofit that trains and supports "the next generation of progressive political entrepreneurs — those who are leading industries, setting trends and building institutions that support robust civic and political life in a global America." The following are some of the NLC's New York City 2011 fellows:

Erika Lindsey is an urban planner in the Manhattan Borough President's Office. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design's Master of City and Regional Planning program, she previously worked as a consultant on a Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Networks Initiative.


Nicholas E. Smith is the editor of and the founding executive director of, a 501(c)(4) progressive civic-action group. The holder of a law degree from St. John's University School of Law, Smith was the first black student to lead the Commission on Labor for the city of Berkeley, Calif., where he served from 2004 to 2007.

Elon James White is the editor-in-chief of In 2009 White, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based comedian and writer, won four Black Weblog Awards. Check out his bio, watch him on YouTube and follow him on Twitter.


Ayofemi Kirby is director of programs and strategy at, an organization of Millennials — people born between 1976 and 1996 — that is dedicated to "community based solutions to the challenges facing our generation." Follow Kirby on Twitter.

Diaspora Watch

Watch Africa Rising, a video report from Al-Jazeera about how Ethiopians in a rural area are moving out of poverty by using strategies based on their surroundings, cultural awareness and abilities — not foreign aid or notions.


Frank McCoy writes about business and technology for The Root. You can contact him here.

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