Study: Black scientists receive fewer NIH grants

The Kansas City StarAugust 19, 2011 

A University of Kansas researcher found that black scientists were significantly less likely than their white counterparts to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Economics professor Donna Ginther analyzed data from 2000 to 2006 for the study paid for by NIH. Results appear in today’s issue of Science.

Considering demographics, employer characteristics, education and training, researchers found a 10-percentage-point gap in research funding between black and white scientists from a similar institution with the same research record.

“It wasn’t just a gap, it was a huge unexplained gap despite the best efforts of me and my research team trying to pound it into submission,” Ginther said.

“For example, for every 100 grants submitted to NIH, 30 grants for white applicants were funded, compared to 20 grants for black applicants,” she said.

Medical research grants provide support for research into treatments and cures for diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The research leads to new laboratories, job growth and spin-off companies.

Ginther and her team, which included Raynard Kington, then-deputy director of NIH and current president of Grinnell College, and Walter Schaffer, senior scientific adviser for extramural research at NIH, began more than two years of study in early 2009 on the impact of race and ethnicity on who gets biomedical grants. The team analyzed 83,000 submissions.

It also found a gap of 4.2 percentage points for Asian scientists. But Ginther said that gap occurred because many Asian biomedical scientists are not citizens and were excluded from the analysis.

“We were never able to explain the funding gap for black scientists,” she said. “Either biomedical proposals from black scientists are not competitive or there is bias in the review process.”

Proposals for NIH funding go through peer review that considers the significance, innovation and approach of grant applications. Race and ethnicity are not revealed in that process, Ginther said. But sometimes wording or the type of research proposed may identify the applicant’s race or ethnic group.

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