Small bias, big difference

Are grant awards made based on merit alone? A new study—reported at ScienceInsider by Viviane Callier—suggests that even a little bias can have a large effect on which awards are made. The simulation’s “results are astonishing—funding is exceptionally sensitive to bias,” says Ruth Hufbauer, an ecologist  at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, as quoted in the ScienceInsider post. “[W]hen biased reviewers took more than 2.8% off the scores awarded to grants from the nonpreferred applicants, the bias began to affect funding decisions—even though that number is smaller than the difference in scores produced by randomness,” Callier writes.

[The] results are astonishing—funding is exceptionally sensitive to bias.

—Ruth Hufbauer

“[A]lthough the simplified simulation may not explain exactly what’s happening in the real world, it does offer ‘a framework for quantifying the big-picture financial effects of institutionalized bias,’ says geobiologist Hope Jahren of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu. ‘It shows how systemic bias against any group translates into fewer dollars and cents to [a scientist] belonging to that group, irrespective of other factors.’ ”

Read the whole post. The original article in the journal Research Policy, by Theodore Eugene Day, is here.

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