The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, has decided to find out whether its fabled grantsmaking process discriminates against African-American scientists.
Armed with new data showing black applicants suffer a 35% lower chance of having a grant proposal funded than their white counterparts, NIH officials are gearing up to test whether reviewers in its study sections give lower scores to proposals from African-American applicants. They say it’s one of several possible explanations for a disparity in success rates first documented in a 2011 report by a team led by economist Donna Ginther of the University of Kansas, Lawrence. The so-called Ginther report also noted that black researchers are more likely to have their applications for an R01 grant—the bread-and-butter NIH award that sustains academic labs—thrown out without any discussion by study sections and that black scientists are less likely to resubmit a revised proposal for a second review.
NIH is also faced with the problem of low participation rates by minority scientists. Only 1.5% of its R01 applications come from African-American scientists. (The average applicant submits three applications, although whites submit at a higher rate than blacks.)