Black Applicants Less Likely to Win NIH Grants

Zoe Corbyn, Nature News, August 18, 2011

White researchers applying for grants from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) are nearly twice as likely to win them as black researchers, reports a study funded by the agency. The finding has prompted an NIH investigation into whether its reviewers are racially biased.

“The situation is not acceptable,” says Francis Collins, director of the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. “It indicates that we have not only failed to recruit the best and brightest minds from all the groups that we need but, for those that have come, there is inequity. This is not just a problem for NIH but the whole research community.”

The study, which the authors say is the first systematic investigation of racial and ethnic differences in NIH funding, is published today in Science, along with a commentary, co-authored by Collins, committing the NIH to action.

{snip}

Only 16% of applications from black researchers were funded, compared with 29% from white, a 13 percentage point difference.

No surprises

The results are shocking but not surprising, says Robert Dottin, an African-American medical geneticist at the City University of New York and founder and director of JustGarciaHill, a social-networking site that supports and promotes minorities in science. “Intuitively, African-Americans have known it,” he says.

{snip}

Even after correcting for applicants’ educational background, nationality, training, previous research awards, publication record and institution, the gap remained at 10 percentage points, meaning that when these factors are accounted for black scientists are two-thirds as likely to win funding as white ones.

By contrast, an initial 4 percentage point disadvantage for Asian applicants disappeared when the sample was limited to US citizens, who can receive NIH training and probably have, on average, a better grasp of English than those from abroad. Hispanic applicants had the same success rate as whites.

“The gap for black applicants is extremely large, and very troubling in that it defies explanation,” says study leader Donna Ginther, an economist at the University of Kansas.

The effect probably has many causes, she says. White scientists may have received better education and mentoring, resulting in their submitting more competitive proposals. Black researchers, Ginther notes, are significantly less likely to resubmit an unfunded application than their white colleagues, perhaps indicating a lack of mentoring.

{snip}

The study suggests that the bias arises during the NIH’s initial review process. Applications that passed this review with strong priority scores were equally likely to be funded, regardless of race.

It’s possible that this review process is racially biased, consciously or otherwise. Information on the race and ethnicity of applicants is not available to reviewers but it can be inferred from biographies and even names, notes Ginther.

To address the issue, the NIH hopes to increase the number of early-career reviewers from ethnic minorities and will consider giving applicants more help in preparing grants. {snip}

In addition, the agency will carry out tests to detect racial bias in the review process, such as stripping out identifying information from applications to see whether this affects their chances of success.

{snip}

[Editor’s Note: Here is the Science study and here is the commentary.]

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  • Dave

    It indicates that we have not only failed to recruit the best and brightest minds from all the groups that we need but, for those that have come, there is inequity.

    Or maybe the “best and brightest” minds are rarely to be found in the Black community? Oh no, it can’t be that. Think about all the closet geniuses who must be hiding in the public-housing projects of Newark, Harlem and Detroit; if we accept the premise that all races must comprise the exact same distribution of intellectual talent. Let’s just assume they do, and that anyone who questions it is an evil racist.

    The results are shocking but not surprising, says Robert Dottin, an African-American medical geneticist at the City University of New York and founder and director of JustGarciaHill, a social-networking site that supports and promotes minorities in science. “Intuitively, African-Americans have known it,” he says.

    “Shocking” to whom? Who could possibly be “shocked” by these results. Are we “shocked” that the majority of players in the NBA draft are Black? And it’s good to hear that Blacks intuitively know it. I have little doubt that every race on earth but Whites intuitively knows it (or at least may speak openly of it).

    “The gap for black applicants is extremely large, and very troubling in that it defies explanation,” says study leader Donna Ginther, an economist at the University of Kansas.

    There actually is a very plausible (obvious) explanation available; but perhaps it’s not an explanation you are willing to accept because you find it “troubling” (I’m troubled by many explanations to be found in nature, denying them doesn’t change the fact)?

    In addition, the agency will carry out tests to detect racial bias in the review process, such as stripping out identifying information from applications to see whether this affects their chances of success.

    Good Lord. How about this. Rather than waste time and money with this nonsense, just have Obama issue an executive order requiring that every Black submission be approved. Because there is no plausible way to eliminate “racism” (i.e, fair competition) from the reviews process in it’s current format; approving every Black application is the only way ensure funds for the Black researchers. It may mean some (much) unworthy research gets funded, but that’s a small price to pay for diversity and equal opportunity (equal in that IQ differences are negated).

  • Anonymous

    The article states, “Only 16% of applications from black researchers were funded, compared with 29% from white.”

    Blacks should be ecstatic about this–they comprise only 13% of the population, yet they receive 16% of the grants, whereas Whites, who comprise 67% of the population only got 29% of the grants.

    NIH should be far more concerned about the abysmal showing by Whites. Instead of the expected 67% of grants, they didn’t even receive half that percentage.

    What has happened to Whites? They are obviously failing to achieve what their numbers would suggest. Yet, when Whites are under-performing, no one seems to notice….

  • Tom in MI

    They don’t want the best and brightest, they want the best and brightest from ALL groups. They want a quota system.

    It’s interesting how an African American medical geneticist can find something to be shocking but not surprising.

  • Anonymous

    What’s the difference? If they are social science researchers, or historical researchers, or anthropologists and even psychological researchers. . they’re all going to be researching to discover colored disadvantage and white wrong doing, the same way this article does, and ignore whites and men and white men.

    The article is slightly amusing, as many of these decrees that deal with the topic of diversity. The contortions and the double-speak can be amusing.

  • Anonymous

    “It’s possible that this review process is racially biased, consciously or otherwise. Information on the race and ethnicity of applicants is not available to reviewers but it can be inferred from biographies and even names, notes Ginther.”

    What a strange, paranoid world these people live in. You can almost picture how the fantasy would play out in their minds. Some deranged white scientists, laughing maniacally as he stamps “rejected” on a grant application because the applicant’s last name is “Washington”.

  • Anonymous

    How far will this country degrade itself to pander/cater to blacks? It will certainly stop when the hispancis become the majority or when competition against China becomes fierce.

  • HH

    Right – so the reviewers are presumed to be so lousy with “racism” that upon seeing the name “Shaniqua Washington” on an application, they will reject it immediately. That’s…um…possible…if unlikely…I guess…

    Or, it could be that Blacks simply aren’t meeting the standards and requirements that the reviewers seek out. Nah, that couldn’t be…

    …must be that pesky “racism!”

  • Urban Teacher

    Some years ago (early 1990s), all it took for graduate and undergraduate students to obtain a government stipend was to 1) work in the laboratory of an NIH-funded researcher, and 2) be black, American Indian, or Hispanic.

    Unlike other NIH stipends, it was given without reviewing the qualifications of the students and it was often much larger than what the other students received

    Although you might think that this would bring a larger number of minority members into science, the ones I saw either went into administrative positions or to law school.

  • gmoney

    Should science funding be about funding science for scientific reasons ?

    Or should science be a jobs programs,a self-esteem program, a way to use political power to help one group at the expense of another ?

    Should the group who wants more of its own to get funding, have to pay for it themselves ?

    Or Should one group have to subsidize another group, thereby hurting its own interests ?

    Is it “circular reasoning” to start with the premise of equality of result and then try and figure out why there wasn’t equality or start with the reality of differences in ability, quality, endowment and from that understand that and that alone is the biggest reason for differences in achievement gap.

    If endowment means what you have on the inside, your IQ, your personal qualities, your ability to work hard—“endowed by their creator’ === god given ability ( instead of assumed ability based on a fantasy of egalitarianism, which every study, every example for decades, in every location all over the world, has shown that individuals differ, groups differ, and it isn’t different treatment that causes group difference, its having the difference in the first place, that forces other groups to treat differently or be catastrophically hurt, by the failure to treat differently. When you treat unequals equally you get problems. When you treat equals equally, you dont get problems. ) If achievement means what you actually produce.

    Then if there is an achievement gap, its really because there is an endowment gap.

    If there isn’t an endowment gap, then there wont be an achievement gap.

    one exception to this will be 20 years from now, when the sons of the talented scientists of today ( who happen to be white, there are scientists , not because of being white, but happen to be white) aren’t allowed to be as equal and achieve equally as their fathers did, because the new barriers will be created to stop them from achieving.

  • karen

    If the ideas of white scientists receive funding twice as much.

    Then the must be twice as good.

    This means that we should look for twice as many white scientists.

    This means that if we have a choice of two equal proposals, but we aren’t sure which one to fund, we should fund the white proposal over the black one, because its twice as likely to be worthwhile, based on statistical evidence.

    If too many non-white scientists get funded, we should be suspicious that the funding wasn’t based on scientific grounds, but rather on political pressure that gives group advantage to non-whites at the expense of innocent whites, who were just minding their own business and being excellent in their pursuit of knowledge to advance the entire human race, not just their own ethnic group. In fact, we should have a hard limit on funding too high a percentage from other groups, because we know in advance that it wont be worthy enough.

    We should immediately fire the “so called scientist in charge of NIH” who decided to abandon, Occam’s razor — simplest explanation is best— simplest explanation is, if person W achieves more than person B, then person W is superior to person B. And if a group of person W achieve more than a group of persons B, then the Group W is superior to Group B.

  • global

    Since, its easy to post scientific results and papers all over the world.

    Why aren’t these “victims” not asking for funding in African Countries, that won’t have the apparent anti-black bias that the NIH is alleged to have (its always the fault of the institutions that deal with blacks, rather than the fault of blackness itself, in dealing with institutions or any objective process that shows what they can do, and what they can’t do on a group level. We can find talented individuals of any race. We can find untalented individuals of any race. The difference is in the “Yield” or what percentage of people of say 100,000 of one group, do i need to go through, before i find that one exception who achieves much better than the rest of his group. )

    Another way to look at it is, in countries where there can’t be a bias based on race…. since all the scientists or 99% of them would be black, then the question is Which Somali scientists have made great achievements? Which Congolese scientists?

    And if we aren’t finding lots of scientists here, if we aren’t finding great achievement there, then the conclusion we must make is that, we are seeing an objective measurement of what that group can produce in a free and fair and open way.

    Its the equivalent of lining up people barefoot in the 100 yard dash, with no equipment advantages, and saying run, in a fair race. And if one person or group does better, well it was a fair race, and bias had nothing to do with it.

  • Minnesota Fats

    Could it be that the “best and brightest” minds are less likely to be found among black Africans? In fact, given an average IQ deficit of fifteen points when tested against whites and twenty when tested against East Asians, it would seem completely self-evident that fewer black African applicants would qualify than whites or members of other racial and ethnic groups.

    Only federal employees could be puzzled by this.

  • Frank

    How is it that we read stories about Atlanta schools, where kids who didnt know anything were passed to make it look like they were achieving at an equal rate, even though they werent.

    Maybe one of these kids, became a scientist and applied for an NIH grant and didnt get it. This socially passing of unqualified happens at the grade school level, then high school, then junior college, then college, then grad school, then PhD level and so on, so who’s to say this isnt going on.

    Note this contradiction — “mentoring is mentioned as a solution ? Who is going to do the mentoring ? will it be George Washington Carver ? Will it be other black scientists ? or is this yet another burdern where white scientists will have to help “advance” black students, just as if they had joined the NAACP and took up the white man’s burden of uplift and advancement to try to get black standards on par with white standards. The civilization difference that was present 500 years ago, in the age of discovery, when the two groups met, is still here today. And like then, when it was the job of whites to uplift the black and make them more civilized, it looks like NIH, is taking up this cause— indeed forcing through Government funding ( at the expense of other scientists who happen to be white) to make blacks in the white man’s image.

    Whatever happened to leaving people alone ?

    leaving groups of people alone ?

    if they do equal, great….

    if they do better, great…

    if they do worse, great…

    let the chips fall whree they may,

    dont stress over if 30% of black scientists arent as good…

    doesnt matter that much..

    JUST DONT WASTE FUNDING ON THEM, TO MAKE THE EGALITARIANS FEEL BETTER, after their theory has been disproved, everywhere any objective measurement can be taken.

    I can live with the fact that i am not an NFL cornerback… I dont have the capability to be as good.

    Why can’t they live with the fact that not every member of their group who goes into science… will achieve at the same rate as either whites or hispanics ?

    that more than anything is the problem.

    its almost like the NAACP, worries about every objective measurement, because they worry that some “scientific racist” will see evidence of difference and make the judgement, that yes indeed, one group is INFERIOR to ANOTHER and that will lead to political power, enshrining this fact into the legal system.

    So, they try and equalize result in every area it doesnt exist to avoid this.

    They should chill out.

    No one is trying to hold them down.

    Really they have been propped up and held up and piggybacked to a higher place than they would have if they hadnt been given the special help.

    NO one is going to discriminate against a talented black scientists, who just happens to be black but is equally good at science.

    What the article is really about…isnt giving a chance to that equally talented black scientist, but rather stealing from that qualified black scientist ( the 20 of 100) and giving to the black “scientist” who isnt as worthy, who isnt as talented, but will get funding to bring up the group quota so that its the same as the whites.

    Note that if only 10 whites in 100 got funding

    and 5 blacks in 100 got funding.

    The push would be to bring the black number from 5 to 10.

    Note in the article the number is 30 in 100 for whites, and 20 in 100 for black.

    So 10 in 100 for both blacks and whites would be “equal”

    but that number would be less than the 20 that blacks are getting now.

    What the real issue is, as long as blacks live in a society with whites, they will always have to measure themselves against whites, and will be disappointed with the results.

    SO either two things have to happen, the whites have to achieve less to be equal or the blacks have to achieve more to have this happen.

    Either way… both groups are unhappy.

    If black scientists are in a black country and they dont have to constantly compare themselves, then they are better off, because if they DONT succeed they know it was them, a flaw in themselves and not bias.

    and if they do succeed they know it was their ability, their achievemnt, and not a subsidy, not a social promotion applied to science.

  • Anonymous

    There is even racism in the volunatry act of applying! From the orginal report, “In our study sample, applications from Asian investigators were 16.2%, blacks were 1.4%, Hispanics were 3.2%, Native Americans were 0.05%, whites were 69.9%, and other/unknown were 9.2% of total applications.”

    Interesting to note that blacks don’t participate in the sciences overall. That said, perhaps those that do are of the same caliber as whites. Not mentioned is an examination of what the qualitative aspects of the grant applications were. Genetic superiority of black basketball players might be deemed less deserving of finite funding than say a cure for cancer.

  • Anonymous

    Seems what school you went to has a lot to do with it. From the original article, “Research has established that the perception of scientific merit is affected by past performance—such as association with high-ranking departments or institutions and previous funding and publication records—and by access to organizational resources (12). If this is the case, and racial and ethnic groups do not have the same distribution of these characteristics, then including controls for these effects might reduce or eliminate differences in award probability.”

  • Boondoggler

    Maybe the writing in the grant applications makes a difference. Literate people of any race tend to be able to write eloquently and with precision of thought.

  • AvgDude

    So what. Where I work, white software engineers do 100% of the actual creative innovation. The black software engineers simply run code that already exists. They have the exact same title, but when they run into a problem, they make phone calls and order up that a solution be developed for them. When a white software engineer runs into a problem, he usually doesn’t call anybody. He just creates a solution. The real irony is that it is apparent to the white engineers that the black engineers are completely oblivious to how lame they are. And their lack of shame at being so lacking in the actual skills required to be real software engineers doesn’t seem to be of any concern to them.

  • Frank

    Note they are considering giving blacks help in preparing grants. Does that tell you somwethng about the intelligence of people who need such help? But, this is the age of Obama and blacks are complaining that he doesn’t do enought for “his people.”