While the U.S. government commits senseless acts like skimping on consulate security in violent North African countries, it spends $500 million to help minorities—especially blacks—enter biomedical research fields where lack of diversity is “disturbing and disheartening.”
The grand plan was announced this month by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency. As part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the NIH doles out north of $31 billion annually to hundreds of thousands of researchers at thousands of universities and institutions around the globe.
Last year the NIH sanctioned a study that determined blacks who apply for federal research grants are less likely than whites and Hispanics to receive the awards. The study took years and was conducted to “learn more about the challenges facing the scientific community,” according to the NIH’s director, and to improve the diversity of its biomedical research workforce. He called the findings “disturbing and disheartening.”
That’s because from 2000 to 2006, black researchers who applied for NIH grants were 10% less likely than whites to get the awards, according to the study, which is among the few to focus solely on the racial and ethnic composition of federal research funding applicants. Of additional concern is the low number of “non-white applicants” who apply for the public grants in the first place, the study found.
Researchers from the government-funded team of esteemed academics that conducted the minority probe think this is why: “the quality of educational and mentoring experiences may differ for applicants who self-identify as black or African-American.” In short, the NIH has admitted that it is guilty of not equally benefitting “all racial and ethnic groups.”
To right this wrong the NIH has created a 10-year plan that will dedicate $50 million annually to support hundreds of minority students with scholarships, research experiences and even graduate loan repayment. The agency will also create a new committee that makes “diversity a core consideration of NIH governance” and ensures fairness in the peer review system that erases “unconscious bias related to disparities in research awards.” The plan also implements “implicit bias and diversity awareness training.”