Posted on March 15, 2024

The NIH Sacrifices Scientific Rigor for DEI

John Sailer, Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2024

Thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health, Cornell University is able to support several professors in fields including genetics, computational biology and neurobiology. In its funding proposal, the university emphasizes a strange metric for evaluating hard scientists: Each applicant’s “statement on contribution to diversity” was to “receive significant weight in the evaluation.”

It might seem counterintuitive to prioritize “diversity statements” while hiring neurobiologists—but not at the NIH. The agency for several years has pushed this practice across the country through its Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation program—First for short—which funds diversity-focused faculty hiring in the biomedical sciences.


The First program requires all grant recipients to use “diversity statements” for their newly funded hires. {snip}

That rubric penalizes job candidates for espousing colorblind equality and gives low scores to those who say they intend to “treat everyone the same.” It likewise docks candidates who express skepticism about the practice of dividing students and faculty into racially segregated “affinity groups.”

These responses aren’t merely administrative; the requirements carry serious weight throughout the NIH First programs, often valued on par with conventional measures of academic excellence. The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Tuskegee University jointly received an NIH grant in 2021 to hire researchers studying cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The institutions noted in their proposal that “the statement of diversity will be heavily weighted during the selection process.”


The records underscore that scientists simply can’t get hired in the program without an outstanding DEI score. Northwestern’s grant progress report describes an evaluation rubric that equally weighs a “commitment to diversity” and research potential—a remarkable value judgment for a program focused on cancer, cardiovascular health and neuroscience.

The priority is especially troubling given what DEI programs typically entail. The University of South Carolina promises to integrate critical race theory into its program’s design and to emulate activist public-health scholars in their “efforts to bring critical race theory to the forefront of society.”

Others, like Drexel University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, fully embrace the language of left-wing identity politics. “Our culture and climate,” Northwestern’s proposal confesses, “was founded on values and ideas of White, Eurocentric males and perpetuated by structures that enable continued marginalization of URG”—underrepresented group—“faculty.” {snip}


{snip} In medical research, lives depend on putting excellence first. The NIH distorts that value, subordinating it to political ideology and endangering those it’s supposed to serve.