Medical researchers who are black are about one-third less likely than their white colleagues to win grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, a study commissioned by the government found.
A white scientist had about a 29 percent chance of winning the institutes’ primary grant, called an R01, of more than 83,000 applications from 2000 to 2006, said Donna Ginther, an economics professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, who headed the study published today in the journal Science. Black scientists comparable in experience, education and other characteristics had about a 19 percent chance, she said in a telephone interview.
Francis Collins, the institutes’ director, called the findings “deeply troubling” and promised his agency would take steps to level the odds for black scientists. Collins said he would examine whether personal identification should be removed from grant applications, including scientists’ names and professional affiliations.
The 27 institutes, with a budget this year of about $31 billion, are the world’s largest single source of funding for research on cancer, heart disease and infectious diseases such as AIDS. Winning a grant from the institutes is all but essential to the careers of biomedical scientists working in academia, Collins said.
Blacks comprise about 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to the census. They make up 2.9 percent of full-time medical school faculty, Collins said, and about 1.2 percent of “principal investigators” on NIH-funded research projects.
“This situation is not acceptable,” Collins said in a conference call with reporters. The institutes have “failed to recruit the best and brightest minds” and black scientists face “an inequity of some sort in the ability to achieve grants from NIH.”
The report’s findings reflect the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the field, said Clyde Yancy, chief of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. At any meeting of scientists “you can identify very quickly that there is a dearth of diversity among the audience and in particular those presenting the important information,” he said in a telephone interview.
“This doesn’t necessarily impugn the NIH or the review process,” said Yancy, who is black and sits on grant oversight boards for the institutes. “We need more qualified black scientists entering the scientific workforce and we need greater representation of especially young black scientists at all focused research institutions.”