Blacks win fewer health research grants in U.S.

CHICAGO,  (Reuters) – Black researchers are  significantly less likely to win grant funding from the  National Institutes of Health than white applicants, according  to a study published yesterday, and the director of the U.S.  agency says it will take action to address the potential for  “insidious bias” in the review process.

An NIH-backed study, published in the journal Science,  found a 10 percentage point difference in the number of grants  awarded to black researchers compared with white researchers  with similar credentials.

“This situation is not acceptable. The data is deeply  troubling,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told reporters on  a conference call.

“It indicates that we have not only failed to recruit the  best and brightest minds from all of the groups we need to be  coming to us, but for those who have joined us, there is  inequity in their ability to achieve funding from the NIH,  which in many instances is essential to academic success in  biomedical research.”

Blacks make up 10.2 percent of the U.S. population, but  only 1.2 percent of the principal investigators of biomedical  research studies are black.

Collins said concerns over this and anecdotal evidence  prompted NIH, which is the largest source of funding for  medical research in the world, to take a deeper look.

They commissioned a study led by University of Kansas  economics professor Donna Ginther. Ginther and colleagues from  Discovery Logic, a unit of Thomson Reuters, and the NIH  analyzed data from 2000 to 2006.
They studied success rates of applicants of different races  with similar research records and affiliations at being awarded  a new NIH research project grant.

The raw data showed a 13 percentage point gap in the  success rates between black and white applicants. It also  showed a 4 percentage point gap in the success rates of white  over Asian applicants. There were no apparent differences in  success rates among Hispanic and white applicants.

The team next spent more than two years looking for  possible explanations for the differences. Among Asian  applicants, differences in success rates disappeared when they  looked only at applications from U.S. residents, suggesting  that language among nonnative speakers may play a role.

Among black applicants, differences in education, country  of origin, training, employer characteristics, previous  research awards, and publication record accounted for 3  percentage points of the difference.
But that still left a 10 percentage point spread.

That suggests that for every 100 applications from white  applicants, 30 percent were funded, but among every 100  applications from blacks, only 20 percent were funded.
The study did not look at gender.