Study Shows Scholars at Some Black Universities Are Getting Their Toe in the Door of Academic Publishing in the Sciences

A new study by the National Science Foundation finds that some historically black colleges and universities are beginning to make an impact in the world of academic research in the sciences. The NSF examined the number of papers published by scholars in scientific disciplines at the nation’s 200 universities with the largest research programs. For published papers with multiple authors, the university affiliate of each author was counted.

In what may come as a surprise to many readers, three historically black institutions led all others in the percentage increase in the number of published papers in the 1992 to 2001 period. Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles topped the list. The number of papers published by scholars at Charles R. Drew increased by 127 percent from 1992 to 2001. At Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, the number of published papers increased by 116 percent. At Clark Atlanta University, the number of published papers rose by 101 percent. None of the other 197 universities in the study doubled their paper output.

In contrast, at Johns Hopkins University, which traditionally has the largest research budget of any American educational institution, saw just a 19 percent increase in published papers. The University of California at Los Angeles, North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, the University of Southern California, Purdue University, the University of Chicago, the University of Texas, and Lehigh University all showed declines in the number of published papers by faculty members.

Among the historically black institutions, Howard University showed a drop of 19 percent in the number of published papers between 1992 and 2001.

It must be noted that the progress of the three historically black universities at the top of the list is almost certainly explained by the “law of small numbers.” These universities probably had an insignificant number of published papers in 1992. With the doubling of the small number (say, from 20 to 40), these universities posted a huge percentage increase. On the other hand, Johns Hopkins’ 19 percent increase may have been a gain from 1,000 papers to 1,190 papers.

Nevertheless, the fact that some historically black research universities are making progress is cause for celebration.