Racial Disparity Found in Approvals of Grants by the National Institutes of Health

A new study led by Donna K. Ginther, a professor of economics at the University of Kansas and published in the journal Science, found that black scientists were 13 percentage points less likely than white scientists to win grants from the National Institutes of Health. The study, conducted with the cooperation of the NIH, found that about 30 percent of all grant applications were approved. The racial gap in approval rates results in the fact that whites are twice as likely to win approval of grant proposals than blacks.

NIH director Francis S. Collins issued a statement saying, “The data is deeply troubling. This situation is not acceptable.”

The authors of the study could not explain the racial discrepancy. Even when adjusting the data to take factors into account such as educational background, professional publishing record, and country of origin, a 10 percentage point racial gap remained. The authors concluded that the only remaining explanations could be differences in the quality of applications or some form of racial bias.

Professor Ginther stated, “In order to improve the health outcomes of all Americans, it’s important for the biomedical workforce to reflect the diversity of the population. As the population becomes increasingly diverse, we will continue to get further from that goal unless the community intervenes.”

The study can be downloaded here.


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