Racial Bias in Science Grants?
A study of grant scoring at NIH has found “racial bias” in grant awards.
This is being discussed in a wide variety of places, all of which I recommend reading.
I could say a great many things regarding this finding. It is a bit surprising, yet not really, and means absolutely nothing. It doesn’t change my previous NIH results, and it won’t change the next one. I am lucky enough that my research isn’t so expensive that I couldn’t do anything without funding (though it helps) and that I don’t work in a medical school where one might need 8 RO1s to even sniff tenure. So as a black academic scientist my reaction here is to think more about alternatives. NSF, DoD, private foundations, etc. I can’t guarantee that none of those places have biases too, but I am now more certain that NIH does. That might seem counterproductive for fixing this apparent problem, but it is a waste of my time and effort if the already small success rate is going to be even lower for me.
Of course the commentary on this result includes a lot of calls to action. You know, striving for things and whatnot. That’s always the reaction when something like this is pointed out so bluntly. It is unclear if any of this will result in real changes for current or future black scientists. It brings a cynical smile to my face, similar to when I comb through the job listing and read all of those statements about “valuing diversity”. A commenter on the NIH blog put it nicely
“I will be watching with great interest to see how the NIH backs up all of these nice words about how seriously they take this new revelation of imbalanced outcome for African-American applicant PIs. If we do not see immediate Programmatic adjustments (i.e., grant pickups out of order) to counter this bias, it will be hard to conclude that the NIH sees this as anything other than a PR problem.”