A new report building on a Science study from 2011 that revealed that African American researchers were less likely to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than white scientists has shed some light on the reasons behind this disparity.
The paper, published in Science Advances, examined nearly 160,000 funding applications from 2011 to 2015. While the NIH was more likely to fund cellular and molecular science topics, black scientists were less likely to study those areas, and more likely to research population- and community-level clinical interventions. As a result, only about one in 10 applications from black scientists received NIH funding, and white scientists were funded up to 1.7 times more frequently than black scientists (17.7% funding rate for white scientists versus 10.7% for black scientists). Overall, topic choice accounted for 20% of the disparity.
In addition, during the peer review stage of the application process, 44% of black researchers’ applications were discussed, compared to 57% of white scientists’ applications.
Better mentoring for black scientists navigating the grant application process might help, according to the study authors, as well as boosting the number of black applicants overall. “One really important takeaway is that the actual number [of black applicants] is very, very small. Out of the 160,000 applications, some 1.5% were from black scientists,” the NIH’s chief officer for scientific workforce diversity Hannah Valantine, MD, MRCP, said. “The measure of success is to increase those numbers.”
Recently, the NIH has launched initiatives to increase diversity in the agency’s workforce and provide mentoring support to minority researchers. “I would wish to see the NIH use their institutional clout and might to proactively legitimize this intervention-based and community-based research,” Dr. Valantine added.