Grant applications at NIH and NSF are peer-reviewed; there is a serious worry, substantiated by research recently reported in Science, that the peer-reviewing at NIH either is racially tainted or reflects a disadvantageous racism in African-American scientists’ careers:
It takes no more than a visit to a few labs or a glance at the crowd at a scientific meeting to know that African-American scientists are rare in biomedical research. But an in-depth analysis of grant data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) on page 1015 in this issue of Science finds that the problem goes much deeper than impressions. Black Ph.D. scientists—and not other minorities—were far less likely to receive NIH funding for a research idea than a white scientist from a similar institution with the same research record. The gap was large: A black scientist’s chance of winning NIH funding was 10 percentage points lower than that of a white scientist.The NIH-commissioned analysis, which lifts the lid on confidential grant data, may reflect a series of slight advantages white scientists accumulate over the course of a career, the authors suggest. But the gap could also result from “insidious” bias favoring whites in a peer-review system that supposedly ranks applications only on scientific merit, NIH officials say.