There's a big racial disparity in NIH funding

Nov 23, 2015

Several scientists are concerned about racial bias in federal funding of medical research. Using National Institutes of Health data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, researchers find persistently lower approval levels for grants filed by minority researchers, as compared to white applicants. The issue has major implications for America’s health and how its tax money is spent.

A group of health researchers including Dr. Esteban González Burchard and Dr. Sam Oh, both of the University of California, San Francisco, found that even in the wake of greater focus on diversity and awareness of bias, the decades-long gap persists. In 2013, 19 percent of minority researchers saw their grants approved. But that same year, 23 percent of white scientists got money. (The data set grouped some multi-racial researchers along with the white scientists.)

These findings track with previous research showing that even after considering experience and training, minority research grants are more likely to be declined. Besides simple fairness, there is concern that this funding gap could mean health concerns impacting minorities get overlooked.

“Some of these areas of study or investigation affect different parts of our population differently,” Oh said. “So it’s important that funding for research is applied more justly.”

 The NIH wasn’t able to respond by deadline. But in the past it has said that diversity in science is a problem it’s working on.