Study finds black scientists less likely to get grants

White counterparts one-third more likely to get research money


Black scientists applying for research grant applications from the American National Institutes of Health are far less likely to get a positive response than white scientists, according to a new study reported in the New York Times. Researchers from the University of Kansas made statistical adjustments to ensure they were comparing scientists at similar institutions, with similar academic credentials, and found that a black scientist was still one-third less likely to get financing than a white peer. A total of 83,000 grant applications were reviewed from 2000 to 2006. The N.I.H. commissioned the study, and a task force will follow up on the study results.

New York Times

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Study finds black scientists less likely to get grants

  1. Easy solution: raise taxes on the rich and fund everyone!  Hey, raise taxes enough (Conrad Black can pay double duty) and there might even be enough for the social scientists and literary theorists!  Where do Macleans journalists come from, after all?  Just look at the photos of those guys (Scott with his head in his hands–a deconstructionist pose if ever there was one). 

    By the way, where are all the black Macleans journalists?  Muslims, anyone?  O yeah, I forgot.  Mark.  Been meaning to ask: did Mark know Jonathan Coe at King Edward VI’s? 

  2. Universities employ affirmative action in admission to graduate school, and universities generally have affirmative action plans. This may have certain benefits – counteracting systemic discrimination, and increasing the diversity of academic discourse. However, it is hardly unreasonable to assume that a group of people hired on the basis of merit and race (portrayals of affirmative action as an instant in are inaccurate, especially for academic hiring) might perform worse on certain tasks than those hired exclusively on the basis of merit.

    I’m not saying there isn’t racism in the grant approval process, by the way, only that it is unlikely that the entire 1/3rd differential is the result of racism. At the very least, it is implausible that the kind of racism taking place is of the blatant variety. After all, it is not clear to me how one can assess race conclusively from a grant application. The clearest indicator would be a person’s name, but that is hardly a slam dunk. Barack Obama – probably black, Michael Jordan, I’m not so sure.

    A more plausible story might involve social networks. African American scholars are probably less connected to their peers, leaving them far less informed about what topics are likely to be approved, what’s hot this year, how to frame an application, etc. But if that is true, it is less clear what sort of policy response would be warranted. Rather than a hard policy (eg. requiring that X% of grants go to African American scholars), efforts to improve inter-racial professional networking might yield more success. 

    • If you follow through the links to the Science article, it seems the discrepetency is due to a small number of uber-elite institutions that dominate the funding process and tend to be white-male dominated.

      Among NIH grants awarded strictly due to the merit of the study (and not due to former research success, prestige of mentors/institution, availability of other resources, etc.) the discrepetency disappears.  IE, black & white applicants outside the top 31 institutions have equal success.  The difference is in the top 31 institutions, where black & white researchers also have equal success, but blacks are under-represented.

      The conclusion seems to be that if an African-American makes it through all the barriers that keep many from making it to completion of an undergraduate degree, they have identical prospects as white researchers until they hit the highest possible levels.

      I’m curious what the barriers are to the top 31 institutions.  I have a suspicion class plays a bigger role than race (other than the correlation between class and race).

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