WASHINGTON — Black scientists lag behind whites in US government funded research grants with a 10 percentage point gap between the two that cannot be explained by education or experience, a study said Thursday.
The National Institutes of Health, which funnels more than 30 billion dollars into scientific research each year, commissioned the analysis which appears in this week’s edition of the journal Science.
In an accompanying editorial, NIH director Francis Collins described the findings as “unacceptable.”
The study looked at submissions for NIH grant applications by 40,069 unique investigators from 2000-2006.
For every 100 grant applications sent to NIH, “30 grants from white applicants were funded, compared to 20 grants for black applicants,” it said.
All applications for funding pass through a peer-review process, which sorts through the papers and typically finds about half that are worthy of scoring.
The scored applications pass a second review in which budgets and priorities determine which ones get funding.
Applicants can mark down their ethnic background and gender on the applications, but that information is not seen by peer-reviewers.
However, the study authors said other biographical information that is available could offer hints about the scientist’s race.
“Small differences in access to research resources and mentoring during training or at the beginning of a career may accumulate to become large between-group differences,” the study said.
Another concern for NIH is the seemingly low number of grant applications from non-whites.
Seventy-one percent of the grant-seekers studied said they were white, while 1.5 percent self-identified as black, 3.3 percent as Hispanic, 13.5 percent as Asian, and 11 percent as “other” or “unknown.”
“NIH commissioned this study because we want to learn more about the challenges facing the scientific community and address them head on,” said a statement by the NIH chief.
“The results of this study are disturbing and disheartening, and we are committed to taking action,” he added.
“The strength of the US scientific enterprise depends upon our ability to recruit and retain the brightest minds, regardless of race or ethnicity. This study shows that we still have a long way to go.”