Forum: Science and Prejudice; February 2012; Scientific American Magazine; by David Kaplan; 1 Page(s)
Biomedical research scientists send proposals to the National Institutes of Health in the hopes of being funded. A recent study of this process, published in Science by the University of Kansas’s Donna Ginther and her colleagues, revealed that proposals from black applicants are significantly less likely to be funded than proposals from white applicants. This disparity was apparent even when controlling for the applicant’s educational background, training, publication record, previous research awards and employer characteristics.
The authors conclude that racial bias is not a likely explanation for these findings because the race of the applicants is not provided to the reviewers. In an accompanying article in Science, several prominent black biomedical scientists also express doubts about racial bias, concluding that the NIH peer review grades only the science. But what, aside from bias, can explain the racial discrepancy? The study’s lead author admits she has no idea. Understanding what causes bias is essential for developing a program to address it.