Racial disparities in NIH research funding: APA responds

A recent article in Science described a study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that examined the relation between the race and ethnicity of applicants for NIH R01 research grants and the likelihood of receiving a grant. Looking at the years 2000-2006, the study found that about 28% of applicants overall were awarded a grant. However, Black applicants were 10 percentage points less likely to receive a grant than White applicants, after controlling for a variety of factors such as citizenship, training, institution, previous research funding, and publication record. No significant differences between Hispanic and White applicants or between Asian and White applicants were found after controlling for other factors. Due to small numbers of minority applicants, data were not broken down by institute or funding program.

These findings raise concerns about individual and institutional forms of bias in the NIH peer review system for assessing grant applications, in other interactions between NIH and researchers, and in the scientific community more broadly. Other possible contributing factors, including applicants’ access to grant mentoring and particular NIH review and program procedures, have also been discussed. The NIH has announced steps to examine the causes of the disparity in grant success and design solutions to overcome it.

In September, APA sent a letter (PDF, 135KB) to NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, expressing deep concern and urging NIH to adopt a transparent, long-term process to address the issues surrounding the disparity in award success. APA recommended specific scientific and policy approaches for NIH to pursue and offered to assist NIH in its efforts. APA will continue to monitor NIH’s work and to share the psychological community’s perspectives and recommendations on how to achieve equity in research funding.