APA advises NIH on how to reduce racial disparity in funding

Broad, scientific approach to enhancing diversity of research workforce is outlined.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has called upon the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to take a broad and multi-faceted approach in its efforts to expand the diversity of the research workforce. APA submitted comments in response to a request from a working group established by the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (see previous coverage). This working group was formed following the 2011 publication in Science of a study that found that black applicants were less likely to receive an NIH R01 grant than white applicants, even after controlling for a variety of factors.

In its letter (PDF, 165KB), submitted on February 24, 2012, APA recommended that NIH undertake “a thorough scientific examination of the role of potential bias in the peer review process.  Various forms of bias — unconscious, implicit, and explicit — should be assessed, and interventions aimed at reducing bias should be developed and tested. These possible biases should be examined in how they form perceptions and ratings of the individual investigator as influenced by such factors as his/her institutional home, mentors, and previous training, and interactions of these variables where indicated.”

APA also encouraged NIH to expand the pool of reviewers to include members of underrepresented groups and to examine the process by which funding decisions are made at the institute level as it affects black and other underrepresented scientists. 

Although the Science study highlighted the disparity for black applicants, APA also recommended that the working group and other NIH offices continue to carefully evaluate possible funding discrepancies involving all traditionally underrepresented groups, including Latino, Asian, Native American and Alaska Native populations and those with disabilities. 

Further, APA suggested that the quality of training, mentoring and career support be examined at all stages of the pipeline, from undergraduate education through career stages following receipt of an initial grant.

APA’s comments follow up on a previous letter (PDF, 135KB) sent in September 2011, soon after the Science study appeared. APA will continue to monitor NIH’s progress on this issue and to call for action to achieve equity in research funding.