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Bias Testing of Study Sections

The US National Institutes of Health says that it will be examining its grant-awarding process to see whether it discriminates against African Americans, ScienceInsider reports.

African-American grant applicants have a 35 percent lower chance of getting their proposals funded than white applicants, according to new data. A 2011 report commissioned by NIH, called the Ginther report, similarly found that African-American applicants between 2000 and 2006 were 10 percentage points less likely than whites to be awarded NIH research funding, even after controlling for factors like education and training, employer characteristics, NIH experience, and research productivity. The new, updated study included 1,054 matched pairs of white and black applicants from 2008 to 2014, ScienceInsider adds.

In its follow-up investigation, NIH plans to collect recently rejected grant applications, anonymize them, and have reviewers rate them using the agency's one-to-nine scale. Richard Nakamura, head of the Center for Scientific Review, tells ScienceInsider he plans to award a contract to an outside firm this year to perform the study.

ScienceInsider adds that this is just one of many efforts NIH is pursuing in response to the Ginther report. The agency has made about a dozen awards through the three initiatives of its Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce program. That program aims to spark the interest of students from diverse backgrounds into biomedical research careers and develop a nationwide network of mentors and mentees.