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Topic Contributes to Funding Disparity

The topics that African-American researchers seek to study contribute to the disparity in National Institutes of Health funding received by black researchers, as compared to white researchers, ScienceInsider reports.

A study commissioned by NIH reported in 2011 that black grant applicants were 10 percentage points less likely than white grant applicants to be awarded NIH research funds. At the time, NIH Director Francis Collins called the finding "not acceptable" and said the agency would be delving into the issue further.

In a new analysis appearing in Science Advances, NIH researchers report that African-American researchers tend to seek funding for research topics that are associated with lower award rates. These topics, the researchers note, often involve studies at the community or population level, rather than studies investigate fundamental or mechanistic biological processes. According to this analysis, topic choice accounts for 21 percent of the disparity in funding levels between black and white researchers.

Co-author James Anderson, the director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives at NIH, tells ScienceInsider that while this study begins to shed light on the funding gap, it does not explain why reviewers are less enthusiastic about these research topics.

"This study just looked at the numbers," he says at ScienceInsider. "The next step is to ask the people who made the decisions."