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Back in May 2012, OGTV interviewed Deputy Director Lawarence Tabak, prior to the release of the Draft Report of the Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce prepared. This report was prepared  by  The Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce referred to in this report as (WGDBRW), The Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD).  

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has long recognized that achieving diversity in the biomedical and behavioral research workforce is critical to ensuring that the best and brightest minds have the opportunity to contribute to the realization of our national research goals. Yet, despite longstanding efforts from the NIH and other entities across the biomedical and behavioral research landscape to increase the number of scientists from underrepresented groups, diversity in biomedicine still falls far short of mirroring that of the U.S. population. Additionally, a disturbing discrepancy in success rates for research grant (R011) applications between White applicants and Black applicants, even after controlling for numerous observable variables, was reported in 2011 by Ginther, et al. (see Section II).

To address the unacceptable status quo of minority underrepresentation in biomedical and behavioral research, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins charged the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) to form a Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce (WGDBRW) to examine the findings and implications of the Ginther, et al. study results. Dr. Collins charged the WGDBRW with providing concrete recommendations toward improving the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities (URM), people with disabilities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the lifespan of a biomedical research career from graduate study to acquisition of tenure in an academic position or the equivalent in a non- academic setting.   

Moreover, diversity is a key driver of achievement in the workforce, particularly when innovation is a critical goal (Denson and Chang, 2009; Page, 2007; Hong, 2004; European Commission, 2003).

The WGDBRW carefully reviewed the publication, Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards. This NIH-commissioned study by Dr. Donna Ginther and her colleagues examined the funding probability of Ph.D. R01 applicants during fiscal years (FY)2 2000-2006 with respect to applicant race and ethnicity, using data from NIH’s grants database (IMPAC II) and various other sources. Ginther, et al. found significant disparities in R01-funding probability for both Asian applicants (5.4 percentage points less likely) and Black applicants (13.2 percentage points less likely), compared to White applicants. When the researchers restricted the study sample to applicants who were U.S. citizens when they received their Ph.D., the difference observed between Asian and White applicants was no longer statistically significant, whereas the disparity between Black and White applicants persisted.

Marked differences in funding success were also observed depending upon the institution from which an applicant submitted their application. Applications from the 30 most highly NIH- funded institutions had a higher probability of funding than those from institutions ranked 31 to 200. In turn, applications from the 31 to 200 institutions were more likely to be funded than those from institutions ranked 201 and below. In all groups, a disparity was observed for Black Applicants relative to majority applicants in the same rank group.

After analyzing the Ginther et al. publication in detail, the WGDBRW requested and performed additional analyses to better understand the findings. These additional analyses confirmed the disparity in R01 funding between applications submitted by Black and White investigators in a later cohort (2006-2010) and revealed a large difference in the number of applicants and applications from underrepresented minorities compared to Whites. Of particular significance, the number of African American or Black applicants who applied for grants in the basic sciences was a very small fraction of the whole, 1 percent, compared to that of White applicants who comprised 64.6 percent of this pool.

From FY 1999 to 2009, following the first stage of the peer review process used by study sections, 73 percent of applications from Blacks were determined by review committees to not be of sufficient scientific merit to be “fully discussed” meaning they received no further review consideration, compared to 59 percent of applications from Whites. One consequence of this difference is that fewer applications from Black applicants are resubmitted for reconsideration because, in general, investigators are less likely to resubmit an application that was not discussed. See Section II and Appendix 5 for a full discussion of the WGDBRW’s additional analyses.  For questions about this report contact the NIH Working Group or call us at 202-469-3423, or email us at kmoore@opengovtv.com  Your voice on this subject matters.

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