August 30, 2014

Grinnell College study finds fewer scientists of color get NIH funding

A study by the president of Grinnell College finds fewer scientists of color get funding and grants for their research from the National Institute of Health, when compared with their white peers. Grinnell president Raynard Kington says minorities like African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are affected by unconscious bias, but he says the deeper problem is a lack of support.

“For example there is some evidence that African American applicants might not have as many co-authors on their papers, well you think, that doesn’t matter. Well it does, because it’s an indication of all the networks you interact with — and if you have fewer networks then there are gonna be fewer people connecting you to all sorts of things,” according to Kington.

The study also found that there just isn’t as much encouragement for students of color in the sciences. “There’s a big drop off between high school and college, in the early years of college when it came to percentage of minority kids, particularly African American and Hispanic kids who were interested in science and pursuing science,” Kington says.

In response the NIH is doing more than just continuing to study bias in their grant review process, they are also implementing mentorship programs to encourage more scientists of color, something which Kington says may be useful to budding scientists across the country-including in Iowa.

Kington, a former deputy director of NIH, says he is heartened by their response.