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Bias in NIH grants points to other, deeper flaws in scientific community

Posted by Rob Anderson  August 24, 2011 07:47 AM

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The Globe's editorial board was right to point out yesterday that a recent study revealing a racial bias in the allocation of biomedical research — black scientists were significantly less likely to get research funding than equally qualified scientists of other backgrounds — raises important questions about bias within the scientific community.

However, it’s important not just to focus on bias within that community, but the fact that there seem to be so few African-American scientists in the first place. The original study, which appeared in Science Magazine, noted that only 1.4 percent of applicants for biomedical science grants were black, and only about half of those were born in the United States.

This is a problem, not just because it illustrates a lack of diversity in the field, but because it highlights the fact that qualified and talented African Americans aren’t pursuing careers in science. Although the study focused on possible bias that minorities encountered once they entered the field, it only casually mentions that “throughout the education pipeline, blacks are less likely to graduate from high school, attend college and major in biomedical science, and obtain a Ph.D. in biomedical science.” Of course, unconscious bias in the NIH grant-making process is problem. But there are other, deep-seated flaws within the biomedical science community — and society at large — that will have to be addressed if the situation is ever going to change.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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