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NIH Announces Diversity Initiatives; Study Identifies Racial Gaps in Success Rates

September 2, 2011—A study published in the Aug. 19 issue of Science, reported that black applicants from 2000-2006 were 10 percentage points less likely than white applicants to be awarded research project grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) after controlling for factors that influence the likelihood of a grant award. The study was commissioned by NIH. The same issue of Science featured a commentary by NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S, Ph.D., that calls the findings unacceptable and commits NIH to immediate action.

Specific actions announced by NIH include:

  • Increase the number of early career reviewers including those from underrepresented populations. Consistent with the study's finding that service on NIH's grant review study sections correlates with success in grant applications, NIH has initiated the new Early Career Reviewer program to encourage promising junior faculty to participate in peer review panels, and learn how these groups discuss, evaluate, and score grant applications. The aim is to have 50 early career reviewers assigned to each of NIH's three rounds of grant review in the 2012 fiscal year.
  • Examine the grant review process for bias and develop interventions. NIH will conduct innovative experiments to shed light on possible sources of bias in the grant review process, and to develop appropriate interventions.
  • Improve support for grant applicants. NIH will assess the value of providing additional technical assistance to applicants in grant preparation, and supporting innovative approaches to encourage more extensive and effective local mentoring of junior faculty.

As noted in the NIH commentary, NIH Aug. 18 announced the creation of the Diversity in Biomedical Research Working Group (DBRWG) reporting to Dr. Collins through the Advisory Committee to the Director.  AAMC Chief Scientific Officer Ann Bonham, Ph.D., and AAMC President Emeritus Jordan Cohen, M.D., will serve on the working group. The NIH also announced an internal NIH Diversity Task Force as part of the NIH Director's Steering Committee.

The Working Group’s posted charge states, "The Committee will provide concrete recommendations to the NIH Director on ways to improve the retention of underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and persons from disadvantaged backgrounds...The DBRWG is charged with producing interim recommendations by December 2011 and final recommendations by June 2012."

In a press release, NIH said, “These two groups will address how NIH can better articulate its interest in diversity, better identify actions NIH can take to achieve its stated goals of recruiting the best and brightest minds to the biomedical research workforce, and sustain an environment that nurtures and encourages diversity.”


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806