Receiving a National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 grant is a key indicator of success for countless faculty. Not only do such grants provide research funding
Lee and Erosheva collaborated with Sheridan Grant, a
Their study shows that Black applicants receive worse preliminary scores for all criteria, even after controlling for many application and applicant characteristics; and, they find that these differences in criterion scores completely explain racial disparities in overall impact scores. Their study also finds that differences in how reviewers weigh the importance of different criteria do not explain racial disparities in overall impact scores.
“NIH introduced scores for individual criteria as a way to increase transparency for applicants,” says Lee. “And, it is these same scores that fully account for the racial disparities we see in the preliminary overall impact scores that determine which proposals move on to panel discussion.”
“The Chronicle of Higher Education featured the paper and interviewed Erica Warner, an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School whose research focuses on studying risk factors for breast cancer. As she said there, “[t]he approach that the NIH has taken in the enhanced peer-review system is to say, If we give reviewers clear, objective criteria, then the decisions they make will be solely merit-based. It doesn’t appear that that’s enough.”
Why do Black applicants receive lower scores for these individual criteria? Their study identifies this as the next question that future research should address, to see whether disparities along individual criteria are driven by implicit bias or by differences in mentorship, productivity, topic choice, and/or other experiences impacting the receiving of grants.