Public Affairs

Study Identifies Funding Gaps in Black Researchers’ Success Rates

According to an NIH-commissioned study published in Science, black applicants from 2000-2006 were 10 percentage points less likely than white applicants to be awarded research project grants from the NIH after controlling for factors that influence the likelihood of a grant award. In an accompanying commentary, NIH Director Francis Collins, and Principal Deputy Director and chair of the NIH Diversity Taskforce Lawrence Tabak, call the findings unacceptable and commit to immediate action by the NIH.

“NIH commissioned this study because we want to learn more about the challenges facing the scientific community and address them head on. The results of this study are disturbing and disheartening, and we are committed to taking action,” said Collins in a statement released by NIH. “The strength of the US scientific enterprise depends upon our ability to recruit and retain the brightest minds, regardless of race or ethnicity. This study shows that we still have a long way to go. It is imperative that NIH and its partners in the biomedical research community take decisive steps to identify causes and implement remedies. NIH is already moving forward with a framework for action.”

NIH initiated the study in 2008 to determine if researchers of different races and ethnicities with similar research records and affiliations had similar likelihoods of being awarded a new NIH research project grant, known as a Type 1 R01. Th e study controlled for education, citizenship, country of origin, training, employer characteristics, prior research awards, and publication record. Although Asian applicants also were less likely to receive an award than white applicants, those diff erences disappeared when the sample was limited to US citizens. Award probability for Hispanic applicants did not differ significantly from white applicants.

The study is part of a larger effort by NIH to examine and improve the diversity of its funded biomedical research workforce. Diversity includes race, ethnicity, gender, age, disabilities, and socioeconomic status.

Also of concern to NIH is the low number of applications for NIH R01 grants from nonwhite applicants. Of the 40,069 individual applicants included in the 2000 to 2006 study, 1.5% self-identifi ed as black or African-American (598), 3.3% as Hispanic (1,319), 13.5% as Asian (5,402), 71% as white (28,456), and 11% as other/unknown. These figures are consistent with data showing that the number of underrepresented populations in the fields of science and medicine remains small.

“Recruiting the best minds to biomedical research is a shared responsibility,” said Tabak. “It’s up to the academic community to foster and support inquisitive minds and a love of science in people of all races, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. And it’s up to NIH to ensure that everyone enjoys the same opportunity for NIH funding to succeed in their scientific endeavors.”

NIH has developed and is implementing a framework for action to:

  • Increase the number of early career reviewers including those from underrepresented populations;
  • Examine the grant review process for bias and develop interventions as well as improve support for grant applicants; and
  • Gather expert advice on additional action steps.

To learn more about this study and to provide additional suggestions about causes and remedies, visit http://www.nih.gov/about/director/
08182011_statement_diversity.html
.

NIH Investigators Face Tightened Conflict of Interest Rules

In August, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules regarding confl ict of interest for investigators funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The purpose of the rules is to provide a framework for identifying, managing, and ultimately avoiding financial conflicts of interest among NIH investigators in order to ensure the objectivity and integrity of the research process.

"The NIH is committed to safeguarding the public’s trust in federally supported research that is conducted with the highest scientific and ethical standards,” said NIH Director Francis Collins in a press release. “Strengthening key provisions of the regulations with added transparency will
send a clear message that NIH is committed to promoting objectivity in the research it funds.”

Major changes to the regulations include the definition of significant financial interest (SFI), the extent of investigator disclosure, the information reported to the Public Health Service (PHS) awarding component, the information made accessible to the public, and investigator training. For example, the revised regulations:

  • Require investigators to disclose to their institutions all of their significant financial interests related to their institutional
    responsibilities;
  • Lower the monetary threshold at which significant financial interests require disclosure, generally from $10,000 to $5,000;
  • Require institutions to report to the PHS awarding component additional information on identified financial conflicts of interest and how they are being managed;
  • Require institutions to make certain information accessible to the public concerning identified SFIs held by senior/key personnel; and
  • Require investigators to complete training related to the regulations and their institution’s financial confl ict of interest policy.

Additional details about the major changes to the regulations can be found at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/FCOI_Final_Rule_inspection_Desk.pdf.

The regulations will be implemented no later than 365 calendar days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register.

Scarpa Steps Down, Nakamura Named Acting Director for NIH Center for Scientific Review

Richard Nakamura became the Acting Director for NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) on September 18, taking the place of Toni Scarpa, who retired as Director at the beginning of September. CSR receives all and reviews most of the over 80,000 grant applications researchers send to the NIH each year. Nakamura has had a 35-year tenure at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he has served as both Scientific Director and Deputy Director, and he served as Acting Director from 2001 to 2002.

Scarpa previously was a professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
He also served as Treasurer of the Biophysical Society from 1999-2003 and was a Society member for 28 years.

NSF Names New Biology Directorate Leader

Starting on September 6, John C. Wingfield assumed the position of Assistant Director for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences. Wingfield was appointed by NSF Director Subra Suresh and takes over the position held by Joann Roskoski, who served as Acting Assistant Director for biological sciences since October 2009. The Directorate for Biological Sciences provides support for research to advance understanding the underlying principles and mechanisms governing life.

“All the BIO divisions have strong interfaces with each other as  well as with the other directorates and offi ces across NSF,” said Wingfield. “I feel it is the responsibility of the Assistant Director to pull together the incredibly diverse programs in BIO to advance our basic understanding of life that will contribute to human society in so many ways.”

Wingfield, an environmental endocrinologist, joined NSF as division director of Integrative Organismal Systems in September 2010 from the University of California, Davis. He received his PhD in Zoology and Comparative Endocrinology from University College of North Wales, UK in 1973.

October 2011 Table of Contents