Systemic racism is embedded in the federal funding process for bioscience research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and recent efforts to correct inequalities have failed, according to a recent report published in eLife by Michael A Taffe and Nicholas W Gilpin.

The authors identify several instances of discrimination in the funding process and call on higher-ups to acknowledge it and combat it in a meaningful way.

“There is structural racism at all levels of the biomedical research enterprise,” Dr. Gilpin, Vice-Chair of Research in Physiology at Louisiana State University Health New Orleans, says in a statement.

“One of the most overt examples of this is in the fact that white scientists are 1.7 times more likely to receive federal research grants than Black scientists, even when controlling for a long list of potential mediating variables. This disparity was reported in 2011, and in 2019 it was confirmed that nothing has changed during the last decade.”


Publications are an “essential” part of the hiring and promotion process in academia, and funding inequities can have a negative impact on the career development of Black academic scientists.

“Put simply, this is unacceptable,” Dr. Gilpin says.

“The NIH must acknowledge its own systemic and structural racism and must take action to eliminate it. This action must be demanded by all scientists, but especially by those that are NOT adversely affected by the policy, that is, by scientists that are white, tenured, and in leadership positions.”


Denying talented Black scientists well-deserved funding can negatively impact academia in several ways, the paper points out.

In addition to stalling individual development, the authors argue that having fewer Black faculty and tenured professors on staff can contribute to less attention on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) recruitment and promotion, fewer Black scientists in leadership roles, and stagnate the recruitment of Black students.


The report calls for additional strategies to be implemented, including bias training and anonymizing the application process.

The NIH will also have to update its priorities. A 2019 study found one reason Black scientists are less likely to receive funding is because “health conditions and topics of interest” typically proposed by Black scientists are “systematically overlooked for research funding,” a practice that “appears to excuse the NIH and blame African-American/Black PIs … for their choice of research topic,” the paper reads.

Read the full report here.

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