Grant Proposals Made by Black Researchers to the NIH Receive Lower Initial Evaluations From Peers

A new study led by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle examines why Black researchers tend to have their research proposals funded compared to White researchers.

Previous research has found that only 16 percent of applications for National Institutes of Health grants by Black researchers are approved compared to 29 percent of projects led by White scholars.

The NIH typically assigns three reviewers to evaluate grant applications. They rate the proposals on Significance, Investigator(s), Innovation, Approach, and Environment. These ratings provide an initial impact score. Approximately the top half of the proposals with the highest impact scores are selected for further review.

The authors found that Black investigators, on average, receive worse preliminary scores on all five criteria — Significance, Investigator(s), Innovation, Approach, and Environment —even after matching on key variables that include career stage, gender, degree type, and area of science. The authors conclude that these lower preliminary criterion scores fully account for racial disparities in NIH funding.

The full report, “NIH Peer Review: Criterion Scores Completely Account for Racial Disparities in Overall Impact Scores,” was published in the journal Science Advances. It may be accessed here.

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