JANUARY 11, 2013
The Obama Administration will make history by hiring the government’s first “Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity” to mastermind a multi-million-dollar effort that boosts the number of minorities in biomedical research and slashes discrimination in the federal grant process.
The $500 million initiative to racially diversify medical research was launched last year after a government-sanctioned study uncovered a “disturbing and disheartening” lack of racial diversity in the field. Especially troubling are Uncle Sam’s discriminatory funding practices when it comes to distributing federal research grants, the study found.
Touted as one of the few government probes to focus solely on the racial and ethnic composition of federal research funding applicants, the study determined that blacks who apply for grants are less likely than whites and Hispanics to receive the awards. Of additional concern is the low number of “non-white applicants” who apply for the public grants in the first place, the study found.
Through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, the government doles out north of $31 billion annually to hundreds of thousands of researchers at thousands of universities and institutions around the globe. During a six-year period analyzed in the study, black researchers who applied for NIH grants were 10% less likely than whites to get the awards.
Researchers from the government-funded team of esteemed academics that conducted the minority probe think this is why; “the quality of educational and mentoring experiences may differ for applicants who self-identify as black or African-American.” In short, the NIH has admitted that it is guilty of not equally benefitting “all racial and ethnic groups.”
To right the wrong the NIH created a $500 million plan to support minority students with scholarships, research experiences and even graduate loan repayment. The agency is also creating a new committee that makes “diversity a core consideration of NIH governance” and ensures fairness in the peer review system that erases “unconscious bias related to disparities in research awards.” The plan also implements “implicit bias and diversity awareness training.”
This week the NIH announced that to lead the costly diversification effort it’s created a “new senior scientific position” of Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. The agency plans to recruit a nationally-renowned scientist who will promote inclusiveness and equity throughout the biomedical research community, according to NIH Director Francis Collins. “Workforce diversity and inclusion is vital to the success of NIH to achieve scientific outcomes that advance the nation’s health,” Collins said.
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