Search Results for "Ginther "

Jan 29 2014

Maybe the problem in NIH grant award is in topic diversity?

I had a thought occur to me over the past few days. It's been growing along at the back of my mind and is only partially crystallized.

What if PIs of a given class of interest, whether that be sex, ethnicity, nation of origin or whatever, are not randomly distributed across the various topic domains supported by the NIH? What if a PI of characteristic X tends to work on Topic B using Model M whereas a PI of characteristic Y tends to work on Topic A using Model H?

What if the funding rates for Topic X differed from those for Topic Y? Or if applications using Model M consistently succeeded differently compared with applications using Model H?

I didn't see any covariates for topic domain or even the funding IC in the Ginther report.

Surely someone at NIH is thinking about this. Surely?

I have two anecdotes for your consideration.

First, as with many areas of science, the ones dear to me suffer from a sex bias. There is a huge tendency to do the animal studies in male animals. Any study using female animals is very frequently a sex comparison study and is proposed explicitly or implicitly as a comparison with the default, i.e. male. I've talked about this before. The NIH also takes pains to fix the generalized reluctance via their most functional technique, the call for applications for a dedicated pool of money. In theory, the awarding of grants on sex-differences or on issues specific to women's health will then spur additional work. Perhaps create a sustained program or even a career of work on this topic.

My anecdote is that I've noticed over the years (possible confimation bias here) that women in my field have a greater representation than men in these sorts of studies. Sex-differences models and womans' health issues in my fields of interest seem to have women as the driving investigators more often than their overall representation.

If this generalizes, then we will want to know if the competitive success of such grant applications because of topic is contaminating our estimation of women PI's success.

The second anecdote is older and comes from my long history participating on the "Diversity" committees of various academic institutions. Back in the dark ages I recall an incident where a Prof in the experimental sciences had to go to war with a Dean who was in charge of undergraduate summer research funds for underrepresented individuals. The Prof had a candidate who wanted to work in the experimental science, but the awards were generally being made to kids who wanted to work on academic topics related to underrepresented groups. The Dean thought this was the most important thing to do. In this case the prof won his battle in the second year of trying, over the objections of the Dean. I keep in touch with some of my undergraduate professors and I can say that said undergrad went on to become a NIH funded investigator (who still fails to work on issues directly related to underrepresentation). I have no idea if any of the other underrepresented summer research students went on to glorious academic careers in their respective disciplines, perhaps they did. But this is not the point. The point is that perhaps I am a little too glib about the pipeline implications of Ginther. Perhaps the grooming of underrepresented minority undergrads for a career in academics is itself not topic neutral. And the shaping and shifting from that very early stage may dictate field of study and therefore the eventual success rate at the NIH game.

Assuming, of course, that Topic X enjoys differential success rate from Topic Y when the grants are under review at the NIH.

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Doctoral Degrees to African Americans by topic

36 responses so far

Jan 21 2014

Repost: Major, Jack, Willie and Warren

Huh. A bit surprised I never had occasion to repost this. Well, the conversation about the Ginther report and disparity in NIH Grant success reminded me of this.

Originally posted 03/23/09.


MajorTaylor.jpg

source


In the year 1899 an American cyclist won the world championship in the 1-mile track event. In those days, track cycling was what really mattered and cycling was a reasonably big deal. So this was an event in sport. An even bigger deal was the fact that Marshall "Major" Taylor (Wikipedia) was black. This fact was, likewise, important:


The League of American Wheelmen, then the governing body for the sport, banned blacks from amateur racing in 1894, just as bicycling's popularity surged.

Continue Reading »

10 responses so far

Jan 17 2014

What would the NIH do if it wanted to make things really hard for Asian and Black PIs to get funded?

The takeaway message from the report of Ginther and colleagues (2011) on Race, Ethnicity and NIH Research Awards can be summed up by this passage from the end of the article:

Applications from black and Asian investigators were significantly less likely to receive R01 funding compared with whites for grants submitted once or twice. For grants submitted three or more times, we found no significant difference in award probability between blacks and whites; however, Asians remained almost 4 percentage points less likely to receive an R01 award (P < .05). Together, these data indicate that black and Asian investigators are less likely to be awarded an R01 on the first or second attempt, blacks and Hispanics are less likely to resubmit a revised application, and black investigators that do resubmit have to do so more often to receive an award.

Recall that these data reflect applications received for Fiscal Years 2000 to 2006.

Interestingly, we were just discussing the most recent funding data from the NIH with a particular focus on the triaged applications. A comment on the Rock Talk blog of the OER at NIH was key.

I received a table of data covering A0 R01s received between FY 2010 and FY2012 (ARRA funds and solicited applications were excluded). Overall at NIH, 2.3% of new R01s that were “not scored” as A0s were funded as A1s (range at different ICs was 0.0% to 8.4%), and 8.7% of renewals that were unscored as A0s were funded as A1s (range 0.0% to 25.7%).

I noted the following for a key distinction between new and competing-continuation applications.

The mean and selected ICs I checked tell the same tale, i.e., that Type 2 apps have a much better shot at getting funded after triage on the A0. NIDA is actually pretty extreme from what I can tell- 2.8% versus 15.2%. So if there is a difference in the A1 resubmission rate for Type 1 and Type 2 (and I bet Type 2 apps that get triaged on A0 are much more likely to be amended and resubmitted) apps, the above analysis doesn't move the relative disadvantage around all that much. However for NIAAA the Type 1 and Type 2 numbers are closer- 4.7% versus 9.8%. So for NIAAA supplicants, a halving of the resubmission rate for Type 1 might bring the odds for Type 1 and Type 2 much closer.

So look. If you were going to try to really screw over some category of investigators you would make sure they were more likely to be triaged and then make it really unlikely that a triaged application could be revised into the fundable range. You could stoke this by giving an extra boost to triaged applications that had already been funded for a prior interval....because your process has already screened your target population to decrease representation in the first place. It's a feed-forward acceleration.

What else could you do? Oh yes. About those revisions, poorer chances on the first 1-2 attempts and the need for Asian and black PIs to submit more often to get funded. Hey I know, you could prevent everybody from submitting too many revised versions of the grant! That would provide another amplification of the screening procedure.

So yeah. The NIH halved the number of permitted revisions to previously unfunded applications for those submitted after January 25, 2009.

Think we're ever going to see an extension of the Ginther analysis to applications submitted from FY2007 onward? I mean, we're seeing evidence in this time of pronounced budgetary grimness that the NIH is slipping on its rather overt efforts to keep early stage investigator success rates similar to experienced investigators' and to keep women's success rates similar to mens'.

The odds are good that the plight of African-American and possibly even Asian/Asian-American applicants to the NIH has gotten even worse than it was for Fiscal Years 2000-2006.

26 responses so far

Sep 17 2013

Why we can't have nice things in NIH extramural research

From the Science Careers section, Michael Price reports on a recent National Academies of Science symposium on the NIH foofraw about Biomedical career trajectories. The NAS, you will recall, is a society of very elite and highly established scientists in the US. It will not surprise you one bit to learn that they cannot fathom making changes in our system of research labor to benefit the peons anymore than the NIH can:

First issued in June 2012, the working group's report made a controversial proposal: that funding should gradually be moved away from R01 grants and toward new NIH training grants in an effort to decouple graduate student and postdoc stipends. But responses to this proposal were tepid at the June [Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)] meeting where the proposals were first presented. Such a move would reduce the number of graduate students and postdocs available to principal investigators (PIs), and make trainees more expensive to hire, some ACD members argued. That would reduce PIs' autonomy and encumber the research enterprise. "One wants to be sure that the principal investigators, who are supposed to be doing the research, continue to have enough flexibility to be able to support the research they want to do," offered biologist Robert Horvitz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Reduce the number of easily exploitable laborers and/or make them more expensive. Presumably by forcing PIs to conduct more of their work with a more-permanent workforce (at any degree level). Permanent employees* which have that nasty tendency to gain seniority and consequently cost more money compared with the constantly turning-over grad student and postdoc labor pool.

And reduce our autonomy to hire foreign workers to further suppress wages and expectations for the domestic PhD pool. (Individual and Institutional postdoctoral and graduate "training" fellowships from the NIH currently only extend to US citizens. So I imagine PIs are assuming a shift to more fellowships would "reduce PIs' autonomy" to hire foreign PhDs.)

the Price article continues:

When the ACD convened in December to discuss implementing the working group's recommendations, this one had vanished from the agenda. The discussions at the December meeting avoided controversial issues, centering on whether, in an era in which only a small minority of scientists can realistically expect academic research careers, universities were adequately training students for a range of careers beyond the tenure track.

So it isn't just the NAS Greybearded and BlueHaired contingent. This is the NIH response to their own working group.

Pass the buck.

Really strong work there, NIH.

Anything better from the NAS meeting?

In contrast to the measured discussion at December's ACD meeting, the attendees of last week's NAS meeting—mostly researchers who have studied the academic labor market—were critical of the status quo, arguing that keeping things the way they are would be disastrous for the scientific workforce.

m'kay.....and.....

There aren't enough permanent jobs in academia for the vast majority of science graduates—and yet little has been done to curtail the production of doctorates, Ginther argues. "Employment has been stagnant, but Ph.D. production has been zooming," Ginther said.

Ginther? Remember her? Wonder how NIH is coming along on the R01 funding disparity issue? HAAHA, I crack myself up.

Anyway...is anyone at NAS or the ACD discussing how we need to shut down the PhD firehose in addition to functionally restricting the import of foreign labor? hell no....

At December's ACD meeting, the discussion focused on tweaking graduate programs to better prepare students for jobs outside academia, and several ACD members pointed to the relatively low unemployment numbers among science Ph.D.s as reassurance about trainees' professional prospects.

Oh, but the scuttlebutt. That's a brightspot, right?

None of the presenters at last week's meeting put forth any radical suggestions for how to overhaul the academic training system, but the tenor of the discussions was far more critical of established practices than the discussions heard at NIH in December 2012. After Ginther's presentation, this reporter overheard a chat between two meeting attendees. One suggested that science professors cannot in good conscience encourage their students to pursue a Ph.D.,

Sigh. No "radical suggestions", eh? So basically there is no real difference from the ACD meeting. Ok, so one overheard conversation is snarky....but this does not a "tenor" make. How do you know the ACD folks didn't also say such things outside of the formal presentations and the journalist just didn't happen to be there to eavesdrop? Lots of people are saying this, they just aren't saying it very loud, from a big platform or in large numbers. When you start seeing the premier graduate training programs in a subarea of science trumpeting their 30% or 50% reductions in admissions, instead of the record increases**, then we'll be making some strides on the "tenor".

Remember though, the NIH is taking all this stuff very, very seriously.

the ACD moved forward with most of the working group's other recommendations, including proposals that would: establish a new funding program to explore how to better train grad students and postdocs for nonacademic careers; require trainees funded by NIH to have an individual development plan; encourage institutions to limit time-to-graduation for graduate students to 5 years; encourage institutions to track the career outcomes of their graduates; and encourage NIH study sections to look favorably upon grant proposals from teams that include staff scientists

Right.

1) Nonacademic careers in science are also drying up. This is the ultimate in buck-passing and feigned ignorance of what time it is on the street.
2) IDPs? Are you kidding? What good does it do to lay out specifically "I'd like to take these steps to become a tenure-track faculty" when there are STILL no jobs and no research funding for those who manage to land them? IDPs are the very definition of rearranging deck chairs.
3) I totally support faster time to PhD awards for the individual. However on a broad basis, this just accelerates the problem by letting local departments up their throughput of newly minted PhDs. Worthless goal if it is not combined with throttling back on the number of PhD students being trained overall.
4) Making training departments track outcomes is good but..to what end? So that prospective graduate students will somehow make better choices? Ha. And last I checked, when PhD programs are criticized for job outcome they start waving their hands furiously and shout about the intervening postdoctoral years and how it is in no way their fault or influence that determines tenure-track achievement of their graduates.
5) "encourage" study sections? Yeah, just like the NIH has been encouraging study sections to treat tenure-track traditional hire Assistant Professors better. Since the early 80s at the least and all to no avail. As we know, the only way the NIH could make any strides on that problem was with affirmative action style quotas for younger PIs.

Tilghman, who headed the working group and I think has been around the NIH for a few rodeos before, is not impressed:

Yet, the working group's chair, former Princeton University president Shirley Tilghman, told Science Careers that she couldn't "help but go back to [her] cynicism" so long as NIH merely "encouraged" many of these measures.

Where "cynicism" is code for "understanding that NIH has no intention whatsoever in changing and is merely engaging in their usual Kabuki theater to blunt the fangs of any Congressional staff that may happen to get a wild hair over any of this career stuff".

Score me as "cynical" too.

[ h/t: DJMH ]
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*and yeah. It sucks to have a 5-year grant funding cycle and try to match that on to supporting permanent employees. I get that this is not easy. I deal with this myself, you know. My convenience doesn't excuse systematic labor exploitation, though.

**Dude I can't even. Bragging about record admits for several recent years now, followed finally this year by some attempt to figure out if the participating faculty can actually afford to take on graduate students. FFS.

36 responses so far

Mar 05 2013

Kington calls out one of the thousand cuts

Kington, as in Raynard Kington (PubMed), senior author of the Ginther et al. (2011) report that identified poorer NIH Grant success for African-American applicant Principal Investigators. Also as in previous Principal Deputy Director of the NIH Kington and current President of Grinnell College Kington.

He had an observation in The Scientist recently, responding to their coverage of him in context of Ginther et al, which included this bit:

And so I was dismayed by a recent news story on www.the-scientist.com about our report that seemed to prove our point about the existence of such unintentional bias. The story identified me as an “African-American scientist,” as have other stories I’ve read over the years.

Is that who I am? And if yes, is it relevant to my research?

Let me answer the second question first. The Scientist article to which I refer mentioned four scientists—and I was the only scientist who was identified by race. Moreover, the article didn’t mention any other demographic characteristics about me—not my age, my gender, my ethnicity, my sexual orientation, my geographic location, not even my current job as president of one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. Nor did it include demographic information about the three other scientists mentioned in the story.

Go Read. Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Feb 05 2013

New study concludes no bias in NIH grant review

via Bashir-

A new paper has been published that purports to refute the conclusion of the Ginther report (also see this, this, this, this) that there exists substantial bias in the awarding of NIH grants to white versus black PIs.

Jiansheng Yang, Michael W. Vannier, Fang Wang, Yan Deng, Fengrong Ou, James Bennett, Yang Liud, Ge Wang A bibliometric analysis of academic publication and NIH funding Journal of Informetrics 7 (2013) 318– 324 [ journal link ]

My biggest concern here has to do with the sampling...otherwise I guess we should view it as data that contributes to the overall picture. Much as Ginther et al drew a host of "oh it must really be..." alternative explanations, so should this.

The authors targeted 92 medical schools (1) and selected 31 odd-number-rank schools (2). They identified white and African American faculty members (from, ah, web page pictures and, um "names". also "resumes as needed".(3)) They then did a 1:2 pairing of black with white faculty in the same discipline, with the same degree and within the same medical school (4), same sex and title/academic rank.

So. They were able to identify 130 black professors of which only 14 were funded by the NIH from 2008 to 2011(5). Two were excluded because they couldn't find matching white faculty and one for failing to have any SCI/Web of Science presence (this was used to generate h-index, citations etc).

Eleven. Eleven faculty (out of 130) members, plus an additional 22 matched white faculty, comprise the sample for the correlation of scientific productivity with grant award. Kinda thin.

They took the rankings of the medical schools from US News and World Report and divided the institutions into thirds "Tiers". Ten of the grant sample pairs came from the top third of medical schools and one from the second tier (6)

In Table 2 the paper lists the mean (7) papers, citations and a couple of productivity indices they made up (8). Black investigators had fewer papers (but not significantly different), significantly fewer citations (9) and significantly lower Pc-index.

Second, the productivity measure in terms of peers’ citations, or the Pc-index, is the sum
of the numbers of citations to one’s papers weighted by his/her a-indices respectively. While the Pr-index is useful for
immediate productivity measurement, the Pc-index is retrospective and generally more relevant.

There was no difference in the PcXImpactFactor index. Interesting how they describe the one that identified a difference as "most relevant" isn't it?

Then we move on to tables 3 and 4 in which the authors show that if you "normalize" the PIs' award funding by the various performance measures (10) there is no difference between black and white professors.

There are a few more complaints about the earlier part of the study but that isn't really focused on the grant-getting so I'll leave it for now. It reflects the entire 130 pair sample and examines the productivity measures. There are interesting tibits in the fact that they only had significant differences in the Asst professor ranks. In the larger NIH-grant picture, perhaps their excuse of too few black Full and Associate professors for analysis is highly meaningful for the overall disparity of grant award? Then there was the observation of differences only in the Assistant professors at the top one-third of medical schools but not in the bottom two thirds.

I'll end with my observations:

1) why not academic departments? what proportion of the NIH PI population is at medical schools versus regular academic departments? what about non-University institutions?

2) why not all of them?

3) really? like they never heard of passing. Also "white"? What sort of "white" are we talking here? How do we know their sample of white medical school faculty matches the overall NIH sample of white PIs?

4) so the sample had to be really narrow here because they had to find disciplinary descriptions broad enough that they even had an AfricanAmerican professors represented. This will not be the case everywhere.

5) isn't the whole issue that is at the heart of Ginther those investigators who were NOT funded by the NIH? That's what assessing the disparity is about....figuring out if there are "missing" investigators who should have been funded by were not. Right? Determining whether those funded black investigators are as good as a sample of white investigators is beside the point. I really need to chase down the exact quote but one of the ERA era leaders said something to the effect that women will enjoy true equality not when they can succeed by being better than all the men but when all they have to do is be as good as the worst men in a given workplace. The same logic applies here. The focus should be on the whole distribution of funded investigators. It is irrelevant if, say, black investigators who "should" be at Tier 2b Med school are really employed at Tier 1c Med schools. What matter is if there are black scientists who are just as good as Tier 3f Med school white investigators but are not getting the funding their counterparts are enjoying.

6) ok, whut? why this skew for the top end? if they sought to focus on the elite, why not just sample all of the schools in the top third? or once you get past this the NIH grants are few and thin on the ground? particularly for black investigators perhaps? or for both white and black professors?

7) all of a sudden the white sample is down to 11, should have been 22. I can't figure out what they did here.

8) the a-index they base much of this on seems to be an attempt to parse author credit depending on position in the author list, number of authnors, etc. yeah....that's not resting on a bunch of subfield(9) practice equivalencies, is it?

9) yeah, the disciplinary "matching" isn't working for me here. if the pairs were within Medical School and within discipline presumably this means within Department. This is almost certain to mean that the pairs differed in subdisciplinary issues like model, technical approaches, etc. Differences that can be even more significant contributors to citations than are the broad disciplinary labels. Now true, we'd want to know if there was any evidence that black investigators were more likely to be in lower citation, slower pub rate subfields...

10) This also depends on their being a direct and positive correlation between funding and "productivity". As one example, human imaging research is really expensive, generates papers slowly, rarely ends up in CNS journals and probably isn't cited that highly. People who do such work are living in the same pharmacology, psychiatry and neuroscience departments that contain bench jockey labs shiving each other in the back to race to the latest CNS scoop job. Same title, same department but....comparable? please. oh yeah, see 9) again.

156 responses so far

Apr 06 2012

Collins appoints Gary H. Gibbons, M.D. to head NHLBI

I've been seeing the Tweets about the recent appointment of Gary H. Gibbons, M.D. [Pubmed] to head the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute over the past day or so. I admit, I've been tempted to crack wise about the upcoming appointments of Charles B. Chimpanzee at NIAAA and Omar P. Orangutan at NIGMS and the like*. But for the most part, not being all that interested in pumps and airfilters and such, I was uninterested. Well, I finally read the Press Release. Morehouse School of Medicine, eh? Dare we hope? Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Jan 27 2012

Initial report on the NIH RFI on the Biomedical Research Workforce

The Rock Talk blog of the NIH's Office of Extramural research notes that a report (pdf) overviewing the responses to a prior RFI has just been released.

A few things that I've picked up on first skim.

Vote leveraging. They had 219 responses. That's IT. 5% were from NIH staffe and 20% from official representatives so really that is only 164 comments from normal folk like us. If you responded (and I did) you get to be 0.6% of the response. Coolio. This is why I continue to urge you to participate in such things- apathy means that your efforts count for a lot more than just your own little opinion. You represent a much larger fraction.

Diversity. This particular RFI did not ask specifically about diversity to my recollection. But many people brought it up, no doubt because the Ginther et al 2011 report was published before comments were due. There were also lots of comments about the challenges faced by women who head laboratories.

Staff Scientists / nonPI stable careers. As you know, a topic on which I have opinions, DearReader.

Suppose something like this were made available for career Ph.D. scientists as essentially a fellowship. Without any requirement for a professorial appointment and minimal actual research component. The important point being that it is applied for, awarded to and evaluated for renewal by the career scientist with every expectation that this is a career award. There would be details of course. You'd have to have a host lab at most times- but allow for transition if one lab loses grant support or something. Nice and easy for the supported career scientist to find a new lab, don't you think? "Hey, PI Smith, I have my salary supported and I'd like to come play in your lab..." would go over quite nicely. Progress could be evaluated just as with any other award, keeping the pressure on for the individual to publish

Well, this new report says:

There was much support among individual commenters to create permanent career staff scientists positions. They saw this as a way for all parties to reap the benefits of training support provided by NIH. Institution commenters where divided, some taking a cautious approach to the idea of utilizing staff scientist in the lab, citing possible adverse effects including potential loss of innovative ideas (currently provided by graduates) and the reduction in project budgets to cover the salaries for these positions.

and ends up with the "NIH Action Recommendation" of

Provide grant mechanisms and change the funding policy to increase project budgets to support the costs associated with permanent staff.

Emphasis added. I will be fascinated to see how closely the eventual initiative on this hews to my proposal. Fascinated.

5 responses so far

Jan 11 2012

The NIH seeks input on diversity and representation

Remember the Ginther et al. (2011) report on NIH Grant awards to Principal Investigators sorted by race and ethnicity? The one that showed African-American PIs suffered worse success rates even when controlling for a number of obvious potential contributing factors?

A new Notice (NIH-OD-12-031) seeks input on diversity in the NIH system.

The critical background:

The Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) has established a working group to examine diversity in the biomedical research workforce (see http://acd.od.nih.gov/DBR.asp for charge and roster) and provide concrete recommendations to the ACD and the NIH Director on ways to enhance diversity throughout the various research career stages, particularly with regard to underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and persons from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce has considered the evidence presented in “Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards” published in the August 2011 edition of Science and additional data provided by the NIH. This data shows that R01 applications from Black or African American PhD applicants between 2000 and 2006 did significantly worse than those applications from White applicants, even after controlling for observable characteristics. The article and a corresponding policy piece by NIH Director Francis Collins and NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak can be found at http://www.sciencemag.org/hottopics/race-nihfunding/.

I offered solutions before, after expressing skepticism about the Advisory Panel approach.

Now it is time for all of us to offer our insight and possible solutions (or reasons why this is a non problem) to the Working Group.

UPDATE: The CPDD Blog review of the recent ACNP meeting notes that a question was asked about this situation in a session featuring a number of NIH IC representatives. Insel, NIMH Director, polled the crowd as to how many people knew what the Ginther report found. There were probably less than 5 hands raised that I could see. I'm not great at room estimates but there were easily over a hundred folks sitting there, probably less than 200. Folks who bothered to attend a session from NIH representatives so likely people with more than average interest in NIH matters.

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For your convenience, a few links from last August when this arose:

Sally Rockey, Office of Extramural Research
Tom Insel, NIMH
Updated:
Bashir
Chronicle of Higher Ed
National Public Radio

5 responses so far

Aug 24 2011

Racial Disparity in NIH Grants: Solutions from Your Humble Narrator

A comment by Halophile on a prior post asks:

I'm honestly interested in how a hypothetical NIH Director DrugMonkey would handle the situation.

This was in response to my expressed skepticism that putting together an advisory panel was the right solution. Especially when they are tasked with:

Its charge will focus on five key transition points in the pipeline: (i) entry into graduate degree programs; (ii) the transition from graduate degree to post-doctoral fellowship; (iii) the appointment from a post-doctoral position to the first independent scientific position; (iv) the award of the first independent research grant from NIH or equivalent in industry; and (v) award of tenure in an academic position or equivalent in an industrial setting. The Committee will provide concrete recommendations to the NIH Director on ways to improve the retention of underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and persons from disadvantaged backgrounds through these critical periods.

These are age-old concerns of academia and the solutions are not at all simple. And the obvious stuff comes up over and over again. With little success*. I am making the leap here that the primary motivation of this new panel is a response to the recent revelation that African-American Principal Investigators who apply to the NIH for research grant funding are having poorer outcomes than are white PIs. Correspondingly I think they should be focusing on the proximal problem and not letting themselves get distracted into the larger problem. Yes, even if the proximal issue is a death-of-a-thousand-cuts type of dealio. Yes.

My take with respect to the NIH response is as follows.

i) and ii) are things the NIH is supposedly already doing and tracking with their NRSA programs, MARC training grants and assorted other topics. So first, this is being taken care of elsewhere in the institution. Second, it is pretty damn far away from the prize and you would have to start with a hypothesis that somehow the good African-American scientists are being disproportionately shelled out at grad school and postdoctoral transitions. Thus, those that make it through to apply for grants are only the mediocre ones and this relationship differs for white scientists. I think this is a low probability hypothesis. Move on.

iii) is certainly a concern, particularly with the recent focus of the NIH on transition, creation of the K99/R00 mechanism and general worry about "the next generation". At this point I'm doing the facepalm and thinking "yeaaah, that should have been an obvious component of this K99/R00 flurry but damn I bet it wasn't." However. Much like my response to items i and ii, this is still a bit distant from the grant outcome issue that has been revealed.

iv and v are where the money is. This is where the NIH needs to focus. The fate of existing junior and not-so-junior faculty particularly where it comes to winning grant support from the NIH. Stop getting distracted with "tenure" though, except where you can identify that clearly with disparity in NIH grant awards, the need for African-American investigators to submit more times for a given award, etc.

I am dismayed that the charge is not to delve further into the causes of disparate grant review outcome. To go right at the proximal problem, now, with great dispatch and figure out how to fix it. As soon as possible. Why? Because this news has an immediate and discouraging effect on our current trainees! Not to mention the PIs...

Now, maybe further data mining has already been conducted or is in the works but we don't know that. Tabak and Collins referred to some preliminary analyses that may or may not go beyond what Ginther et al reported. Here's what I would commission from the CSR data miners.

-Outcomes for black versus white applicants on a study section by study section basis.

-Participation of African-American and white reviewers on each panel; heck throw in the same racial/ethnic breakdowns used by Ginther while we're at it.

-Outcomes on a IC by IC basis as well.

These are important bits of information. Is there any relationship with particular scientific domains, review panels or review panel makeups? That would recommend one set of fixes. If not, we'd have to move on to other considerations.

Next up.....um, why not actually talk to the applicants? Supplementary Table 2 of Ginther says there were only 2,942 applications with Black PIs from 2000-2006, 285 awards. I think the 16 member panel could make a serious dent in interviewing this population of investigators. A couple of emails and badabing! What do they think has been helpful and detrimental to their successes and failures as applicants? Where do they point the finger? I'm not saying they will have the same viewpoint or even necessarily be correct (with respect to the broader problem) but for goodness sake this is a place to generate some hypotheses, is it not?

Finally, I come to the most immediate response of all. Programmatic alterations in funding priority. This disparity is a bias in the system, like it or not. Not dissimilar to the bias against new investigators that has been a repeated topic of my blogging. Familiar, in fact, to an older (yet sadly ongoing) discussion of bias against female investigators.

The NIH has responded quite directly in the most recent case of new investigators by putting a finger on the scale to rebalance outcomes. The less established investigators are still getting crappier scores from review panels (and maybe even worse), but the NIH is choosing to pick them up out of the review order in recognition that poorer review outcome is a bug in the system.

This is no different. So my clearest answer to the question raised by Halophile is that I'd put out the word, informally if I had to**, that I was expecting the IC heads to fix the problem pronto. To examine their portfolios of scores in each round to make sure they were prioritizing*** black PI apps in their above-payline pickups.
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*Sorry but I am exhausted by us majority white institution folks fruitlessly pointing the finger at the supply chain below us. It dilutes the blame and gives a handy out when you fail to improve. There are two methods, only, that work. They are related to each other. The pull side, "attractiveness" of a career, a University, a training program, etc, solves itself as a self-fulfilling prophesy. When women, gays, the poor and minorities inhabit specific roles in society, that makes them more imaginable to subsequent generations. Make the job "look" diverse and dismantle any real hurdles that exist and you are most of the way over the hump. How to get there? I am on record as a big fan of creating overt, visible diversity by any means necessary. This brings me to the second method- money. Making your graduate program, postdoctoral environment or faculty ranks more diverse is simple- outbid the competition for the limited resource.

**think, rightwing anti-affirmative action political bigots

***By way of disclaimer, yes, this would theoretically benefit people who's careers are of direct personal and professional interest of mine.

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