Search Results for "ginther"

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 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

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.

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

Sally Rockey, Office of Extramural Research
Tom Insel, NIMH
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, 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.
*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.

14 responses so far

Aug 18 2011

Racial bias in NIH Grant review?

oh boy.

This is going to be explosive. Jocelyn Kaiser reports:

But an in-depth analysis of grant data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) on page 1015 in this issue of Science finds that the problem goes much deeper than impressions. Black Ph.D. scientists—and not other minorities—were far less likely to receive NIH funding for a research idea than a white scientist from a similar institution with the same research record. The gap was large: A black scientist's chance of winning NIH funding was 10 percentage points lower than that of a white scientist.
[emphasis added-DM]

The report by Ginther et al is here, the key figure is below:

Let the race-splainin' begin....

[h/t: Academic Lurker]

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

34 responses so far

« Newer posts