University-Industry Engagement Week

Study finds racial bias in NSF grant funding


By David Schwartz
Published: August 2nd, 2022

A new study based on National Science Foundation data collected between 1996 and 2019 shows that white principal investigators were more likely to receive grant funding than their nonwhite colleagues. The results, which NSF is not disputing, suggest that “systemic racism manifests at the NSF as higher funding rates for proposals by White PIs than those by non-White PIs,” the study’s preprint contends. (Click here.)

According to an NSF spokesperson, the agency’s director, Sethuraman Panchanathan, “shares these concerns [about] systemic racial disparities in funding at NSF and other federal agencies.” The spokesperson also pointed to NSF programs aimed at improving equity and inclusion, while conceding “there is still much [work] to do.”

Study co-author Christine Yifeng Chen, a geochemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, says she and her colleagues had heard complaints of inequality from senior nonwhite scientists, prompting the research into the numbers. “I think it’s significant that this project was initiated by early-career scientists,” Chen comments. “It speaks to the prevailing culture in academia that allows the status quo to be perpetuated. We felt that if we didn’t do the analysis, nobody else would.”

During the years analyzed in the study, the proportion of total grant proposals awarded varied between 22% and 34% percent depending on the NSF budget and the number of applications submitted. In comparing different racial and ethnic groups over two decades, the authors found that funding rates for white scientists were more than 8% above the average, while the rates for scientists who were Black, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders, or Asian fell below the average by about 8%, 11%, and 21%, respectively. The negative differential did not appear for Latino scientists.

The authors say that while many people believe funding inequalities will lessen over time, that outcome is not inevitable, and “to manifest change, NSF must lead in eliminating racial funding disparities in science.”

Source: The Scientist

Creating an Environment for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in University Research and Tech Transfer is a distance learning program filled with strategies for creating and growing an EDI program that addresses inequities in the university research enterprise and creates research commercialization opportunities for under-represented groups. Click here for more details.

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