Acton Institute Powerblog

No Race Bias In The Sciences

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Ge Wang, adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the Virginia Tech/Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, and seven of his colleagues published a study refuting early claims that affirmative actions should be taken to protect against racial discrimination when grants are dispersed.

The discussions about research grants and race escalated when a 2011 issue of Science magazine reported “that Asians were four percentage points and black or African American applicants 13 percentage points ‘less likely to receive NIH investigator-initiated research funding compared to whites.'”

Using a U.S News and World Report ranking on the top 92 medical schools, Wang and his team reportedly compiled data on black and white faculty members in departments of internal medicine, surgery, and basic sciences from a subset of 31 schools. The researchers found 130 black faculty members, and then randomly selected 40 of them for comparison. They paired the 40 black faculty with 80 white faculty peers including the same gender, degree, title, specialty, and university.

Wang’s team found that “total grant amounts and the number of funded projects were racial-group-wise normalized” based on the individual scientific publication measures, “the NIH review process does not appear biased against black faculty members,” according to the study. Wang, then, concludes that “When the totals and numbers were normalized by the productivity measure in terms of the journals’ reputations index, the ratios between black and white faculty members neared parity.”

Currently grants to outside researchers account for about 83 percent of the National Institute’s of Health $30-billion annual budget. As such, this government trough creates an interesting competition matrix for faculty members in the sciences and engineering—who depend on grants to fund their research and laboratories. Wang’s research makes the case that the world of science, because it tends to judge quality on the basis of merit, racial bias is less likely to be a phenomenon.

The larger question, of course, is whether or not the NIH should be the primary funding source for university research laboratories in the first place. Nevertheless, we should not be too surprised at the results of Wang’s study. Wang’s study challenges the prevailing assumption that disparities on outcome always result from discrimination. One can only wonder what additional types of bias are introduced in a system where government officials decide which researchers and which universities receive funding.

Although race bias may not be an issue with NIH grants, one can only wonder about whether or not certain universities in particular states, with particular members of Congress serving on Health and Human Services related committees, are favored more than others. A political favoritism study would be very telling but it is doubtful that government officials would fund it so we may never know the truth.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.

Comments