Decades of racial disparities exposed in National Science Foundation funding models

eLife (2022). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.83071″ width=”800″ height=”530″/>

From 1999 to 2019, offers from white PIs were consistently funded at rates above the overall average, while offers from many other groups were funded at rates below the overall average. (A) Overall funding rates (black line) and total number of offers (grey bars) have fluctuated on an annual basis over time. (B) Racial disparities in funding rates have persisted for over 20 years. Funding rates by PI race and ethnicity are normalized to the overall rate for each year. Groups represented in finer lines submitted an average of less than 500 bids per year. Data are available only from 1999 for Caucasian and Asian PIs and from 2005 for multiracial PIs. Credit: eLife (2022). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.83071

A study of National Science Foundation (NSF) funding rates, award types, and offer ratings from 1996 to 2019 found widespread racial disparities. Recently published research eLife A study by a team of researchers that included Associate Professor Rosie Alegado of the University of Hawaii at Mānoa found that white principal investigators (PIs) were consistently funded at higher rates than most nonwhite PIs. Also, the gap between funds rates for white PIs and other groups widened over the period under review.

“The prevalence and persistence of these racial funding disparities have cascading effects that sustain a cumulative advantage to white PIs across all science, technology, engineering, and math,” the authors wrote in the study.

NSF receives thousands of offers each year. The agency publishes publicly available annual reports on funding rates separated by PI race. Study authors evaluated information on more than one million proposals received by NSF.

“What we saw in the data was striking,” said Alegado, a faculty member at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology (SOEST).

“These data are forcing all of us in academia to confront the disturbing reality that the system we call meritocracy instead sustains the disadvantage. The segregation of racial/ethnic information has allowed us to better understand the depth of systemic racism in funding mechanisms, and we must continue to make this data available so we can track our progress in remediating these gaps. mandatory.”

General funding rates at NSF change each year due to changes in budgets and number of proposals. This has been normalized for year-to-year fluctuations, lead author Christine Yifeng Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and co-authors.

“We see what’s left: systematic and persistent differences in funding rates relative to the PI race,” said Chen. “For over 20 years, offers from white PIs have been funded above general rates. Most Black, Native, and nonwhite PIs’ offers have been funded below general rates.”

To see the difference in another way, the authors considered “excess rewards”, which are awards funded above the average success rate.

In 2019, when the NSF received nearly 42,000 bids, the team calculated that white scientists received 798 more grants. The cumulative surplus over 20 years was 12,820 awards.

The above-mentioned patterns are for all offers. However, NSF also funds non-research pursuits such as education and training, equipment, conferences and more. Splitting the data to compare research and non-research recommendations, the team found that racial disparities for research recommendations were even greater.

“Calls to eradicate systemic racism in US institutions have increased over the past few decades,” Alegado said. “There are steps this and other institutions can take to correct this disturbing trend. Based on the demographics of our student body, the University of Hawaii Mānoa has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as an institution serving Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander education.”

“Therefore, we have a unique opportunity to significantly impact racial and ethnic diversity inequalities in STEM by nurturing the careers of historically minority people through undergraduate and graduate support, inclusive faculty recruitment, and institutionalized programs aimed at retaining talented individuals from these groups.”

as reported a Science In an article about the study, an NSF spokesperson said that while the agency is proud of its line of programs designed to address equality and inclusion, “there is still a lot going on.” [work] to do.”

More information:
Christine Yifeng Chen et al, Systemic racial disparities in funding rates at the National Science Foundation, eLife (2022). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.83071

NSF grant decisions reflect systemic racism, says Jeffrey Mervis, study, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.ade1312

Provided by the University of Hawaii at Manoa

Quotation: Decades of racial disparities revealed in National Science Foundation funding models (December 2, 2022) retrieved from on December 2, 2022

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