NIH still doesn't get anywhere close to a response to the Ginther finding.

December 31, 2013

In case my comment never makes it out of moderation at RockTalk….

Interesting to contrast your Big Data and BRAINI approaches with your one for diversity. Try switching those around…”establish a forum..blah, blah…in partnership…blah, engage” in Big Data. Can’t you hear the outraged howling about what a joke of an effort that would be? It is embarrassing that the NIH has chosen to kick the can down the road and hide behind fake-helplessness when it comes to enhancing diversity. In the case of BRAINI, BigData and yes, discrimination against a particular class of PI applicants (the young) the NIH fixes things with hard money- awards for research projects. Why does it draw back when it comes to fixing the inequality of grant awards identified in Ginther?

When you face up to the reasons why you are in full cry and issuing real, R01 NGA solutions for the dismal plight of ESIs and doing nothing similar for underrepresented PIs then you will understand why the Ginther report found what it did.

ESIs continue, at least six years on, to benefit from payline breaks and pickups. You trumpet this behavior as a wonderful thing. Why are you not doing the same to redress the discrimination against underrepresented PIs? How is it different?

The Ginther bombshell dropped in August of 2011. There has been plenty of time to put in real, effective fixes. The numbers are such that the NIH would have had to fund mere handfuls of new grants to ensure success rate parity. And they could still do all the can-kicking, ineffectual hand waving stuff as well.

And what about you, o transitioning scientists complaining about an “unfair” NIH system stacked against the young? Is your complaint really about fairness? Or is it really about your own personal success?

If it is a principled stand, you should be name dropping Ginther as often as you do the fabled “42 years before first R01” stat.

13 Responses to “NIH still doesn't get anywhere close to a response to the Ginther finding.”

  1. Ola Says:

    I would like to see the Ginther #s broken down by those awarded according to score vs. those picked up at the programmatic level. It would not be a surprise, for example, to learn that scores were similar among ethnic groups at the study section level, but the old white guys are better at schmoozing on the ‘phone with the program officers.

    Regarding BRAINI and Big Data, I’d better not say anything lest I vomit all over my keyboard.


  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    I seem to recall that we’re talking something on the order of 285 funded awards (and maybe 3,000 apps, tops?) from African American PIs. (Per FY, iirc) So the numbers may just not be there for some desired analyses. But to broaden your point, I agree that general pedigree (training through current University) would interact with PO behavior. The most successful African American PIs in my fields of interest are embedded in pedigrees that would predict high grant success. Pedigrees that would predict POs would take their case for a pickup quite seriously.

    Any disparity of being IN such a cozy pedigree pathway would have an effect. Sure.

    But this doesn’t change the solution matrix much.


  3. anonymous postdoc Says:

    I wonder why no one commented on this? Possibly just the holiday slump, I know that it is hard to get people to agree to review papers right now, or to will themselves to do any work whatsoever.

    Anyway, I think there is a central distinction between the plight of the young PI and the plight of the underrepresented minority PI, which is that a young PI will eventually become a seasoned and wise Old PI. (I should say at this point that I do not believe at all what I am arguing in this paragraph and the next, just that I am laying out the argument as the devil’s advocate because it needs to be addressed.) That is, the young PI is disadvantaged “unfairly” because they are really just as good as the older PIs, but with fewer years of experience, so they need to just be supported for a “short” duration of their funding lifetime until they can gain commensurate experience and compete on a level playing field.

    In contrast, a URM PI is always going to be a URM (failing a sudden, substantial improvement in the way academia and the entire US functions on matters of race, culture, and ethnicity). An overt, on-the-books policy of picking up URM grants therefore could be extended to a given PI into perpetuity, and might have the effect of supporting people which don’t “deserve” it.

    As I said I don’t believe any of that garbage (young PIs are disadvantaged because of population size as much as anything else, and it is possible to give URM benefits that are not perpetual). But I do believe that NIH committing on paper to such a policy would squeeze a lot of white whine on “affirmative action”. It may not even be legal, depending on whether the University of Michigan case applies here. It may be possible that individual ICs or even POs make a personal effort to see URM grants picked up, and are fighting the good fight, but it is obviously not happening on an NIH-wide basis.

    I have been trained by several URM PIs (women, even, so its amazing they even stick it out to be “the first female fill-in-the-minority tenured at our dept/insitution”) and have trained URM graduate students. I am invested in these people and it sickens me because I think the truth is that this bias exists because reviewers don’t take them seriously. Sometimes their “colleagues” don’t take them seriously. And I don’t know if the NIH takes them seriously. And I think that gets at the root of your comment – if the NIH took this seriously, they would take serious action.


  4. DrugMonkey Says:

    This is a highly charged topic. Over the years of my blogging these are the most seemingly contentious posts that draw surprisingly minimal commentary. It is…expected. I mean ffs even PP is muted on these topics. It is unfortunate but it is reality. People are very wary of misstepping.

    I think you are absolutely correct in your analysis. The reason the NIH is failing to get serious is because they do not believe, in a fundamental way, that the disparate outcome is undeserved. This is why you see the efforts directed at some nebulous other population who will be more deserving in the future. It is in fact a tacit endorsement that the Ginther findings, although real, are *deserved*.


  5. sciencedude Says:

    At what point do you think racial preferences should end, DM? There are already preferences (often mandated) for getting into college, then graduate school, then getting hired into a faculty position. And of course along the way, there are racially exclusive pre- and postdoctoral fellowships. And you want to extend that now to NIH grants? Given that Martin Luther King has been turned into a memorial on the Washington mall and we now have a two term black president, I think the time for all racial preferences is over.

    I assume you would want to award grants preferentially only to black applicants, since other racial groups were awarded R01s at levels comparable to whites. (Actually, Asians also had a significantly lower success rate, but that is never mentioned, probably because the difference is not nearly as stark.) My question is how “black” does one have to be in order to qualify for preferential treatment? Half black? a fourth? an eighth? When I got my 23&me results, I was surprised to learn that I had a tiny chunk on chromosome 2 from sub-Saharan Africa. I don’t know how it got there, but if the NIH started awarding grants based on race, I would not hesitate to take advantage of it. Even if it were not there or it were not real, I am still at liberty to self-identify as African-American. In fact, all Americans are, since Homo sapiens evolved in Africa and spread to the rest of the world from there. It is just a question of how many generations separate an individual from there African ancestors.


  6. […] NIH still doesn’t get anywhere close to a response to the Ginther finding. Peering Through the Flowcell Glass, Darkly Rethinking Sleep Genzyme’s MS drug rejected by FDA: Lemtrada side effects, clinical trials faulted; company plans appeal Genetic Determinism and Probabilism […]


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    Well obviously I think the racial preferences for non African American PIs should end immediately, sciencedude. Wasn’t I clear on that?


  8. drugmonkey Says:

    23andme is tempting, sorely tempting, I will admit. But there is a very simple test. If you say you will “start identifying as” then you aren’t. I’m fine with that standard.


  9. anonymous postdoc Says:

    I said there would be white whine, but little did I expect it to be of the “I am 2% sub-saharan African by SNP analysis so give me a cookie” vintage. Maybe I should have.

    He raises an excellent point. His is exactly the kind of unique perspective on scientific problems we could lose forever if we do not take steps to retain 2% of him in the pipeline.


  10. sciencedude Says:

    AP, actually it was more like 0.1%, but I was hoping you were not going to prorate it. If that is the case, who decides who meets the “black” enough threshold? Jesse Jackson, perhaps? In seriousness, though, it is an interesting question. Is it appearance that matters? If so, then I suppose Obama meets the standard, barely, since it is obvious his African genes have been “white washed.” Or does African-American culture matter more? If so, then Eminem and/or his children should be at the head of the line for an NIH grant.


  11. Juniper Says:

    In the end, problems I’ve faced as an African American are the result of what race other people think I am and what stereotypes other people associate with it. It’s about what skin color, hair type and physiognomy I have and the stereotypes other people associate with these traits as a result of the culture in which we all live. It boils down to two issues: 1) there is nothing scientific about racism and 2) I can’t control how other people treat me.

    Seriously? Do I only get this because I’m biracial? This isn’t rocket science.


  12. Juniper Says:

    P.S. 23andMe tells me that I am the following, in order of concentration: East Asian, African, Western European, South Asian, Native American. I identify as half-black and half-Korean. Most people don’t give a damn about my preference, though, and just tell me I am what they say I am, namely black, because I am dark with an Africanized nose and frizzy ringlets, and there is no consensus on how Asian I look, and everyone knows Asians think blacks are ugly anyway, or whatever. Additionally, it doesn’t matter to them that I am pretty culturally white. And that is how this whole thing works.


  13. […] you know I am distinctly unimpressed with the NIH's response to the Ginther report which identified a disparity in the success rate of […]


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