Susan Rice Empowered to Hold NIH Director Collins to Account on the Funding Discrimination

January 20, 2021

On his first day in office President Biden signed an Executive Order described thusly by the NYT. I am having difficulty finding a link to the exact text right now. [Edited to Add: The Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.]

“The president designated Susan E. Rice, who is the head of his Domestic Policy Council, as the leader of a “robust, interagency” effort requiring all federal agencies to make “rooting out systemic racism” central to their work. His order directs the agencies to review and report on equity in their ranks within 200 days, including a plan on how to remove barriers to opportunities in policies and programs. The order also moves to ensure that Americans of all backgrounds have equal access to federal government resources, benefits and services. It starts a data working group as well as the study of new methods to measure and assess federal equity and diversity efforts.”

Well, the NIH doesn’t have to take 200 days to “review and report”. They’ve already done so in

Ginther, D.K., Schaffer, W.T., Schnell, J., Masimore, B., Liu, F., Haak, L.L., Kington, R., 2011. Race, ethnicity, and NIH research awards. Science 333(6045), 1015-1019.


Hoppe, T.A., Litovitz, A., Willis, K.A., Meseroll, R.A., Perkins, M.J., Hutchins, B.I., Davis, A.F., Lauer, M.S., Valantine, H.A., Anderson, J.M., Santangelo, G.M., 2019. Topic choice contributes to the lower rate of NIH awards to African-American/black scientists. Sci Adv 5(10), eaaw7238.

So we can skip the 200 days worth of can kicking, Dr. Collins, and move straight to the fixing part. The “ensure” part. The “equal access” part.

This means funding research on topics that are important to Americans of all backgrounds, including African-American ones. Equally. This means pumping up the budget of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). It also means holding the other ICs responsible for taking on their share of these projects and not just shrugging them off into NIMHD.

It means funding not just white American science teams that work on these topics but funding teams of African-American investigators. Equally.

It also means not just funding African-American professors to work on topics of relevance to the health interests of African-Americans but rather equalizing the funding chances of African-American PIs who choose to work on any topic at all.

It’s time to go big. Forces within the NIH who have been trying to do good on this should feel empowered to shout down the nay sayers and to hold the foot draggers to account.

Forces outside the NIH who have been trying to do good on this should likewise feel empowered to hold Susan Rice, their Senators and Congress Reps to account.

4 Responses to “Susan Rice Empowered to Hold NIH Director Collins to Account on the Funding Discrimination”

  1. bacillus Says:

    Hi DM:
    Not sure how diversity efforts play out in the US, but here to the North, we only have to meet a goal of having an appropriate number of minorities (per their overall % of the national population). This usually means that we get most of our “quota” from India and China, with Blacks, and Aboriginals way behind the rest of the pack. You also have a very large Latino population to add to the pool of underrepresented minorities. The problem is that some minorities are not underrepresented, but counting them in the statistics skews the results in favour of government agendas. It seems that the quickest way to address the minorities within minorities issue would be to specifically focus on the underrepresented component of this diverse group of individuals.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    In the context of NIH there is a very clear list of who counts and who does not for these sorts of purposes. I have spent far too much time in my life being patient with those who want to re-litigate and yeah-butt and all-browns-matter this. We can walk and chew gum.

    When it comes to the grant award disparity at the NIH the focus has been specifically on those who identify as African-American / Black because those are the PIs who suffer a funding disparity. There is no need to tolerate blurring this up in yet another attempt not to fix the problem. In a more general sense, yeah, we should be able to pursue *all* equity / opportunity goals. I also believe that to the extent we pursue structural reform, as opposed to band-aid solutions*, we will pursue equity for all.
    *the band-aid is still very much needed, it just isn’t enough.


  3. bacillus Says:

    You only have to attend any scientific conference of >100 people for a direct visual of the problem. Far more informative than any graph. I’ve met NIH POs and SROs at many of these meetings, so they can’t claim ignorance of the facts. I worked at a govt lab and a university in the UK for the first 8 years of my career, during which time I didn’t see a single black employee among any of the staff (not even the janitors:)). To be fair, these places were mighty whitey (me included) with very few Asian staff either. I left for the US in 1990, to a very small facility in Upstate New York which had way more diversity than anything I’d seen in the UK, including one visiting black scientist from Nigeria. In 1997 I moved to a government lab in Canada where you could count the number of black scientific and technical staff on the fingers of one hand even if 3 of them had been amputated. Today, you’d just about need those extra 3 fingers. Early on, I was asked to trial a recruitment drive for Native Canadians. I was bowled over, when a blue-eyed, blond showed up. Turned out you only had to be 1/16 native to qualify. I did one colour-blind hiring (all phone interviews) and offered to position sight unseen to a candidate living in the UK. She turned out to be Jamaican, and black, and great. We often host local university students, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see a significant number of very smart young black people in attendance. I’d be more optimistic about this translating into a more diverse workforce where I am, but most of the students of all stripes want to go to med school. When I attended university in 1978, it was mostly white middle / professional class kids who went to Med School, but most of the paramedical courses (micro, genetics, biochem) were filled with white blue collar first in the family university goers. We were known as failed medics, despite many of us having the necessary educational qualifications to get into med school. All of this just to ask you whether you think that first in family black university students are choosing more lucrative careers than biomedical sciences or are the disparities equally obvious in medicine, law, finance etc? I get the impression that even among the white middle / professional class, a career in biomedicine is considered a waste of time given the poor ROI. In this regard, I’d be hard pressed to recall any colleague over the past 35 years whose kids have followed in their footsteps. Sorry if I’m starting to sound like a white apologist, but I’d be the first to admit to having been part of the army of the white privileged, even coming from a poor raggedy-arsed white family. I’m rather late to the debate, and have nothing tangible to offer, but having read my Engels and Tressell, I see a lot in common between the 19th century English working class, and their black counterparts in the USA. Although the former still face discrimination they’ve made much greater progress than the latter, and I’m interested as to why this is the case.


  4. drugmonkey Says:

    All of this just to ask you whether you think that first in family black university students are choosing more lucrative careers than biomedical sciences or are the disparities equally obvious in medicine, law, finance etc?

    My thoughts on this are entirely uninformed by any actual data so it is just speculation. I agree that it seems truthy and likely that those of less academic background, and those of lesser family wealth, may be likelier to seek professions where the compensation is higher, more immediate and of more certain attainment.


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