NIH peer review: Criterion scores completely account for racial disparities in overall impact scores

Sci Adv. 2020 Jun 3;6(23):eaaz4868. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz4868. eCollection 2020 Jun.


Previous research has found that funding disparities are driven by applications' final impact scores and that only a portion of the black/white funding gap can be explained by bibliometrics and topic choice. Using National Institutes of Health R01 applications for council years 2014-2016, we examine assigned reviewers' preliminary overall impact and criterion scores to evaluate whether racial disparities in impact scores can be explained by application and applicant characteristics. We hypothesize that differences in commensuration-the process of combining criterion scores into overall impact scores-disadvantage black applicants. Using multilevel models and matching on key variables including career stage, gender, and area of science, we find little evidence for racial disparities emerging in the process of combining preliminary criterion scores into preliminary overall impact scores. Instead, preliminary criterion scores fully account for racial disparities-yet do not explain all of the variability-in preliminary overall impact scores.