Associations of topic-specific peer review outcomes and institute and center award rates with funding disparities at the National Institutes of Health

Elife. 2021 Apr 13:10:e67173. doi: 10.7554/eLife.67173.


A previous report found an association of topic choice with race-based funding disparities among R01 applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health ('NIH') between 2011 and 2015. Applications submitted by African American or Black ('AAB') Principal Investigators ('PIs') skewed toward a small number of topics that were less likely to be funded (or 'awarded'). It was suggested that lower award rates may be related to topic-related biases of peer reviewers. However, the report did not account for differential funding ecologies among NIH Institutes and Centers ('ICs'). In a re-analysis, we find that 10% of 148 topics account for 50% of applications submitted by AAB PIs. These applications on 'AAB Preferred' topics were funded at lower rates, but peer review outcomes were similar. The lower rate of funding for these topics was primarily due to their assignment to ICs with lower award rates, not to peer-reviewer preferences.

Keywords: computational biology; disparities; funding; government; none; peer review; policy; systems biology.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / economics*
  • Biomedical Research / trends
  • Black or African American*
  • Humans
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.) / economics*
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.) / trends
  • Peer Review, Research* / trends
  • Race Factors
  • Racism / economics
  • Research Personnel / economics*
  • Research Personnel / trends
  • Research Support as Topic / economics*
  • Research Support as Topic / trends
  • United States

Grants and funding

No external funding was received for this work.