In popular view, the scientists is a white, skinny male, clothed in a white lab coat, wearing glasses. Of course, in reality it’s not always the case, but there’s no question that a certain gender, race and social upbringing dominates positions in science. Are females and minorities discriminated or is the lack of a balanced proportion more likely due to the present effects of historical discrimination? After all, there is a lot of catching up to do.

A study published in February 2014 in the Journal of Career Development makes an analysis of work experiences of minority researchers in the social sciences. Data from people of colour was collected who attended a workshop on the topic of career barriers. Some 72 percent of participants reported encountering workplace barriers due to their race or ethnicity. Personal reporting is often times subjective, however. In another study, published in 2011,  Donna K. Ginthner and colleagues looked at the grants served by the National Institute of Health (NIH), one of the prime funding agencies in science.

The study looked at how the grants were awarded to some of the 83,000 candidate scientists. According to the study, blacks are 13% less likely than equally-qualified white candidates to receive funding that is initiated by an NIH investigator. The NIH itself acknowledged the findings and the present state of affairs and consequently launched a $500 million, 10-year program to support young minorities in science. It is also considering changing its review process to review grant proposals anonymously to prevent this issue in the future.

Jiansheng Yang of Virginia Tech published a study in 2013 that contradicts the premise of a discrimination against scientists of colour. The work of 40 black faculty members and 80 white faculty members at U.S. medical schools was analyzed, each contributor being assessed  based on the number of publications they wrote, their role on each paper, and the prominence of the journals in which they published. The study concluded that overall black researchers were less productive than their white colleagues.

The researchers then reviewed the work of 11 of those black researchers and 11 of those white researchers who had received NIH funding. When they compared blacks and whites who had the same level of productivity, they found that people of both races received the same level of NIH funding. The reasoning was that, in light of all this, there wasn’t any bias against black researchers and that the discrepancy is performance based.

Ginther argued, however, that Yang’s study was carried out with far fewer participants than it needed to become statistically relevant. Also, many aspects studied by Ginther weren’t found in Yang’s work, which looked at  how much funding they received, instead of whether they had a chance of receiving funding in the first place.

ZME scientist readers, what’s your take? Is there a bias against minorities and gender? Please start a discussion in the comment section below this post. Your view is important.

[via decoded science]

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