Probably the most respectable thing about science is that it involves only numbers and facts. Unlike the real world, where prejudices, money and emotions arise and muck things up, science is devoted only to the truth that can be gleaned from the good old-fashioned scientific method. The only problem is that the scientists conducting the experiments are human, and all humans have their own sets of flaws and prejudices. With that in mind, it’s kind of not surprising that one of the most important scientific bodies was recently shown to have some racist tendencies.
According to a new study published in Science magazine, the National Institutes of Health, a government agency and world-renowned research body, gives Black scientists far fewer grants than it gives white scientists. The study was conducted by Grinnell College president Raynard Kingston, who had suspected that there was a bias in grant-giving since his time as deputy director of the NIH. It turned out that Kingston was right. According to his figures, white researchers were able to obtain grants a quarter of the time while Black researchers got them only 15 percent of the time, a full 10 percent less.
Kingston calls this the “grant gap,” and he says it’s troubling, though not necessarily overtly racist. “We can't rule it out,” he told NPR, “but that's not what we think is happening. I think the more compelling case is that it is unconscious in various ways." He added, “Scientists are human; scientists have the biases of society in many ways, in spite of their scientific training.”
This grant disparity obviously needs to change, but that it exists is an excellent learning opportunity for people: Human prejudices, though we often don’t recognize it, worm their way into even the most clinical of settings. Would it be amazing to live in a world in which everyone wasn’t inherently biased? Certainly. But until we reach that fantasyland, it’s good for everyone to recognize that not only are others a bit biased, but they themselves are, too. That realization would help us all interact in a much, much healthier way.