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

  1. Michael S Lauer  Is a corresponding author
  2. Jamie Doyle
  3. Joy Wang
  4. Deepshikha Roychowdhury
  1. National Institutes of Health, United States
  2. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2021;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 2011-2015. 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.

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The authors have provided the de-identified data frame (in .RData format) along with three R markdown files that will make it possible for interested readers to reproduce the main paper and the two appendices (including all tables, figures, and numbers in the text).

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Author details

  1. Michael S Lauer

    Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-9217-8177
  2. Jamie Doyle

    Division of Clinical Innovation, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, Bethesda, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Joy Wang

    Office of Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Deepshikha Roychowdhury

    Office of Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


The authors conducted this work as part of their official US government duties.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Cliff J Rosen, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: February 3, 2021
  2. Accepted: April 8, 2021
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: April 13, 2021 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: April 30, 2021 (version 2)


This is an open-access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.


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