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National Science Foundation's research funding shows racial disparity

Alex Reynolds/NPR

A study found a major research funder in the U.S. has disproportionately paid for research from white investigators over other races for the past two decades from 1999 to 2019.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards 20% to 30% of proposal submissions every year.

Research published in eLife found white investigators consistently received more (+8.9%) than the overall average. Asians (-21.2%) and Pacific Islanders (-11.3%) received the least compared to the relative annual rate.


University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa associate professor of oceanography Rosie Alegado co-authored the research. She said, "It was shocking, nonetheless, to see the magnitude of the disparity in terms of the funding rate and just to have it so plainly shown that there is this systemic, year-after-year difference."

Over 70% of NSF's awards from 2013 to 2019 were given to research. The remainder went to non-research programs including community outreach, education and conferences.

Research proposals showed greater racial disparity compared to non-research proposals. While funding rates increased gradually for white investigators, nearly every other group's research proposals were funded at lower rates compared to non-research.

Research proposals by white investigators were funded nearly twice as much than those by Black investigators. Only 46% to 63% of awards to Black investigators were for research.


Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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