Gender bias goes away when grant reviewers focus on the science

Giorgia Guglielmi in Nature:

10LegalTrendsWomen lose out when reviewers are asked to assess the researcher, rather than the research, on a grant application, according to a study on gender bias. Training reviewers to recognize unconscious biases seems to correct this imbalance, despite previous work suggesting that it increased bias instead.

The findings were posted last month on the bioRxiv1 preprint server and are currently in review at a journal. They came out of a 2014 decision by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to phase out conventional grant programmes, in which reviewers evaluated both the science and the investigator. Instead, the CIHR started one programme that focused its evaluation on the applicants and another that focused mostly on their research. This created a natural experiment that allowed scientists to analyse the outcome of nearly 24,000 grant applications and to test whether funding differences were due to the quality of the applicants’ research or to biased assessments of their gender.

Past studies have looked at gender inequalities in grant funding, but most examined grant programmes that didn't separate their application pool like the CIHR programmes. Some also didn’t consider other factors, such as whether research fields had different ratios of male to female scientists2. The new analysis, which took into account applicants’ research areas and age — a proxy for career stage — allowed the study authors to draw “more robust conclusions”, says Holly Witteman, a health-informatics researcher at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, who led the study.

More here.