Funding mechanisms risk promoting conscious bias

Funding processes seem to us to be rewarding only particular types of scientist. This is leading to discriminatory practices in the very institutions that encourage scientists to overcome their implicit biases when making decisions and assessments.

Drawing examples from biomedicine, UK funding initiatives are increasingly calling for applications from investigators who feel they are potentially future leaders who can make a leap, tackle a grand challenge, be transformative and advance a unique, game-changing strategic vision. Such wording risks discouraging more-modest scientists and those patiently pursuing slowly unfolding advances.

Interviews that are designed to seek out such ‘winning’ qualities could select against those scientists who might be unnerved by a daunting committee. By extension, academic institutions must recruit scientists who fit these norms if they are to succeed in today’s competitive funding climate.

Efforts to promote diversity in science will fail if the exemplar of a successful scientist is so narrowly defined. We need more-inclusive hallmarks of performance, as well as equality legislation and training.

Nature 562, 192 (2018)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-06979-w


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