Friday, August 19, 2011

A terrible puzzle: Black Scientists Less Likely to Win Federal Research Grants

It's no puzzle at all if you look at the facts. Blacks do markedly less well at every level of the educational system. Why should it be otherwise at the top of the tree? And when we account for affirmative action in university admissions and grading, even blacks who do get to the upper levels of the system are going to be less able

A research grant application from a black scientist to the National Institutes of Health is markedly less likely to win approval than one from a white scientist, a new study reported on Thursday.

Even when the researchers made statistical adjustments to ensure they were comparing apples to apples — that is, scientists at similar institutions with similar academic track records — the disparity persisted. A black scientist was one-third less likely than a white counterpart to get a research project financed, the study found.

“It is striking and very disconcerting,” said Donna K. Ginther, a professor of economics at the University of Kansas who led the study. “It was very unexpected to find this big of a gap that couldn’t be explained.”

The findings are being published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

At the N.I.H., which commissioned the study, top officials said they would follow up to figure out the causes of the disparity and take steps to fix it. “This situation is not acceptable,” said Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the N.I.H., a federal medical research agency. “This is not one of those reports that we will look at and then put aside.”

The researchers said they did not know whether the panels that reviewed the grant applications were discriminating against black applicants, whether applications from black researchers were somehow weaker, or whether a combination of factors was at play.

In the study, Dr. Ginther and her colleagues looked at 83,000 grant applications from 2000 to 2006. For every 100 applications submitted by white scientists, 29 were awarded grants. For every 100 applications from black scientists, 16 were financed.

After the apples-to-apples statistical adjustments, the gap narrowed but still existed.

The medical research community has long struggled to recruit more minority scientists. For example, about 2.9 percent of full-time medical school faculty members are black, Dr. Collins said; according to census figures, blacks make up 12.6 percent of the population. But the study now shows that the few blacks who do enter research are not on an even playing field.

“It indicates to us that we have not only failed to recruit the best and brightest minds from all of the groups that need to come and join us,” Dr. Collins said, “but for those who have come and joined us, there is an inequity in their ability to achieve funding from the N.I.H.”

Members of other races and ethnic groups, including Hispanics, do not appear to run into the same difficulties. Asians were somewhat less successful, but the gap disappeared when foreign-born scientists — who may have difficulty with English in writing successful grants — were excluded.

Earlier studies have found that women have largely the same level of success as men in obtaining N.I.H. grants.

The grant applications are reviewed in a two-step process. In the first, an application is assigned to a committee consisting of 10 to 40 people, largely drawn from researchers outside the N.I.H. For each application, three committee members review it in detail and assign a tentative score, and then the full committee discusses the top 50 percent of the applications before assigning a final numerical score to each.

The study found that once final numerical scores were assigned, the second review treated scientists of all groups equally based on the scores.

On the grant applications, researchers are asked to identify their race and ethnicity, but that information is not passed along to the review committees. Still, because the applications are not judged anonymously, the reviewers may know the applicant, and often race is not difficult to infer from the name or academic details. For example, a person who attended a historically black university is likely to be black.

Dr. Otis W. Brawley, who is the chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society and is black, said the cause was not overt racism. “It’s not that they’re out to deny blacks funding,” said Dr. Brawley, who worked as an administrator at the National Cancer Institute, part of the N.I.H., in the 1990s.

Rather, it is more likely an unconscious bias, he said, with the reviewers more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to someone they are familiar with, and with black researchers tending to keep a low profile in the scientific world.

Dr. Collins agreed. “Even today, in 2011, in our society, there is still an unconscious, insidious form of bias that subtly influences people’s opinions,” he said. “I think that may be very disturbing for people in the scientific community to contemplate, but I think we have to take that as one of the possibilities and investigate it and see if that is in fact still happening.”


11 Most Egregious Examples of Academic Dishonesty

Online colleges still lack acceptance among many people so the article from one of their organizations below shows that traditional colleges have their weaknesses too

Academic dishonesty is a serious concern on college campuses and secondary schools around the U.S., as it seriously undermines the entire purpose of education. Not only does it reflect poorly on students, but the institutions to which they are enrolled as well. While cheating and lying in the classroom is nothing new, in recent years the lengths to which many college kids (and their teachers) are willing to go has shocked and surprised many. This often leads to a call for stricter penalties levied on those violating academic honor codes.

No matter where you stand on cheating or how you feel it should be combated in a school setting, there is no doubt that these cases we’ve collected here are some of the most outrageous examples in recent history. We’d like to hope these eventually mark a turning point in student behavior, but as education becomes even more competitive and expensive, cheating isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.

Southern University Grade Changing

This Baton Rouge college was rocked by a huge academic dishonesty scandal in 2003, when it was revealed that 541 grades had been purposefully changed. Students, both former and current, had been paying a registrar’s office worker for the past eight years to surreptitiously alter their transcripts. Estimates posit over 2,500 individual scores ended up affected. After the revelations, 10 guilty parties had their degrees from the school revoked, 27 more lost credits and the worker who helped them change their grades could be facing up to 10 years in jail. What tipped school officials off? One of the cheating students tried applying to a graduate program there with credentials stating she had previously attended as an undergrad– a degree for which there were no records.

United States Naval Academy Exam Copying

While you’d think all that structure and discipline would deter students from cheating, even military academies aren’t immune from such scandals. In spring of 1994, it was discovered that 134 USNA seniors were involved in a cheating ring. A student obtained a copy of an electrical engineering exam and distributed it to his classmates — for a cost, of course. Others were caught bringing formulas and other information into the exam room. After a two-year investigation, 26 students were expelled and 62 more were found guilty of honor violations and given other, lesser punishments. The matter is still under dispute, however, as many feel the school played favorites and unfairly punished those who came clean, while letting students who lied about their involvement off.

University of Virginia Physics Cheating

Thomas Jefferson would be ashamed to have these students attending the school he founded, especially since the enrolled are bound to a strict honor code barring cheating, stealing and lying. Unfortunately, over 122 students couldn’t stick to it, and in 2001 were discovered cheating on an introductory physics class’ term papers. A student in the course alerted the professor to the issue (though only because he was bitter about his grade being lower) and subsequent investigation of the past few years’ papers revealed 60 as exact duplicates. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only cheating scandal to affect the school, as it was also discovered that over 30 economic graduate students had shared an answer key for a summer course.

Indiana University Dental School Cheating

Nearly half the second-years at IU SChool of Dentistry, a whopping 46, were involved in a cheating scandal in 2007. Either a student or a group of students gained access to protected files via a university computer and got a sneak peak at the exam, which was then shared with others in the class. Another enrollee, presumably appalled by the cheating, tipped off the professor. As punishment for cheating, several were expelled, others were suspended and the rest received letters of reprimand. Nearly all students were reinstated to the school or received lesser punishments after appealing their case.

Los Angeles Charter Schools Cheating Scandal

Six Los Angeles area charter schools were almost shut down for their involvement in a 2010 cheating scandal. The founder, John Allen, has been accused of ordering principals to break the seal on state standardized tests so that students could be quizzed on actual test questions before the formal examinations — ostensibly raising their scores considerably. The governing board of the charter schools suspended Allen and the principals who participated, but declined to fire any of them until an L.A. Times article publicly exposed the scandal. It was this decision that prompted the board to allow the schools to stay open, much to the relief of many LA parents and students.

Atlanta Teachers Change Test Answers

This cheating scandal shocked the education community, as it is the largest one involving American teachers and principals to date. Over 178 education professionals in the Atlanta Public School district are accused of changing student answers on standardized tests to help raise their scores. Additionally, it is alleged that the schools punished whistle-blowers and worked to hide any wrongdoing over the past few years. The scandal has tarnished the reputation of Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named Superintendent of the Year in 2009 largely because of the improved testing scores now believed invalid. Sadly, the school is part of a growing trend, as teachers and administrators struggle to raise test scores and get additional school funding and support. Programs relying too heavily on test scores as an indicator of success frequently leave them feeling as if they have little choice.

Duke School of Business Students Lack Ethics

Apparently shady business dealings don’t just happen in back alleys and board rooms, but classrooms as well. In 2007, Duke discovered that 34 first-year MBA students were cheating on an open-book, take-home exam (the students decided to work on it collectively rather than individually, as was required by the course). The professor noted the similarities in test answers and similar inconsistencies earlier in the year, eventually uncovering the cheating. Nine students were expelled, another 15 were suspended and nine others failed the course. These students aren’t alone, however, as 56% of business school enrollees admitted to cheating one or more times in the past academic year — a troubling stat for any MBA program out there.

Revere High School Honors Cheating

Think the smartest kids in school don’t cheat? Think again. Those highly competitive students often feel even more driven to dishonesty, and that’s just what happened in a Massachusetts high school physics class. Students took pictures of the exam with a cell phone prior to the scheduled date, which were then forwarded to others in the class along with an answer key. About the only thing it helped was creating a disproportionate amount of good grades and assurance that the cheaters all made similar errors. The issue was discovered by an online grading system, and it was later revealed that the majority of the guilty were in the top 10% of their class. Of the 320 students who took the exam, 60 were found to have cheated. The guilty got a zero on the exam and will be barred from participating in any academic honors events during their senior year.

West Virginia University Fake Degree Scandal

Sometimes cheating goes beyond copying test answers and changing grades. That was the case with this 2008 scandal at WVU. The school’s dean and provost awarded a degree to the West Virginia governor’s daughter — apparently without checking (or caring) to see if she actually earned the requisite credits. Heather Bresch, then the COO of Mylan, Inc., was 22 credits shy of the required course hours for the MBA she was awarded. When a local paper called to verify the degree with the school and were told she never graduated, a massive cover-up ensued, with falsification of records and misleading public statements regarding her qualifications. The provost resigned due to his role in the scandal, and has since apologized for putting WVU in a negative light.

University of Minnesota Paper Writing for Athletes

This scandal wasn’t the first time student athletes and athletic departments have been accused of cheating, and it more than likely won’t be the last. The 1999 University of Minnesota basketball season was brought to a halt by the revelation that an academic counseling office manager wrote over 400 papers for 20 different students during the past six years. The incident grew even worse when three other tutors also revealed they had been coerced or pressured into writing papers for basketball players as well. Coach Clem Haskins originally denied the claims, stating he has no knowledge or involvement, but it was later discovered that he paid over $3,000 for the paper writing services. He resigned in the wake of the scandal (and additional revelations that he had committed mail fraud, covered up sexual harassment and put pressure on professors to inflate grades), and the players accused of using paper-writing services were suspended.

University of Central Florida Exam Cheating

Professor Richard Quinn knew something wasn’t right in his strategic management course after students’ test scores were a grade and a half higher than they had ever been before. His suspicions were confirmed when a student anonymously tipped him off. The cheating came as a surprise to many in the class as well as the professor, as the exam room was equipped with anti-cheating cameras — the type found in casinos, even — to help stop just this kind of thing. Apparently, students had gotten a hold of an answer key and circulated it quite widely before the exam. Professor Quinn was furious with students and told them via a videotaped lecture that the guilty could complete the course only if they confessed and took an ethics course. All others would face the consequences from the university, possibly including expulsion. Even worse for the honest members of the class, all were required to retake the midterm exam — even if no evidence against them had been found — as incentive for the cheaters to come forward. All in all, nearly 200 students — a full one third, in fact — were found to have cheated. Many claim they weren’t being dishonest at all and merely thought they were using legitimate study materials to prepare.


Record race for British university places ahead of £9,000 tuition fees means even pupils with new elite grades miss out

Hundreds of teenagers with straight A* grades were left without a university to go to last night in an unprecedented scramble for places. Despite picking up the elite A-level grade – introduced last year as a new ‘gold standard’ – they face a desperate battle through the clearing system. Only 40,000 places are available with 220,000 youngsters chasing them.

One star pupil from a leading private school learnt yesterday that she had achieved three straight A* grades yet has been rejected by the English departments of five universities. Four thousand students with straight As also had no offers. Unless they secure one through clearing, they face going to university next year when annual tuition fees treble to a maximum of £9,000.

One academic said the competition for places was the ‘fiercest in living memory’.Most of the leading universities did not even enter the clearing system, which allocates last-minute places.

Places are available only in lower-ranked institutions and in less sought-after disciplines such as computing, business studies and biological science. The scramble for places came as:

* Universities minister David Willetts claimed it would be ‘cheaper’ to start courses in 2012;

* Boys closed the gender gap with girls, getting the same number of top grades for the first time;

* Pass rates rose for the 29th consecutive year, with one in four awarded an A;

* Maths and science enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Maths entries have risen 40 per cent over five years;

* Exam boards were braced for a record number of complaints following marking blunders.

The shortage of places was caused by 682,367 candidates applying for 350,000 places. Around 100,000 of these candidates will have now decided not to go to university, to take a gap year or to study abroad.

This leaves an estimated 220,000 hopefuls – including mature and foreign students and students who failed to get in last year – chasing the 40,000 places. Among them are 62,500 candidates who got their results yesterday and either had not been offered a spot or missed their grades.

It is estimated around 50,000 in clearing had grades equivalent to BBB or above. Although 10,000 extra places were made available, there were 40,000 more applicants than usual, probably because of the fees hike.

The rush saw the University and College Admissions Service website close down for much of yesterday morning as those who had missed their grades tried to secure offers. It failed to cope with a fourfold increase in the number of visits and normal service was not resumed until midday.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, claimed the system was in chaos. ‘It always happens when the pressure on the system is greatest, the cracks begin to show,’ he said. ‘Not only have the students been in the fiercest competition for places in living memory, but the support system for those who have missed out on their grades hasn’t worked properly.

‘Ucas normally does these things very smoothly, but today, of all days, it hasn’t been able to cope. It’s the worst chaos in university admissions history.’

Those students forced to start university in 2012 will graduate with debts of around £57,000, compared with £29,000 for those starting their studies now.

Those who fail to get into university must now decide whether to reapply for next year or look for work.

Exam boards, some of which have had to admit over the summer that they set impossible questions and made errors in papers, are expecting a record number of complaints as desperate students seek to raise their grades.

One board, OCR, has, for the first time, put all papers affected by errors on a website so pupils can see the examiner’s markings. Defending the chaos, Mr Willetts said: ‘What we’ve tried to do, as our bit to easing the stress, is we have delivered again the 10,000 extra places we delivered last year, so there will be once again a record number of places at universities for young people.’

But TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Because of the rush to avoid next year’s fees hike, and the Government’s refusal to fund extra university places, record numbers of students will lose out on higher education altogether.’


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