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NIH spends $136 million in taxpayer funds on racism and medicine studies


ANALYSIS: National Institutes of Health continues to pour money into research that suggests racism is behind healthcare problems.

A study on black drinkers and “microaggressions” is just one of the 267 research projects from the National Institutes of Health focusing on racism and medicine.

In total, the taxpayer-funded entity has spent $136 million on racism-focused studies so far during the 2024 fiscal year, according to a College Fix analysis.

Some focus on race and racial disparities from an observational standpoint, such as research from the University of Colorado Denver which looked into the relationship between “food insecurity and cardiometabolic health in diverse children and adolescents.”

But others were more upfront about their belief that racism drives healthcare disparities, such as a Louisiana State University study titled “Black Hazardous Drinkers: Ecological Momentary Assessment of Racial/Ethnic Microaggressions.”

Its abstract states the goal of the research is “to elucidate the role of MAs [microaggressions] in hazardous drinking and alcohol use motivation among Black individuals.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism granted $176,740 to the project in fiscal year 2024.

The researchers did not respond to two emailed requests for comment on the study, sent by The Fix in the past month. The Fix asked for clarification on the role of systemic racism and the study’s potential application to other minority groups

The NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences provided $10,140,000 to the University of Michigan. The money went to the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research. The goal, according to the abstract, includes “achiev[ing] greater innovation, diversity, efficiency, equity, quality, inclusion, and reach.”

A spokesperson for Michigan Medicine said the money will be used for “the advancement of research to improve the lives of humankind.”

Mary Masson told The Fix the goal of the “translational science research” project is “to provide health solutions to all people more quickly.”

The National Institutes of Health did not respond to two emailed requests for comment sent in the past month.

Another study from Columbia University looks at “Epigenomic Pathways from Racism to Preterm Birth.”

The study will “examine the multilevel (the interaction of individual and structural) racism… to determine if racism explains the excess [preterm birth] observed in [non-Hispanic] Black and Hispanic women.”

Lead researcher Veronica Barcelona initially expressed interest in offering a comment based on the condition that a number of her own questions were first answered. After a response was provided, however, Chisimdi Onwuteaka, a university spokesperson, declined on Barcelona’s behalf to comment, citing scheduling conflicts.

The Fix also reached out multiple times via email to researchers for two other projects but did not receive a response.

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Taxpayer funds totaling nearly $400,000 went to the study.

But the former associate dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school and a trained nephrologist criticized both the preterm birth study and the NIH’s spending in general.

“In that [preterm birth] study, a standard genetic screening approach is used to give the patina of a high level of scientific sophistication,” Dr. Stanley Goldfarb wrote in a media statement to The Fix. He is the chairman of Do No Harm, an advocacy group seeking to stop wokeness in medicine.

“However, the study has obvious flaws by simply looking at its abstract. The definition of racism that is used includes such factors as the ‘political status of immigration,’” he said. “To call this racism is simply to create a concept that cannot possibly be measured nor can it reliably relate to a black woman’s experience.

Goldfarb also questioned how the researchers could “relate the timing of any particular so-called discriminatory event to the effect on preterm delivery.”

“Associations may be found between changes to chemical modification of some genes, but their value as true markers of disease risk cannot possibly be determined,” he said. “This is a good example of a study that will waste taxpayers’ money as it will yield uninterpretable results.”

He criticized the “politicized” NIH for attempting to connect “social issues” to “disease outcomes.”

“To call evidence flimsy for these assertions gives it a standing that it does not deserve,” he said.

However, there has been a relative decrease in racism and healthcare studies since fiscal year 2022, when The Fix conducted a similar analysis. While there are still three months left in the fiscal year, the difference is more than 50 percent compared to fiscal year 2022.

The amount of money granted declined from $297,282,984 to $136,792,362, and the number of projects from 437 to 267.

Dr. Goldfarb said that the higher 2022 numbers are a result of the response to the death of George Floyd.

“After… George Floyd’s death, there was an outpouring of racialism in medicine,” he said. “This apparently led a number of investigators to decide to look at healthcare disparities simply because the political environment favored a greater likelihood of getting such studies funded.”

He also called for the NIH to shift its focus from “political activities” back to “purely” medicine.

“The NIH… runs the risk of frittering away [its] wonderful accomplishments as it diverts funds to favor political activities and politicized agendas,” he said.

“It must return to [its]… roots as a purely scientific organization studying the most difficult biomedical problems.”

Editor’s note: The article has been updated with other information on parties contacted.

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Maria Thomas is a student at Indiana University double-majoring in marketing and public policy analysis. On campus, she is president of the Thomistic Institute and co-president of Students for Life. She also contributes to The Collegiate Commons.