Field of Science

Bad News for Science Funding

NIH expects to have to cut the percentage of grant applications that are funded from 20% to a historic low of 10%. Let's point of for the moment that 20% was not very high, but 10% is rough. The expected outcome is that some labs will close, and those that don't will have to do less research, if for no other reason than that they will spend more time writing grants and less time doing real work (guess who pays the researcher's salaries while they write grants: NIH. So this also means that less of the money in the remaining grants will go to actual research).

The reason for the expected cutback is the Republican vow to cut discretionary civilian spending to 2008 levels. I understand living within one's means. I have a fairly frugal household (in graduate school, my wife attended a university-sponsored seminar on how to manage on a graduate student budget, only to discover that the recommended "austerity" budget was considerably more lavish than ours; we promptly started eating out more). But focusing on discretionary spending seems like someone $100,000 in debt clipping coupons: it's maybe good PR but as a solution to the problem, it's hopeless. This graph says it all:

Go ahead and cut all discretionary spending: you get a 16% reduction in the budget (which is in the neighborhood of our current deficit) at considerable cost. So maybe the coupon example isn't the right one. This is someone who, with a $100,000 debt, lets his teeth rot in his mouth because he's saving money on toothpaste.


The Lorax said...

Well the republicans only control one house of Congress and do not control the executive branch, so really they cannot make such blanket mandates and expect to be followed. I mean the democrats still....shit, nevermind. We're fucked.

I do think its amusing that you state that some labs will close. Labs are already closing! Other labs are cutting back significantly, which means more people are unemployed.

Of course we're just elitist socialists. I mean companies are coming out with new drugs and treatments all the time without NIH! Need to get an erection or lose weight or sedate yourself or your kid, big pharma is right there for you.

Bob Carpenter said...

I love the spending pie chart to quickly understand the flex in the U.S. federal budget.

I'm guessing that part of the problem with lower acceptance is that there are ever more large-scale center grants sucking up the money. A drop from 20% funded to 10% funded without any other change would mean cutting the budget in half, which is hardly the 2008 level.

Historically, 2008 looks like a great level of funding:

Especially after the huge increases in NIH budget under Bush II.

For instance, from the 2000 to 2008 budgets, NIH went from 21 billion to 29 billion (in constant FY 2008 dollars), while total non-defense research spending across all agencies went from 49.5 to 61 billion.

This and other stats at:

GamesWithWords said...

@Bob - where does it say that the chart is in FY 2008 dollars?

I agree that increase in the costs of projects is no doubt an issue, but also I suspect there has been a considerable increase in the number of laboratories.

It's also interesting to note that almost all the increases under Bush II were in 2002 and 2003, after which it was stagnant. If I remember correctly, a lot of that was bioterrorism money, which didn't necessarily trickle down to the rest of us.