Disappointing science funding

Many of us in the scientific research community are hoping that with the Democrats in charge of the U.S. Congress, we might see some of the recent budget cuts to science being restored. Alas, that doesn't look likely. The new Senate proposal for the NIH offers only a 2.8% increase, which is less than inflation and therefore represents a slight cut in real dollars. At least it is better than the Bush administration's proposal, which calls for a $279 million cut in the NIH budget. The House's proposal calls for an increase, but less than the Senate, and the likely result will be somewhere in between. NSF is doing much better - after years of basically flat budgets, it seems that Congress is going to give it a 10% boost, which is a real increase. The Bush administration supports the increase to NSF - surprisingly (to me).
More fundamentally, though, I am continually dismayed by the anti-intellectual, and often anti-science, attitude of many politicians, especially those on the right. They attack science whenever it seems to conflict with their political or religious agendas, most notably on global warming and stem cell research. As a result we have a U.S. population that is stunningly ignorant of basic scientific principles, with a majority still believing in such ridiculous things as the creationist myth that all living things were magically created a few thousand years ago.
I hope this changes, but I don't see it happening soon. I'm pleased that some in Congress and even in the Bush administration want to increase certain areas of science funding (NSF, at least). I hope the public will once again see science as offering cures for disease and the means to a better life, as I think they did in the past. Or is that just my rosy view of society in an era before I was born?


  1. The Bush administration supports the increase to NSF - surprisingly (to me).

    You know that Bush came into office, threw a series of huge increases at NIH and offered what was at least a good-faith compromise on stem cell funding, and got nothing but grief from the biomedical research community in return, right?

  2. A minor factual correction to the preceding comment: the 5-year doubling of the NIH budget actually started in 1999, before Bush took office. Here was the quickest link I could find listing the per-year increases (although it doesn't include the final year's budget):

    NIH Budget in the 107th COngress

    So 3 of the 5 years of increase were done before Bush submitted his first budget. I would argue that it's rather different to continue a well-established, widely-supported, ongoing series of increases, than to initiate it.

  3. Hey Steve,

    You've been tagged. It is sort of a silly custom, I suppose, but it is blogger tradition to pass the tag along.

  4. Just have to amplify harris's comment: the doubling of the NIH budget - which is not what I was writing about - was a Senate initiative started in the Clinton administration, under a Republican Senate. Bush had nothing to do with it.

    The point of my blog entry is that our huge budget deficits - and huge costs going into Iraq - are having a very real, and negative, effect on scientific research. Most people don't see the connection because research takes years to come to fruition, but these wasted funds mean that we will miss out on valuable biomedical and scientific advances in years to come.

  5. There was a recent article in the WSJ (no citation) describing how the NIH budget doubling triggered the creation of a large number of life sciences research institutes. All of them have the same business model: provide insitutional 'venture capital' and then assume that the NIH will fund their ongoing care and feeding. To keep the life sciences community happy, NIH funding would either have to expand at the same rate that the community wishes to expand, or NIH would have to spend its $s more prudently. Since both of these scenarios are unpalatable to the community, I think we will always be unhappy.

    Steven: you've been picking on NCCAM as being a waste of $. This may be so, but can anyone really justify the current project portfolio of the National Institute of Capillary Electropheresis and Pyrosequencing? The NCCAM addresses the 'need' of the alternative medicine community for research $ in the same way that the NICEP (aka NHGRI) addresses the 'needs' of its fundees. If you look at the other funders in the genomics area the redundancies and overlaps are just as glaring (take a look at DOE).

    Since increasing efficiencies in the research community are unlikely, I think the only solution is to behave like every other special interest group with its 'needs' -- start to hire lobbyists.


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