‘Looming Crisis’ from NIH Budget

Posted on August 19, 2007  Comments (1)

‘Looming crisis’ from NIH budget by Ted Agres:

“Promising research is now being slowed or halted,” said Edward Miller, dean of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We are seeing veteran scientists spending time not in labs but on the fundraising circuit. We are seeing young researchers quitting academic research in frustration, having concluded that their chances of having innovative research funded by NIH are slim to none,” Miller told a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday.

The scientists released a report prepared by 20 leading researchers from a consortium of nine academic institutions and universities, that outlines the benefits of increased NIH funding on biomedical innovations, and warns of the negative implications should the present budget be left unaddressed. The report cited threats from unexpected new diseases, such as SARS and pandemic influenza, as well as obesity, HIV, and bioterrorism.

While Congress and the White House doubled NIH’s budget from 1998 to 2003, funding has failed to keep pace with inflation. NIH’s budget has hovered at around $28 billion, but once inflation is factored in, its purchasing power has fallen 13% over the past four years. According to the report, an average of eight out of ten NIH grant applications currently go unfunded, while at the National Cancer Institute, only 11 percent of grants are funded. “This is a recipe for disaster,” Miller said. “The number of termination letters at Johns Hopkins is up three-fold.”

Related: Science and Engineering in Global EconomicsBasic Science Research Funding GloballyResearch and Development Spending at USA UniversitiesScience Research and International Policy

One Response to “‘Looming Crisis’ from NIH Budget”

  1. Aurelie
    August 22nd, 2007 @ 10:10 pm

    Inflation is indeed a very real problem when it comes to funding – the Early Career awards given to promising young researchers by the National Science Foundation have remained at $400,000 (for a duration of five years) for many, many years now – as a result scientists cannot fund graduate students in the same amount as before, or if they do they have to curtail other expenses such as equipment or travel to conferences.
    The flip side of the coin: I am not familiar with NIH-funded work but when it comes to engineering, it is so important for tenure and for US News rankings to fund (and graduate) doctoral students that the pressure to get those grants becomes extreme, although in many cases researchers would be better served doing the work with fellow faculty members (paying for equipment using their startup package) and doing consulting work to pay for their summer salary. (Again, I am talking about engineering.) But medical researchers certainly face a unique set of challenges given the cost of setting up and running a scientific lab.
    Finally, another thing I have noticed from serving on review panels: many grants get rejected because their authors do not bother figuring out how to write a decent proposal (including for instance a set of clear, measurable objectives, a list of deliverables, a description of the methodology and a time management plan). When I have served on panels not more than 20% of the proposals met these simple standards (over 50% were actually classified “Do Not Consider”, which means “do not fund even if you have tons of money”); researchers see grant writing as a distraction although a well-written proposal is the only piece of evidence the NIH and NSF have when they decide to fund the research that taxpayers’ money will not get wasted. To get good at a sport you have to be willing to play by the rules; things are not much different in academia.

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