Scientific Research Needs More Funding, But Also Smarter Spending

By Deepti Pradhan, Yale University

This post was originally published on Footnote, a website that brings academic research and ideas to a broader audience.

The 2016 federal budget approved in December was the product of tough political wrangling but contained at least one provision with bipartisan support: significant increases in government spending on scientific research. The budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was increased by $2 billion, to $32 billion for the upcoming year. The CDC, FDA, and National Science Foundation also received funding increases, as did scientific research programs at NASA and the Department of Energy.

With this encouraging news, biomedical researchers can breathe easier – but only slightly. While the NIH received its biggest raise in more than a decade, when adjusted for inflation the 2016 budget is actually 15 percent smaller than it was in 2006 ($28.6 billion). The diminishing budget has been a growing concern for biomedical scientists because the federal government provides nearly two-thirds of funding for science and engineering research, including life sciences research, at universities.(a)

The discoveries and insights produced by this academic research not only push the limits of our understanding, they also have a clear and direct impact on our daily lives. Estimates suggest that research conducted at U.S. academic institutions has led to somewhere between one quarter and one half of drugs on the market today.1 This valuable research can be hampered by government funding cuts. As the NIH budget stagnated, the number of NIH-funded clinical trials for new drugs declined 24 percent from 2006 to 2014.(b) Reduced government funding also slows basic research,2 limiting advances in basic science that may one day lead to clinical applications.(c)

The need for increased government funding for research is clear. Yet we must also consider —> Read More