Mind to Market

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Flat NIH Budget

A front page article in today's Denver Post Scientists fight for research funding describes the situation at research labs dependent upon National Institutes of Health grants to fund basic research. How this made it onto the front page is baffling to me since the story is a couple years old (see Fewer Grants Force Younger Scientists to Leave Academia, WSJ, July 27, 2004). Although research capacity has been growing rapidly over the past few years, the NIH budget has been flat since 2004 creating greater competition for NIH grants.

Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, explained the situation last September and has offered strategies. Funding of basic research has actually increased by 2% in the overall NIH budget since 1998 (54% to 56%) and applied research has increased by 1% (40% to 41%) with infrastructure decreasing by 3% (6% to 3%).

With growth stagnant in the overall NIH budget, funding of new projects and new scientists will decrease just at a time when many scientists in training through the high growth years are coming on-line. If, as the Post article suggests, there is sufficient need in the private sector, young scientists will migrate over. However, given the rigid requirements of an academic career, it is doubtful that they will return when funding levels resume.

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