Chasing money for science

Nine biomedical-research institutions say that stagnant funding of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is holding back scientific progress.

“Very productive scientists are doing too little research. Instead, they are spending their time trying to get their labs funded again,” says Robert Siliciano of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, a contributor to the March 19 report to Congress.

The document points out that despite inflation, NIH funding hasn’t changed in 6 years. As a result, the report argues, “scientists are being forced to downsize their laboratories and abandon some of their most innovative and promising work.”

The stagnant appropriations have also contributed to a decreasing likelihood that young researchers are funded, the report notes. In 1970, the average age of a researcher obtaining his or her first NIH grant was 34. Today, it’s nearly 42.

The report was prepared by staff at Johns Hopkins, the University of California, Columbia University, Harvard University, a Boston-area hospitals group known as Partners HealthCare, the University of Texas at Austin, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Yale University.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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