In a letter in last week’s issue of Science (subscription required), two scientists from the National Caucus of Basic Biomedical Science Chairs–H. George Mandel and Elliot S. Vesell–describe in detail the funding crisis currently plaguing American scientists. The authors demonstrate a shocking decrease over the last seven years in the allocation of NIH (National Institutes of Health) R01 grants, the nation’s keystone funding program for supporting biomedical science.
Here’s the data:
|Fate of unamended (unsolicited) R01 research grant applications
|Fiscal year||Number submitted||Number awarded||Total $ awarded (millions)||Success rate (%)|
Type-1 grants: new submissions
Type-2 grants: continuation (renewal) submissions
Although it wouldn’t be optimal, one wouldn’t be too surprised by the success rate of grants decreasing as the number of applications increases, and that’s surely partially at play here, contributing to the steady decline in success rates of applications to both programs since 2001. Still, a plummeting success rate for whatever reason is probably a good indication that this grant program is becoming increasingly underfunded.
(Hmmm… 2001…. Wait a second! I know that year! Yes, that’s the year that George W. Bush took office. OK, then, no surprises there.)
The real shock, though, is that not only has the funding of the R01 grant program not kept up as the number of applications has increased, but the number of grants awarded and the amount of funds available have both decreased sharply since 2000 for Type-1 grants and since 2003 for Type-2 grants.
The year 2005 was particularly dire, with an overall decrease in funding of the two program of 17%. Compared with the year 2000, last year there were 23% more Type-1 grant applications, but 44% less grants were actually awarded, making the success rate in 2005 less than half that of 2000. Over that period, the total amount of money awarded through both programs has decreased by over 20%. The chance of a grant application being successful and receiving adequate funding, then, has decreased dramatically.
This is an embarrassment for the US, one that could have severe repercussions for American science, and in the closing paragraph, the authors of the letter lay out just what’s at stake here:
This issue raises serious concerns about the present and future of U.S. biomedical science because the R01 grant is such an essential contributor to, and index of, scientific innovation. Recent discoveries have provided enormous new opportunities to better understand and treat disease, and we must take advantage of these breakthroughs. In addition, the country’s economic future depends on U.S. leadership in providing new scientific and technical discoveries. Also, failure to provide adequate funds for biomedical research discourages the brightest young people from choosing scientific pursuits.
H.G. Mandel, E.S. Vesell, Declines in Funding of NIH R01 Research Grants, Science 313 (2006), 1387-1388.