Posts tagged with funding
Henry Markram got his wish. He was just awarded 500,000,000 Euros to build a computer model of the brain. In NIH terms, that’s over 100 R01s for 10 years (including indirects). Will Markram’s program generate as much scientific insight as 10 years worth of 100 R01s would?
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A sense of scale can be valuable. Here are the 2012 Research & Development budgets of several tech companies and pharmaceutical companies compared to approximate annual disbursements from the Wellcome Trust and the HHMI. I’ve also included the annual budgets of the NIH, NSF, and DOD as well. All numbers are for 2012, or as close as I could get. If any of the numbers seem off, let me know. They’re all from public sources (SEC filings, annual reports, etc.).
Note that combined R&D budgets of six Big Pharma companies exceeds that of the NIH.
It’s also interesting to look at how the NIH budget breaks down per institute:
It’s hard to find any objective analysis that says that the US government can keep paying its bills without some combination of tax increases and cuts to entitlement programs. It’s also hard to find any objective analysis that would predict that politicians would get reelected for doing such things. With that in mind, congress inacted some legislation that included a provision that is being referred to as “sequestration”. Put simply, it’s mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts that kick in if a supercommittee fails to find a way to balance the budget– which they did. Recently, former NIGMS director Jeremy Berg was asked what this might mean for NIH funding.
The next year is particularly hard to predict. If sequestration (across the board cuts to all discretionary programs) goes into effect, the funding situation will be horrible. It is projected that sequestration would result in an 8.2% cut to the NIH budget. Given that approximately 80% of the NIH budget is already committed to ongoing grants and fixed costs, this would represent a 8.2% of the overall NIH budget taken out of 20% of the budget available for new and competing grants. This corresponds to a 41% cut in funds for new and competing grants. NIH would very likely cut committed grant budgets to some extent to reduce the damage, but the result would certainly unprecedentedly low success rates for grants. If sequestration [does] not take effect, this is still going to be a tough year.
Read the whole interview here: Part 1, Part 2
Sequestration is increasingly likely
You probably already know that many grants have, in addition to the direct component that goes to the lab, an indirect component that goes to the institution.
US institutions negotiate with the NIH to set a percentage for all awards. For example, here are Harvard’s (relatively high) indirect rates. These indirect funds are used by departments and institutions to keep the lights on, pay admin staff, cover startups, and other important things.
A recent Nature article by Paula Stephan offers this insight into one aspect of how indirect rates are set:
“A US government accounting rule called A21 means that the more debt universities have from construction, the more they can add to grants for overhead costs. If a university borrows $100 million to build a new facility and pays 4% interest, it can increase its indirect rate by including the $4-million interest payment in the calculation. ”
The article concludes with, “Perhaps it is time for deans in the biomedical sciences to rent some of that excess space to their colleagues in chemistry and physics.”
Has biomedical research grown too big? Does it need to contract? Or is it only PhD programs that need to contract? On that topic, the article also suggests making graduate students more expensive to academic labs, and staffing labs with more professional scientists.
There are some open access journals that seem to have relativley loose editorial standards. And by “editorial” I mean “ethical”, and by “relatively loose”, I mean “no”. These publishers have been called “predatory” open access publishers. The idea is simple: solicit submissions via spam email, accept submissions, and then charge publication fees that more than cover the cost of your spamming operation. Here’s a list of predatory open access publishers. Richard Poynder did a very in depth story on this phenomenon. If you’re interested to know more, read the PDF linked to on this blog post. The bottom line is, it works. At least some people send papers to predatory open access journals and pay to have them published. And that’s why any email address you’ve used as a corresponding author will get inundated with spam from these outfits.
What’s new– to me at least– is what seems to be predatory micro funding for scientific research. Microfinance has been used for many years to get enterprises off the ground. More recently, groups like Kickstarter have developed web sites to finance proposed creative and technology projects. Kickstarter is cool. It’s all above the table, as far as I can tell, and has many success stories.
Think you could do a better job allocating the NIH budget? This is your chance to not just armchair quarterback the budget management, but offer some constructive input.
Sally Rockey is actively soliciting your comments and it’s not too late to chime in.
First, try the nifty web app they built where you can adjust the number of small and large grants funded and see how that changes the landscape accordingly (screenshot above).
There’s an RFI (request for information) out now for the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience (the structure that cuts across different institutes that all support neuroscience: NINDS, NIMH, NEI, etc.). These RFIs are an opportunity to tell the NIH what you think they should spend money on. Specifically, they’d like to know about:
Identify areas of neuroscience research that could be accelerated by the development of specific research resources or tools.
What are the major opportunities for, and impediments to, advancing neuroscience research?
What are the 2-3 highest priority tools or resources needed to capitalize on the scientific opportunities and overcome obstacles to progress in neuroscience research?
Describe how NIH Blueprint might best facilitate the development of these tools/resources.
It’s not much money this year, but there are other activities ending in a few years so they anticipate more money being available and want to have their priorities thought out when that happens.
If you haven’t responded to an RFI before, it’s very simple. Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sept 9, 2011. All of the responses are anonymized and compiled for review.
The subject of prolificacy came up in lab the other day. A study from the 80s (pdf) plotted the number of papers from a lab versus the number of people in the lab. This was repeated for several large research institutions. Across all of the data, the average was 1 paper/person/lab.
A graph from that paper is shown above. They included brief reports and unrefereed contributions to books, but did not include abstracts. Note that the spread is quite large. Among the labs with 20-30 people, output ranges from 10 to 60+ papers/year. Similarly, for labs with 10 or fewer people, output ranges from 0 to 28 papers/year. Perhaps part of the variability can be accounted for by variations from one discipline to another. Laboratories in the National Cancer Institute can include biochemistry, physiology, and cell biology.
How about # of publications vs. lab funding?
According to analysis by Jeremy Berg of NIGMS, it basically plateaus, or there is no relationship, depending on how you measure. (link, follow up)
Or death rate versus NIH funding?
Given a 10 year lag, actually pretty correlated. (source)
(hat tip to AM)
Funding is tight all over. The question is only: How tight? The White House released its budget today. It’s just a proposal, and is subject to massive revision by Congress, but it may indicate where the priorities are. The NIH is slated to get a 3.4% increase from the actual 2010 level. If that holds, even just a little bit, it’s not as bad as it could have been. By the way, the NSF has been doing a little better than the NIH recently, and the White House has proposed a 13% increase for 2012. If you’ve got an idea they might be interested in, you may want to consider one of those grants.
NIH grants are scored on five dimensions:
What are the correlations between these different dimensions and ultimate grant funding success?
Here’s a table of all the NIH institutions, and the correlation coefficients for these scoring dimensions and ultimate funding success.
Take home message = nail the approach.