With Cordova’s election as the NSF director, we’ve been doing some science funding-focussed reading
So is the amount of science funding available dwindling? Or are we just imagining it? Our reads this week have been looking into how boom-bust cycles are taking shape, how funding proposals are being made and how all of this might just be a myth.
“Without fail, the science community complains about a lack of funding, the business community complains about a lack of translation of research to commercial outcomes, and the government promotes our many achievements, offering up new programs paid for from the termination of previous ones.” Is what Brian Schmidt writes in his article for the Financial Review about the endless boom-bust loop. He’s talking specifically about his experiences in Australia, but they seem to be mirrored in other places.
Even Barack Obama put out a call for more science funding – hoping to increase it by 0.7% according to a SciAm article: “In the 2015 proposal, “there’s not enough money to do anything interesting,” says Kevin Wilson, director of public policy at the American Society for Cell Biology in Bethesda, Maryland, which tracks spending at the NIH.” Write the authors Lauren Morello, Jessica Morrison, Sara Reardon, Jeff Tollefson, Alexandra Witze and Nature magazine.
It isn’t looking good. Jack Hassard blogged about this rather depressing topic too. He summarised some of the key findings from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s survey report “Strapped Scientists Abandon Research and Students” (unfortunately behind a pay wall) by Paul Basken and Paul Voosen. He quotes from the report that “Nearly half have already abandoned an area of investigation they considered central to their lab’s mission. And more than three-quarters have reduced their recruitment of graduate students and research fellows because of economic pressures.” (Read more of his summary on his blog post “Why are scientists abandoning their research?“).
But is it all a myth? Could this funding crisis just be part of something fictional? Are scientists imagining this bust part of the boom-bust cycle? Robert N. Charette thinks so. He did a pretty long form discussion about this (and the lack of science jobs) on Spectrum IEEE with his piece The STEM Crisis is a Myth.
““If there was really a STEM labor market crisis, you’d be seeing very different behaviors from companies,” notes Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York state. “You wouldn’t see companies cutting their retirement contributions, or hiring new workers and giving them worse benefits packages. Instead you would see signing bonuses, you’d see wage increases. You would see these companies really training their incumbent workers.””
So maybe there is light at the end of this potentially mythical tunnel.