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Brok en Pip e l ine
March 14, 2008 3:46 AM   Subscribe

An unprecedented five consecutive years of stagnant funding for the National Institutes of Health is putting America at risk - a few prominent research institutions get together to voice their concern over flat funding of the National Institutes of Health over the past 5 years, in their report The Broken Pipeline (pdf). Bloggers comment [1, 2, 3].
posted by Gyan (40 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whoever assumes the office in 2009 is fucked. Like, proper fucked. There's no way to dig America out of the hole it's in in four years. Or eight. Or even twelve.

If EVERYTHING is done as well as possible, and every decision made is the correct one, it will take 16 years to undo the damage done in the last eight.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:57 AM on March 14, 2008


On the bright side, military funding is up.
posted by caddis at 4:13 AM on March 14, 2008


Ah, the scientists who say 'NIH'
posted by sien at 4:39 AM on March 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


1) Stop Iraq
2) Roll back tax cuts
3) Use financial results of 1 and 2 to create healthcare system
4) Cut 5% from military budget to triple (quadruple? more?) education budget

There's about 3 months of paperwork there, but it fixes 90% of what is wrong with America.
posted by DU at 5:07 AM on March 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


(Oh and I forgot an optional 2.5: Create an additional tax tier or two at the top.)
posted by DU at 5:09 AM on March 14, 2008


Having a friend who happens to be an italian researcher "stolen" by an U.S. university now almost 10 years ago, I will have to ask her about what's the real deal behind all the hyperboles, whining and stuff.

But at a first glance, by looking at the abovelinked health blogs, I formed the impression that some of today scientist/researcher are incredibily focused on grant-funding obtaining and maintaining strategies. I wonder where they find time to do actual research work.

Indeed as a college graduate I did my very tiny little bit of research for my own graduation "paper" ; people who had this experience know that :

1. you focus quite a lot on finding material , even if search engines and univ networks have greatly reduced the waste of time
2. you are always trying to look from different perspectives and if you are lucky some interesting idea pops in
3. if you are intellectualy honest and tough enough to handle it, you don't discard disconfirming evidence
4. you pile up failures upon failures , but when properly formed these failure become valuable data as there is no need for others to verify again your work ,
unless of course there is reason to believe you didn't do the job properly.

All of this requires of course resources, but above all time and persistant focusing.

Now, financial and economical aspects of any work cannot be just conveniently ignored , but when you force a researcher to focus on obtaining funds you definitely encourage him/her to act as a well learned salesman, but sales people

a. don't focus on how the result is obtained, unless it's patently illegal or more expensive than the expected revenue
b. sell also on appaerences and misperceptions and the best salesman are, imho, heavily in denial of not being skilled con artists
c. at times must be socially very active , even when they would rather climb on K2 just to be left a little alone or with their SO.
d. they tend to treasure and not to share their results, techniques, methods unless they can monetize it instantly or remain in control.

A different set of goals that seem to be incompatible with the set of a researcher, BUT if you have to pitch your researcher you just can't invest most
of your times in a lab doing your stuff, but that is what is actually needed! Research doesn't grow on trees and neither do sales.

Underfunding NIHs seems also to force researcher into becoming salespeople. This will not wendell.
posted by elpapacito at 5:30 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


An unprecedented five consecutive years of stagnant funding for the National Institutes of Health is Terrorists are putting America at risk.

Maybe you can have a mod fix your post so it isn't so blatantly off-message and unAmerican.
posted by OmieWise at 5:44 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I formed the impression that some of today scientist/researcher are incredibily focused on grant-funding obtaining and maintaining strategies. I wonder where they find time to do actual research work.

They don't. Many principal investigators supported by extramural grants spend little time doing actual research work.
posted by grouse at 6:01 AM on March 14, 2008


hahaha to OmieWise
posted by mary8nne at 6:04 AM on March 14, 2008


OmniWise, pay attention, jeez!

An unprecedented five consecutive years of stagnant funding for the National Institutes of Health is Homos are putting America at risk.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:07 AM on March 14, 2008


I formed the impression that some of today scientist/researcher are incredibily focused on grant-funding obtaining and maintaining strategies.

If by some you mean all, then you are correct. Every professional scientist I know spends a good portion of their time writing (and reviewing) proposals. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of their total time is common, in my experience, perhaps 3 to 4 months of the year. This is why the reseach assistants and post-docs do most of the day-to-day work in labs.
posted by bonehead at 6:16 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


If EVERYTHING is done as well as possible, and every decision made is the correct one, it will take 16 years to undo the damage done in the last eight.

We've had Bush interfere with reality-based science, particularly with his enforcement of the use of poor stem cell lines. Because of his shortsighted Jesus-based policies, the United States has permanently ceded valuable time, researchers and associated returns on investment to countries overseas which will capitalize on this technology much, much sooner. That means lost jobs, lost tax base, worse healthcare, worse science: ultimately, a crappier standard of living for all Americans.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:22 AM on March 14, 2008


worse healthcare, worse science: ultimately, a crappier standard of living for all Americans.

They will reap their rewards in Heaven. Rejoice, brother, for we shall soon be dead!
posted by DU at 6:25 AM on March 14, 2008


I formed the impression that some of today scientist/researcher are incredibily focused on grant-funding obtaining and maintaining strategies. I wonder where they find time to do actual research work.

The P.I.s get the funding; the grad students, post docs, and techs do the work.

I'm currently a Ph.D. student in microbiology and watching the faculty in my institution suffer through the current funding climate has turned me off from a future career in academia. I would wager that many other current Ph.D. students feel the same way. It's really quite a shame, because depite all of our country's flaws, the United States really does do the best biomedical research in the world.
posted by emd3737 at 6:49 AM on March 14, 2008


Because of his shortsighted Jesus-based policies

This has nothing to do with the flattening of NIH funding. It has everything to do with science and technology not being a priority for the White House. It's not that they hate medical research as something those Darwinian gay atheists like to do, it's that they think medical research shouldn't be a priority for government and that there are more pressing needs (funding war, funding terrorism, stuffing the money into the pockets of military contractors and corn farming giants).

In my institution, grant funding has fallen by nearly 10% over last year. Too many people are competing for too small a pie. And worse still, we're starting to lose some of our profs to private institutions and to their home countries.

Both Clinton and Obama have said funding the NIH is a priority. One can only hope they'll stick to that in 2009 once all the other bills for the last eight years start coming in. If NIH-NSF funds continue to remain stagnant, you're going start seeing big problems at the academic research giants in this country in the next few years.
posted by dw at 7:08 AM on March 14, 2008


My experience has been the same as emd3737. I'm a Ph.D student in computer science, but I do medical simulation, so my money comes from NIH. Many of my fellow students get their funding from NSF. My advisor spends a lot of his time trying to get grant money to keep his grad students employed. It's getting harder and harder, because even though research is booming and we have many researchers, the amount of money available is not going up in the same way. Without the funding, the pool of new Ph.Ds will shrink in the coming years.
posted by demiurge at 7:19 AM on March 14, 2008


It's getting harder and harder, because even though research is booming and we have many researchers, the amount of money available is not going up in the same way.

One of the hardest challenges of being a PI (I manage 3 projects currently, seeking funding on a couple more) is managing cycles of funding. Money (and political interest) runs very hot and cold. Science funding is driven by politics and the whims of the parties in power. Private money is essentially non-existant for most research, even in the biomedical field (which is why you hear snorts every time drug companies "research" budgets are brought up).

It is tough and does mean that research groups will shrink. It's hardest on the post-docs and the RAs, the journeyman (and woman) scientists. The current PIs can hold on, even it it means just sitting in their officies and writing reviews. The short-term and contract positions are the jobs cut first. It also means that new permanent positions, either at institutes like the NIH or at universities, are much harder to come by. Thus, another few years on the post-doc treadmill. Lots of people who should be getting PI level jobs will leave the field rather than change jobs (and cities) every couple of years.

Which means, of course, that in ten years, there will not be enough PIs in the field. Given the demographic bubble just coming to retirement, this could have significant implications for the US research capacity in 10-15 years.
posted by bonehead at 7:56 AM on March 14, 2008


watching the faculty in my institution suffer through the current funding climate has turned me off from a future career in academia. I would wager that many other current Ph.D. students feel the same way.

I'm also a biomedical grad student, and many days, I feel the same way. It's pretty ugly out there right now.

Omiewise, I see you're new to this topic:

at a first glance, by looking at the abovelinked health blogs, I formed the impression that some of today scientist/researcher are incredibily focused on grant-funding obtaining and maintaining strategies. I wonder where they find time to do actual research work.


Yeah, that's about right. The PIs in the lab are the ones coming up with the big pictures ideas and working their asses off to get funding. No funding = no lab. No lab = no science (and no job!) They have labs full of Post-docs and grad students who do the nitty-grtty lab work. (pipetting and such)

when you force a researcher to focus on obtaining funds you definitely encourage him/her to act as a well learned salesman.

Yeah, that's about right. It's not quite as bad or immoral as you make it out to be, but a large chunk of a PI's time is devoted to talks, schmoozing, and writing grants.

BUT if you have to pitch your researcher you just can't invest most of your times in a lab doing your stuff, but that is what is actually needed! . . . Underfunding NIHs seems also to force researcher into becoming salespeople. This will not wendell.

I'd argue that a certain amount of competition is necessary, because there will never be enough money to research everything, and thus you have to prioritize based on what's important and interesting. Salesmanship will always be a part of this process. I absolutely agree,though, that in the current funding climate, it's a ridiculously large amount of a PI's time.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:00 AM on March 14, 2008


Bonehead has definitely nailed it on the.... Um, anyway.

Funding is most necessary to pay for the personnel who actually execute research. PIs have always had far too many obligations to spend serious amounts of time on research, and the day-to-day work is done by grad students, postdocs, and research fellows. The funding shortage is really killing research by reducing the abilities of PIs to hire these people.

Furthermore, grad school class sizes are, I believe, actually shrinking (at least in one institution I know), because the money just isn't there to pay for grad students. This means that the number of PhDs awarded is decreasing, which will have serious consequences eight or ten years down the road.
posted by noble_rot at 8:04 AM on March 14, 2008


One of the things that is most disheartening about this all is that the vast majority of the limited NIH funding goes to established labs and professors. This means that young scientists, fresh out of their PhD, often languish for 10 years or more in low-paying post-doc positions, waiting for jobs and funding to come along. Would you spend 5 extra years in school, for the promise of making just 35-45k from the ages of 30-40?

Look at all of our other highly trained professionals: Lawyers spend 3 extra years in post-collegiate school and many make 6 figures easily. Doctors add 3-4 years, and you see them driving Porsches all the time. Biomedical researchers spend an average of 5.5 years in school, and then make 35k for 5-10 years, followed by a faculty position (if they're lucky), at around 60k. Is their work that much less important?

Let me put it this way. Teachers are notoriously poorly paid. Academic scientists will never catch up with someone who went from college directly into teaching kindergarten (and lived and invested resonably). The system is broken.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:09 AM on March 14, 2008


the scientists who say 'NIH'

They are no longer the scientists who say "NIH." NIH! (Shh!) They are now the scientists who say "what-the-fucking-fuck-do-you-think-you're-doing-not-funding-us-we-really-need-this-research!"
posted by oaf at 8:35 AM on March 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


shortsighted Jesus-based policies

Jesus-based? You've got to be kidding me. There's next to nothing that George W. Bush has done, policy-wise, that has indicated that he loves his neighbor as himself.
posted by oaf at 8:39 AM on March 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Maybe he just doesn't like himself very much. With reason.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:55 AM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Omiewise, I see you're new to this topic

I think you have me confused with somebody else. I write and manage federal grants, although not ones issued by the NIH.
posted by OmieWise at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2008


Biomedical researchers spend an average of 5.5 years in school, and then make 35k for 5-10 years, followed by a faculty position (if they're lucky), at around 60k.

Heh. Here in Seattle, biomedical researchers start out around 45K, and faculty positions pay 90K-200K. And that doesn't include outside consulting. Or joint appointments with the research labs and institutes.

They don't drive Porsches or high-end Mercedes like the doctors at the university do, but their Volvos and American convertibles aren't bad, either.
posted by dw at 10:09 AM on March 14, 2008


Here in Seattle, biomedical researchers start out around 45K, and faculty positions pay 90K-200K.

I don't know what you mean when you say they start out around 45K, as chrisamiller was clearly talking about academic postdoc positions. If you know an entry-level academic biomedical postdoc position that pays $45,000, please let me know. I would also love to see an assistant professorship that paid $200,000 or even $90,000. Even in Seattle.
posted by grouse at 10:14 AM on March 14, 2008


I would also love to see an assistant professorship that paid $200,000 or even $90,000. Even in Seattle.

Let's not argue; here are the data (that link is a PDF). I didn't do an extensive analysis, by dw looks about right. A 90k assistant professorship at a R1 isn't particularly unusual.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:40 AM on March 14, 2008


But a 45k postdoc does seem high. NIH scale is about 37k starting out; it hits 45k after four years.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:42 AM on March 14, 2008


biomedical researchers start out around 45K

That doesn't seem that far out there. All the biomed postdocs I know (including Mrs. slogger) make a little shy of that
posted by slogger at 11:58 AM on March 14, 2008


Geez, NIH pays crap. We start at 44k and can scale up to 55k.
posted by bonehead at 12:02 PM on March 14, 2008


Geez, NIH pays crap

This is an ongoing complaint. I, at least, have been hearing it since I was old enough to know about such things. They keep saying they're going to fix it, but...

Many institutions do better than the NIH minimum. Hell, many institutions require better than the NIH minimum.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:08 PM on March 14, 2008


But a 45k postdoc does seem high. NIH scale is about 37k starting out; it hits 45k after four years.

Many of the units here try to supplement NIH rates to account for the higher cost of living (though not all, and good luck with that if you're on a slave, er, J-1 visa). Most of the postdoc fellowships are starting in the 40s.

I should also say that here there are entire classes of faculty whose salaries are solely dependent on their grants. That's where you see a lot of the disparity between rich and poor -- very successful grant-funded faculty make more than faculty who focus on teaching, although they're all well below what the actual doctors are making here. Less successful ones make what teaching faculty in the poor schools and colleges make.
posted by dw at 12:31 PM on March 14, 2008


I had a lot more to say but really it comes down to this: The federal government should decrease funding for military (DARPA, DoD), "defense" projects, Iraq and put it to better use (projects that might improve the general welfare of humanity) by increasing NSF and NIH funding. And NIH and NSF should improve the way they distribute funding so that new academic researchers get improved access to funding and pay to the lab workers gets increased.
posted by peppito at 2:31 PM on March 14, 2008


I am delighted to have been corrected, dw and mr_roboto. Thanks.
posted by grouse at 3:32 PM on March 14, 2008


Jesus-based? You've got to be kidding me. There's next to nothing that George W. Bush has done, policy-wise, that has indicated that he loves his neighbor as himself.

Wrong Jesus. You're thinking the actual historical socialist Jesus. They follow the Republican Texas Jebus. He's a barrel-chested Aryan with a feathered mullet like an 80s pop-metal singer. He loves fetuses and brain-dead vegetables, could give a fuck less about the poor, and hates a fag. His church is a giant sports stadium megachurch, and the Rock is Joel Osteen and Tim LaHaye. He amuses himself by tricking people into eternal damnation with dinosaur bones and carbon dating. He cares about which sports team wins and Murika is his favored nation. He supports the troops. He speaks Jacobian English with a South Carolina accent. He cares what you do with your genitals. He preaches the Prosperity Gospel. He needs your money. He hates foriegners, especially little brown ones. He shoot Coca-Cola.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:33 PM on March 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


I heartily agree with DU's start, but I would add a step 5:

5. Make all the pharmaceutical companies open their books, determine the average amount they spent the last 5 years on advertising and doctor schwag, and make them pay an equal amount to national research. (And cancel their right to advertise again. Imagine a world where you never hear "ask your doctor about blah,blah,blah..." and BigPharma can't roll advertising expenses into drug costs.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:57 PM on March 14, 2008


They follow the Republican Texas Jebus.

I thought they followed Supply Side Jesus.
posted by homunculus at 5:34 PM on March 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


it's that they think medical research shouldn't be a priority for government and that there are more pressing needs (funding war, funding terrorism,...

Well aint that the truth.
posted by Avenger at 8:02 PM on March 14, 2008


Supply Side Jesus.

Outstanding.
posted by peppito at 10:31 PM on March 14, 2008


Supply Side Jesus? Is that like Trickle Down Jesus? Or maybe that's for Catholics?
posted by Talanvor at 5:42 AM on March 15, 2008


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